One sign that we are living in decadent times is that people have forgotten their manners. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I had jury duty. The bailiff warned the men that before we entered the courtroom we had to take off our hats. “That’s right!” I said to myself. “People used to take off their hats when they went into public buildings.” I’m not even sure why we’re supposed to take our hats off, but embedded somewhere in my cultural memory is the recollection that hats are not to be worn indoors.
What you do with your hat may not seem to matter very much, but proper etiquette is important. It is important because good manners help to preserve the moral fabric of a community. A society that allows people to be rude is a society in which people will be indecent to one another in all sorts of other ways. Bad manners make for bad morals.
The Bible is not a handbook for proper etiquette. There is no verse, for example, that tells you not to start eating until the hostess picks up her fork. Obviously, that is the kind of tradition that might vary from one culture to the next. But that particular custom helps to preserve important biblical virtues like patience, hospitality, and graciousness.
Minding your manners falls under the biblical category of kindness, which is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). Kindness—which means kindliness, gentleness, or graciousness—ought to be especially precious to Calvinists because the Bible tells us that “as God’s chosen people,” we are to “clothe ourselves with… kindness” (Col. 3:12). Another biblical principle that promotes good manners is respect. “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17a), the Scripture says. Precisely what that means in a particular social context may vary, but the principle is universal. Respect is something we owe to everyone who is made in the image of God.
In order to help you show kindness and respect, let me remind you of some common courtesies:
Clean up after yourself. Leaving a place looking better than when you arrived is a way to love your neighbor, and also a way to take good care of the world that God has made.
Say “Please.” At our house, you pretty much have to say please if you want to get anything, because my wife and I have selective hearing. For some strange reason, we are unable to hear requests that do not include the word “please.” Saying “please” is a way to acknowledge that everything you receive from someone else is a gift, not a demand.
As soon as somebody does help you, say “Thank you!” Saying “thank you” is a way to acknowledge your dependence on others, and your gratitude for their service.
Wear clothing appropriate to the occasion. Suitable attire shows respect not only for others, but also for yourself.
Speaking of respect, respect your elders, showing deference for their wisdom and experience. The Bible says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Lev. 19:32).
On the other end of the age spectrum, treat children like real people. Don’t ignore them or talk down to them, but greet them warmly and speak to them kindly. Welcome them the way Jesus welcomed them—kindly and openly.
Don’t be late. Most of the time, showing up late is a way of communicating that your own schedule is more important than anyone else’s. By contrast, coming on time demonstrates humility by regarding the time of others as more valuable than your own.
Say you’re sorry, which is especially important if you have bad manners. When you are in the wrong, do not hide it or deny it, but confess it. The proper way to handle your mistakes, both large and small, is simply to apologize for them.
The list goes on and on: say “hello”; pick up the check; leave a generous tip; don’t interrupt; don’t tailgate; don’t be sarcastic; remember to RSVP; keep your feet off the furniture; return what you borrow; send a thank you note. (These and many other good manners are helpfully discussed by Donald McCullough in Say Please, Say Thank You, Putnam, 1999).
Good manners are important all the time, but they are especially necessary in church. Christianity demands courtesy. The word “courtesy” is a useful one because it reminds us that manners originated at the court. The “courtiers” who surrounded the royal family lived “courteously.” In other words, they treated one another with the graces that were suitable for royalty. In a way, every Christian is royalty. We are all sons and daughters of the great King. Therefore, we should treat one another with dignity and respect.
There are several manners we try to encourage at Tenth Church:
As we have been reminding you lately, be careful to park your car legally and safely. Parking your car to the glory of God is part of being a good neighbor, especially in the city.
Be quiet during the prelude. God has told us to “have reverence for [his] sanctuary” (Lev. 19:30), but it is hard for us to approach him with a sense of reverence when the sanctuary is noisy. It is okay to greet people, of course, but show respect for other worshipers—and for our musicians—by speaking quietly.
When the service begins, make room for latecomers, especially at the 11:00am service. Someone else’s opportunity to hear the gospel is more important than your personal space.
Although hospitality begins in the pew, it does not end there. So be sure to welcome visitors after the service. As the Scripture says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). Try to greet at least one new person every Sunday, and then introduce that person to someone else. A friendly church is built one friendship at a time.
These are small kindnesses, but they are important because they reflect the kindness of Jesus Christ. And one more thing: Thank you for listening!
© 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org