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Manners and Civility

Our society is really slipping. And we are slipping fast. One of the signs of this slippage is the lack of manners and civility that we see everywhere.

People want what they want, and they want it now. Road Rage, cutting in on a line at a checkout counter, coarse language and obscene gestures—yipes! What has happened to us! All too many people are behaving like monkeys and apes.

Oops, sorry. I’ve just insulted monkeys and apes. Some people behave worse than monkeys and apes.

So, what I want to do in this devotional is I want to talk about manners and civility. I’m not going to talk about some of the artificial, stuck-up manners of the eighteenth-century European nobility. When I talk about manners and civility I am talking about respect for other people, an attitude of helpfulness, and being aware of those around us, and their needs.

We see this in the letter that Paul wrote to Philemon. You probably know the story. The Apostle Paul is writing to Philemon about a runaway slave whose name was Onesimus.

Back in those days people had slaves. It may have been that Onesimus ran away from the household of Philemon, and Onesimus may have even stolen some of Philemon’s silverware. But now, as the Apostle Paul writes to Philemon, Onesimus has become a Christian. The Apostle Paul shared the Gospel with Onesimus, and he accepted Christ as his personal Savior. So, in the letter that the apostle wrote to Philemon, the apostle is asking Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.

I want to encourage you to read Paul’s letter to Philemon. It’s only one chapter, but it tells us a lot about manners and civility.

Paul, even though he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, does not command Philemon; but rather the Apostle Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of love. You find that in verses 8 and 9. Paul could have ordered Philemon to take back Onesimus, yet Paul appealed to Philemon on the basis of love.

Hey, isn’t that cool? To have the right, and the authority, to give an order—“You better do what I say, or else!”—but instead of that, to gently appeal to a person on the basis of love. I’m impressed with the Apostle Paul. Now, that’s what I call manners and civility.

But that’s not the only thing that we find in this wonderful letter to Philemon. In verses 12 through 14—and I am paraphrasing—Paul says: “I would like to keep Onesimus with me. He is so helpful to me while I am here in prison—but I don’t want to do anything without your consent.”

Wow! The Apostle Paul could teach all of us something about manners and civility.

Even Daniel had manners. Let me explain what I mean. In Daniel 1, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his officials to bring Israelites of noble birth to Babylon. They were to be trained in the language and customs of the Babylonians. They were to be trained for three years. They were even given Babylonians names—names that had a strong connection with the false gods of the Babylonians.

This was religious and cultural brainwashing. The Bible never tells us that Daniel and his friends made a big fuss of this attempt at cultural brainwashing.

Daniel made just one request. It had to do with his diet. Daniel requested—not demanded—that he could bypass the Babylonian diet. He wanted to only eat vegetables and drink water, and not drink the king’s wine, nor eat the king’s food.

The king’s official was worried. If Daniel and his friends didn’t eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine, they might lose weight and look like they were having some major health problems.

So Daniel said, “Let’s give it a try for ten days. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. After that compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and drink the king’s wine. Then, let’s see how we look.”

I want you to notice that Daniel didn’t demand this. It was just a suggestion.

Now the Bible tells us that after ten days these Hebrew boys looked healthier and happier than any of the other young men who ate the royal food and drank the king’s wine.

Daniel was an amazing man. He worked within the system, without being corrupted by the system. That’s something like modern America. Modern America is a very pluralistic society. But, God put us here. And God doesn’t make any mistakes.

There are some Christians who think that if we are going to be faithful to the Lord we have to be abrasive, caustic and mean-spirited. You’ve seen the type—they roll up their sleeves and come out punching!

Even Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—Daniel’s three friends—respected the king. In Daniel 3, they politely refused to bow down before the king’s statue. They even addressed Nebuchadnezzar as “O King.” They never said: “You pagan creep—you are going to burn in Hell!”

Christians need to be loving, kind, and gracious. We need to be sweet as honey, not as bitter as vinegar. First Peter 3:15 tells us that we are always to be ready to tell people why we love Jesus, and the Bible tells us to do that with gentleness and respect. Sounds to me like God wants us to have good manners. And to respect other people.

We all need to be considerate of others. But in order to be considerate, we need to pay attention. Let me give you a simple example.

Several fifth graders were running down the school hallway, laughing and giggling and just having a great time. Boy—they were making lots of noise and running—not a good idea! But then, one of the girls noticed that there was a class of junior high kids taking an exam. And she told her friends—SSShhhh! Be quiet. They are taking a test!”

That’s good manners and civility. She was considerate, and she was paying attention.

I would like to share a few simple rules of civility.

  • Here’s the first one: Be considerate. Take your shoes off before you walk into the living room and mess up that nice carpet.
  • Here’s number two: Pay attention and don’t just think of yourself. Ouch! That’s hard one. If you take ice out of the ice-maker and you notice there is no more ice, do what’s necessary to get more ice. If there is just one piece of pie left in the pie plate, before you spear it with your fork, ask if anyone else would like it.
  • Here’s another important rule of civility: Acknowledge others. That means remembering a person’s name and paying a thoughtful compliment. If you read Romans 16, you will read all the names of the Apostle Paul’s friends. He knew lots of people by name, and he remembered some of the nice things that all these people had done for him, and how they had helped him.
  • Here’s another rule of civility: Don’t be generous with other people’s time. If you have an appointment, keep your appointment, and show up on time. If you’ve been delayed for some reason, be sure to call. Ephesians 5:16 says that we are to redeem the time because the days are evil. You shouldn’t waste your time, and you shouldn’t waste other people’s time.
  • Here’s another rule of civility—and it’s really an important one: Bridle your tongue. James 3 says the tongue is like a spark that starts a mighty forest fire. Before you say something, it’s helpful to ask three questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? and, Is it kind? Something may be true, but if it is not necessary for you to say it, don’t.

All right. Time to wrap it up. I hope you have been helped by this devotional on manners and civility. Whether we like it or not, we are wax upon which others can leave their mark. And we, too, can affect others in a similar way. No action, or non-action, is without consequences for others.

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Larry Spargimino

Dr. Larry Spargimino is co-host of the SWRC broadcast and joined the ministry in 1998. Larry researches and writes books and articles for the ministry, assists on tours, and helps answer listeners' theological questions when they call the ministry. Larry holds a doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastors a local church.

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