“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1Pe 3:8). This exhortation to us all is the only place in Scripture where the adjective courteous is used. The origin of the Greek word translated courteous is two words – one meaning ‘friendly’ and the other meaning ‘to rein in or curb the feelings of the mind’ – combined to form a Greek word meaning ‘friendly of mind.’ What a fitting definition! We all know that courtesy is not simply good behavior, but polite behavior. It is the result of conscious effort to rein in or curb the natural, selfish response of the feelings and of the mind and willingly go out of our way for the good of another.
Does this imply that the word “Christian” in our title is unnecessary? We may answer this by noting the two accounts in Scripture which record men who acted “courteously” during Paul’s journey to Rome. “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band…And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself” (Acts 27:1,3).
Several weeks later their ship was wrecked on the island of Melita where they were showed “no little kindness.” “In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.” (Acts 28:7) The actions of these foreigners exceeded that of the publicans (Matt. 5:46 & 47) as well as that of the Jewish religious leaders of their day (Matt 23). Surely Christ-like compassion will compel us to Christian courtesy beyond that courtesy which is exhibited by society and modern “Christianity!” Christian courtesy is unfeigned and does not desire earthly reciprocation or compliments. It is enough to know that our Father will reward in His own time and way.
The practice of courtesy has been rapidly declining in society and undermined by the failure of churches to uphold the Word of God as infallible and unalterable. The world has hastened the decline by promoting instant gratification, feminism, sexual “freedom,” disrespect in its varied forms, and has expressed an unrestrained disdain for the Word of God. Society expresses shock over an untimely death in a Black Friday shopping stampede, a violent shooting, or road rage turned deadly, yet they refuse to accept the remedy for the vices that led to these actions and the responsibility to teach each generation right from wrong.
Gone are the days when the vast majority of women appreciated the assistance and deference of gentlemen, when men valued the responsibility and influence of a virtuous homemaker, when children were corrected, and when the elderly were respected. May we as Godly men never hesitate to hold a door open or offer a seat to a woman. May our sisters never feel ashamed of the honor of fulfilling their God-given role in our homes. May our children never miss the blessing and security of loving parental direction. May our elders never feel unwanted, unneeded, or unappreciated. The foundations for Christian courtesy are laid early in the lives of our children, sometimes in seemingly unrelated areas of instruction. As we parents express and require proper manners and social graces, our children will form positive, lasting habits. Children find it less intimidating to thank a hostess for a meal when they are used to copying Dad’s example at home. A child whose hurts and fears are not belittled or ridiculed will more easily learn compassion and consideration for others. A son who is taught the principles of stewardship at home will be careful with the books and toys at his friend’s house, will not let bikes and tools outside to become weathered or lost, and will responsibly use his employer’s equipment or an item borrowed from a neighbor. Every child also needs to learn to graciously relate to others who have not been taught or are still learning these common courtesies. As our children follow our example it will form the basis for good interpersonal relationships that can bear much fruit in their lives when they are yielded to Christ. Respect for family elders prompts respect for church elders. Submission to parental authority leads to submission to God and God-ordained authority. Consideration for the feelings and needs of others encourages humility and openness in brotherhood relationships and decisions. Trust and appreciation between generations provides opportunities for wise advice to be shared with the rising generation.
Christian courtesy must extend beyond our families and churches. “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.” (Luke 6:32, 33) “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:2) How quickly do we acknowledge the presence of strangers? It is so easy to proceed through each day focused on our plans and failing to really notice those around us. But courtesy still calls us to hold the door open for another, acknowledge the presence of others, drive responsibly, and express appreciation. Christian courtesy prompts us to do it all with a heart of love for our fellow men. We have no reason to neglect, hesitate, or be ashamed to display common courtesies with a godly motive.
In some cultures acquaintances will cross the street to talk to one another. In America we walk past each other in the store aisle with hardly a greeting. While other cultures consider it rude to not stop and visit, we may consider it rude to take too much of a friend’s time. Concerning strangers, we might not acknowledge their presence at all. Our time-consciousness inhibits us from squandering precious minutes in our scheduled day. Our Mennonite culture and our Biblical practice of separation also create within us hesitancy and wariness when relating to the worldly and to those whom we perceive to be worldly. Are we surprised then to learn that Mennonites are sometimes considered rude? Where they feel a connection with us spiritually, we feel a disconnection in practice and background. When they desire to learn more and grow, do we desire to be brief and go? When a sincere, seeking soul dares to interrupt our schedule to ask questions does he receive sincere, soul-satisfying answers? “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Rom 14:1).
Christian courtesy is the result of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, consciously channeled to individuals around us. As it is exercised among family members, our homes become a haven from the callousness of the world; a bit of heaven on earth. When expressed to fellow believers, it is an encouraging, uplifting experience. Christian courtesy shines as a beacon of invitation and hope to the worldling groping hopelessly in darkness. Business relationships benefit from a confidence not found otherwise. Differences and disagreements may be kept from rapidly escalating, and likemindedness is doubly blessed. Courtesy is a learned trait, not our first impulse. With practice and love for our fellow men, Christian courtesy can grace our lives and bless the lives of others.