“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, BE COURTEOUS: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing: knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8,9)
1. Courtesy: A blessing in society
It is an obvious and a happy fact that Christians do not have a monopoly in this social and moral virtue, courtesy. We should thank God for the measure of common courtesy which still prevails in our society. For it is certainly one of God’s judgments upon a community when courtesy is in decline: when there is a lack of consideration and respect for the needs of others; and for the special needs, for example, of the elderly or handicapped. Those who have lived the longest in our society do, almost universally, bemoan the fact that they have witnessed, in their own lifetime, a decline in good manners. Evil communications have reaped a corrupt harvest. [1 Cor. 15:33). Despite this, there is still considerable restraint in society. When we consider what the Bible teaches us about the total depravity of man, how he is fallen and ruined in every faculty, it is surely a cause for wonder and thanksgiving that, though seriously endangered, the convention of courtesy is still prevalent among us.
In the Acts of the Apostles, in consecutive chapters, we have two examples of unbelievers showing courtesy to the Apostle Paul and his companions. Julius was the Roman centurion given the custody of Paul and other prisoners for what proved a most eventful journey to Rome. Before the shipwreck took place, one of the ports of call was Sidon where “Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself” (Acts 27:3). The implication of the Greek is that Paul was treated with friendly thoughtfulness: the Roman centurion acted philanthropically. We are reminded of that other centurion, commended by the Lord
Jesus, who had shown such consideration for the Jewish people and who approached the Lord so courteously. (Luke 7:1-10). After the shipwreck Paul and his companions escaped on to the island of Melita. “The barbarous people showed us no little kindness”, says Luke, “for they kindled a fire, and received us every one because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” (Acts 28:2). The chief man of the island, Publius, received them and lodged them for three days courteously. (Acts 28:7). This behaviour is both recorded and commended in the Word of God.
2. Courtesy: A Christian obligation
Courtesy should be the baseline of all Christian conduct. It should
mark the Christian’s attitude, bearing, and conversation in the world. If we show ourselves rude, inconsiderate, impolite, discourteous in the factory or office, school or neighbourhood we compromise our Christian witness and bring a reproach upon the gospel. Moreover, courtesy should always distinguish relations between believers, whatever the strains or differences of opinion may be. In the world, if someone is upset or angry then the universal tendency is to withdraw courtesy. People stop speaking to each other. Unkindness, brusqueness, rudeness becomes the vehicle for the expression of disapproval. Unless this is checked by the fear of God, unless we are sanctified, this spirit of the world will appear also n the Church. It is no use taking refuge in the strength of our feeling in the issue which causes the problem: we are never justified in disobeying the Biblical injunction, “Be courteous”. If we are sure that we are right in a certain matter, or have been unjustly treated, then we have no need to resort to the weakness of discourtesy. There is a place for plain speaking, but never for rudeness. Neither is it any use taking refuge in natural temperament: “I am naturally brusque or reticent or bombastic”, “I do not suffer fools gladly”. such statements spring from pride rather than the gospel. The gospel changes people: and one of the things the gospel does, when it is really experienced in the soul, is to make a person courteous.
Here is a man in the Church. He cannot make long prayers like some of the others. He does not seem as spiritual or deeply taught in the things of God. But he is unfailingly kind and courteous. I would venture to suggest that he knows more about the gospel than the man who seems so spiritually minded but who is overbearing and discourteous in his relations with his fellow believers or with his colleagues and juniors at work.
3, Why should the Christian be courteous?
The answer is simple; and expressed forcefully and beautifully in
the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ: “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: FOR HE IS KIND UNTO THE THANKFUL AND TO THE EVIL. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful”. (Luke 6:35,36).
The Christian character is based on the Divine character. Christian conduct is to be conformed to Divine conduct. God is kind: therefore we should be. The logic is holy, unanswerable. God shows infinite restraint, courtesy in His dealings with the unthankful and evil. How then should we react to those who cross us and upset us? Always with the utmost courtesy.
What has God shown us who, through grace, have come to humble faith in Jesus Christ? He has shown “the exceeding riches of his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). “The kindness and love of God our Saviour has appeared toward us.” (Titus 3:4). Should it then be a hard thing for us, who are so objectionable and abhorrent to God, and yet who have been shown such kindness, to be courteous to those who treat us in an objectionable fashion? Constrained by the love of Christ this is part of His easy yoke.
4. New Testament precepts
The key New Testament precept is the one quoted at the beginning from the first epistle of Peter: but every discerning reader will realize that it is entirely in harmony with many other precepts of the gospel. Some of the most pertinent of these are as follows:
“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” (Romans 12:10);
“Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, belie veth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” [ICor. 13:4-7);
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31,32);
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” :Col. 3:12,13);
“And to godliness (add) brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:7,8).
In addition we can note that the Apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon has been described as “the most gentlemanly letter ever written”.
5. Divine help
Our nature and conduct is fatally flawed. Naturally we render abuse for abuse, railing for railing. We need divine help constantly if we are to adorn our profession of the name of Christ with a courteous approach to all our fellows. As individuals we need help, as Church members we need help, as local Churches in communication with other Churches we need help. We shall not go far wrong if we remember the quarry from which we ourselves have been cut, and the amazing kindness and forbearance of God, our Saviour.
P. G. Watts