BY Pastor Glenn Pease
Timothy Eaton became the most successful business man in the history of Canada by the simple virtue of courtesy. Back in 1869, when he started his first store, he instituted a new policy. In those days a customer was almost compelled to buy something. He was coaxed and implored, and even bullied, and insulted, if need be, to make a purchase. If he did get out of the store without one, he was made to feel like a whipped dog running away. Timothy Eaton said, "No more of this nonsense." His clerks would be courteous, and let the customer shop and buy what he was convinced he wanted, and without pressure.
This new idea went over so well that his store was soon the busiest place in town, and before long he was building factories to supply his stores. He built branches all over Canada, and when he died in 1907, he was respected the world over. He had to have other virtues as well, but courtesy was one of the keys to his secular success. Courtesy is a secular word that never quite got converted into a sacred word. The result is, we seldom deal with it as a Christian virtue.
It was a royal virtue to the ancient Greeks. It meant, to be friendly minded. Kings were expected to be friendly to their subjects. The Athenians considered it a virtue that should characterize every man. The Emperor Julian, who was greatly influenced by Christians, exalted courtesy to the highest level in government. He taught that politics and laws were to governed by this virtue.
The fact is, the New Testament is weak in promoting this virtue. The only two people in the New Testament who are described as being courteous are pagans. In Acts 27:3, the Roman Centurion, guarding Paul on the way to Rome, showed courtesy to Paul by letting him visit his friends. In Acts 28:7, the pagan chief Publius was courteous to Paul, and the others who shipwrecked on his island.
Being courteous just means being nice to people, and giving them a hand in time of need, and showing them respect as human beings. It is a basic secular and humanistic virtue. Nobody has to be a Christian to be courteous. Anybody can be, and almost everybody is, to some degree, and so it is a virtue greatly neglected by Christians. It is the Apostle Paul who rescues this virtue from the domain of the secular, and brings it into the realm of the Christian life. He does it, first of all, by making it a virtue of God. In Titus 3:4 he uses the Greek word philanthropy, the same word used to describe the pagans courtesy to him, to describe God's love and kindness to sinful men. This is the only place in the Bible the word is used of God, but once is enough. God is courteous, or friendly minded toward men.
That alone puts courtesy on the theological map, but the most powerful witness of Paul to the value and validity of courtesy as a Christian virtue is his personal practice of it. There is good reason that Paul was treated courteously by pagans. He was reaping what he sowed. Paul could very well have another honor added to his impressive record. He could be considered the most courteous man in the New Testament, next to his Lord.
We know he got this courteous spirit from Christ, for he was anything but courteous before his conversion. He threw women, as well as men, into prison, and did not hesitate to approve the stoning of an innocent man like Stephen. The opposite of courteous is rude, rough, overbearing, and tyrannical, which fits Saul of Tarsus to a T. But look at Paul now, in his A D spirit, that is, after Damascus. He displays a level of courtesy that rises above the secular level. Paul gives us a demonstration of Christian courtesy. He exhibits this virtue in three ways. First of all-
I. BY HIS COURTEOUS ADDRESS.
Paul actually addresses this mob with the respectable titles of brothers and fathers. These are the same two words he uses all through the New Testament as terms of respect. Keep in mind, they had just minutes before tried to reduce the population of Jerusalem by one, and he was the one. They were trying to beat the life out of him. It was no brotherly fight, or fatherly discipline. They wanted to murder Paul on the spot. Yet we do not hear Paul shouting at them, "You lame-brain idiots, you madmen!" Instead, he says, "Brothers and fathers," and he says it in their tongue of Aramaic, and the crowd is shocked into silence. They had to be surprised by both his attitude and his Aramaic. He was addressing them like they were not his deadly enemies.
I read of a pastor who was asked to inform a man in his congregation, with a heart condition, that he had just inherited a million dollars. Everyone was afraid the shock would cause a heart attack and kill him. The pastor diplomatically approached the subject from a hypothetical point of view. He said, "Joe, what would you do if you inherited a million dollars?" Joe said, "Well, pastor, I think I would give half of it to the church." The pastor fell over dead of a heart attack.
This mad mob did not fall over dead, but there deafening noise died down so Paul could be heard. He went on to address them in a friendly minded or courteous manner. Why? First of all, because it was a principle Paul lived by. He taught it to others, and he did it himself. He wrote in Col. 4:6, "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man." Words are like food, and a little salt makes them more enjoyable, and people will swallow them easier. Courtesy is just common sense. If you talk to others with respect and kindness, they will listen with the same spirit. If you blast them with a critical spirit, you will get the same in return.
Paul proves it here by getting the most hostile audience a speaker ever addressed to quiet down and give him a hearing. A hearing, by the way, that has gone around the world, and through the centuries. Because these hot heads were quiet for a few minutes, you and I, and millions of others, have studied these words they permitted Paul to speak. Such as the power of courtesy. We see Paul displaying this virtue over and over again, as he relates to the authorities.
He addresses the Sanhedrin in chapter 23 as, "My brothers." He does not shout at the Roman soldiers, who are about to flog him, "You numskulls." He simply, and very politely, asks, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen?" Paul shows nothing but courteous respect for Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, who sat in judgment on him. The point is, Paul did not just write in his great love chapter, that love is patient, love is kind, love is not rude, is not easily angered, but he demonstrated that love by revealing how it works in relation to real people who are not easy to love.
Paul was not only acting on a principle he lived by, he was motivated to be curious, kind, tactful, diplomatic, and just generally friendly minded, because he sincerely loved people. He was not interested in revenge, and getting even with the Jews. His goal was not self-defense for his own sake. He was not concerned about his reputation, but about their redemption. If he did not care about these people, he would have walked away, or gotten into a verbal bout, and called them names, and told them to go to the devil. But Paul is courteous, and addresses them with respect, because he wants them to understand that Jesus is their Savior.
Paul tells us just how deeply he feels in Romans 9:1-3. "I speak the truth in Christ-I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel." When you love people as deeply as Paul did, you can treat them with respect, even if they are killing you. Jesus did this, and prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Stephen did this, and prayed as he was being stoned, "Lord do not hold this sin against them." So Paul here addresses those who just fought to get close enough to pound the life out of him, "Brothers and fathers."
It can safely be said, those to whom you cannot be courteous are those for whom you do not care. If you care, and you love, you can be courteous even to those who hate and despise you. Pagan courtesy does not rise to this level. This is Christlike, and, therefore, Christian courtesy. But Paul does not stop with a courteous address.
We see that he extends the virtue-
II. BY HIS COURTEOUS ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
Many authors have a preface in which they acknowledge those who helped them achieve their goal. It is a thoughtful courtesy to others whose labor made their work possible. Paul begins his defense by acknowledging his Jewish heritage. I am a Jew says Paul, and I was raised in this great city of Jerusalem, and I was thoroughly trained in the law under one of Israel's greatest teachers, Gamaliel. Any speaker knows your chances of being heard are greatly improved by building some common ground between the speaker and the audience. If it is a hostile audience, it is an absolute necessity.
A tramp, who was nearly starved, stopped by a quiet old English village inn. It bore the classic name of Inn Of St. George And The Dragon. "Please mam," He asked the lady who came to the door, "Can you spare me a bite to eat." "A bite to eat," she growled, "For a sorry no good bum, a foul smelling beggar? No!" She snapped as she slammed the door. He started to walk away, but noted the sign St. George and the Dragon. He went back and knocked again. "Now what do you want?" The woman asked angrily. "Well, mam, "he said, "If St. George is in, may I speak to him this time?" He may have gotten even, but he got no closer to a meal. Courtesy would be a better gimmick than cleverness.
Paul is not being courteous as a mere gimmick. He loves these people, and he truly loves his heritage, and he wants to make it clear that his being a Christian does not in any way cause him to lose respect for his heritage. We can't take the time to explore all of Paul's heritage, but let's just look at the fact that he is proud he studied under Gamaliel. Gamaliel is worthy of a full sermon. For he was truly a great man and great teacher, but for this morning we just want to consider his influence on Paul. Because Paul was trained under the law by this great Jewish scholar, Paul's epistles are loaded with quotes from the Old Testament. He quotes Moses, David, Solomon, and prophets, more than he quotes Jesus. Paul was a product of his training, and he carried this heritage into his Christian life and scholarship. He interpreted the Old Testament as he was trained to do under Gamaliel.
Because of the bitter hatred between Jews and Christians, the early church fathers had a hard time with the Old Testament. But because Paul quoted it so often, and used it to defend his teachings, they were forced to recognize the Old Testament as part of the Christian Bible. The great modern Jewish scholar, Joseph Klausner, acknowledges that Paul is the Savior of Judaism. We live in a Judeo-Christian culture because Paul linked the two together so that they can never be separated. Klausner writes, "Perhaps he did not intend to do this: But the Pharisee, a son of a Pharisee, the disciple of Rabbi Gamaliel, was so filled and saturated with the Written Law.............that it was impossible for him not to base his teaching on the Holy Scripture of his people...........from whom he never to his last days separated himself completely."
Klausner points out that Judaism has survived where the Old Testament is linked to the New Testament or the Koran, but Judaism died in India, China, and Japan, because the Old Testament did not maintain it's position of authority. That is why this Jewish scholar, who does not like Paul at all, says he and his love for his Jewish heritage have been the key to the survival of Judaism.
This is fascinating when you think about it, for Paul loved the Jews, and longed for them to be saved. Had he not been such a lover of his heritage, and one who incorporated it into his Christian teaching, there may very well have been no Jews to be saved. Judaism may have been absorbed into the culture as it was in India, and China. There would be no Jews for Jesus, nor any other group designed to reach Jews for Christ. Without Paul there may have been no Jews to be reached. Jesus used Paul to keep Judaism alive so there would always be a ministry to these chosen people.
Because Paul acknowledged his Jewish heritage, Judaism, to this day, acknowledges this great enemy of theirs, as the probable cause of their continued existence. Such is the power of courtesy in putting yourself in the same boat with people you are trying to reach. I had this experience several years back at the Union Gospel Mission. Two Indians came forward to receive Christ. This motivated me to remember an acknowledge my heritage from the Indians. We were from two different worlds, and I wanted to assure them that in spite of the radical differences, I still had something in common with them.
I remembered that my parents had an Indian friend who use to come to the house when I was a small boy and show me tricks with a rope. I learned to do some of these tricks, and years later show them to my grandchildren. Then as a teenager witnessing at the country jail in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, my first convert was an Indian. He was in for man-slaughter. His response to the Gospel was a compelling factor in my call to the ministry. I have had almost no contact with Indians outside of these two incidents, but these two influenced my life. They are part of my heritage, and they give me the opportunity to acknowledge that I have some common ground for communication with Indians.
The lesson we learn from Paul is, if you love people, seek for that common ground. There is almost always some way in which you can acknowledge some value in their life that is also a value in yours, and thus, by this courtesy gain a hearing. The third way we see Paul expressing the virtue of courtesy is somewhat similar to the second, but it is distinctively different as well, and that is-
III. BY HIS COURTEOUS ADMISSION.
Paul goes on from acknowledgment of a common heritage to admission that he was just like them in their zeal and fanaticism. Paul admits that he hated Christians just as they now hate him. Paul's approach here is not a holier than thou attitude which says, thank God I was never a hot head like you murderous maniacs. Paul said instead, "I understand your hostility for I have been filled with it myself, and my record is clear: I persecuted Christians to the death. I was, not long ago, just where you are now, and I would have joined you in killing me, for I too hated the followers of Christ."
You cannot go any further than Paul did in identifying with his audience. He was not only in the same boat, he was in the same shoes, and with the same mind and emotions. Paul does not hate them for their blindness and rage, for he was just as blind, and his rage was equally brutal, and innocent people died because of him. He was saved by the grace of God, and now he can do no less for these blind people than help them to see the light of this grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is a whole lot easier to be courteous to disgusting people when you admit to yourself and others that without the grace of God, you would be just like them. There but for the grace of God go I, said Paul, of these madmen who sought to kill him. Had he said, like the Pharisee in Christ's parable, "I thank God I am not as other men," then he could have treated them like the dirt they thought he was. But once Paul could admit that the only difference between them and him was the grace of God, he had no choice but to have compassion for them. How can you hate and reject people who are just what you would be if Jesus had not touched you.
You can't treat a bad politician with disrespect if you know that without Christ you would be the same kind of politician. You can't look down your nose at a prostitute if you know that without Christ you too could be a prostitute. You can't be discourteous to any sinner if you admit that you would be just as sinful without the grace of God. Honest admission of just who and what you were, and what you would be without Christ, is the key to Christian courtesy. You can be nice to anyone when you realize that the only difference between you is, not your own merit, but the grace of God, which they too can have freely. This gives you compassion for the worst of people, and enables you to be kind and courteous in hopes of helping them to open their lives to that grace.
If you cannot be courteous to someone, it is because you have not, like Paul, magnified the grace of God in your life. The more you become aware that you are what your are by the grace of God, the more you will be able to be courteous to all people. The reason is, you will be able to admit you are only different from them by the grace of God. When you see, as Paul saw, you can understand how he could be so courteous to this mob of murderous men.
Paul shows us that Christianity is not a way of doing special things. It is a special way of doing all things. It is doing all things for the glory of God. Paul said, "Whatever you do in word or deed, (even addressing a mob), do it for the glory of God." And that means, do it courteously.
We can have a transforming experience in our view of Paul, just as Chuck Swindoll did, if we see the spirit of Paul here. Chuck in his book, Improving Your Serve said that he always saw Paul as a blend of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and the Hulk. He rammed his way through life like a fully loaded battleship at sea. He was just too important to worry about little people, or those who got into his way. But he says, this false impression began to fade as he studied Paul in depth. He discovered Paul was a warm and caring person whose primary desire was not to lord it over anybody, but to be a servant to all. Swindoll says, "A true servant stays in touch with the struggles others experience." Paul really cared for this mad mob, and he really understood there intense intolerance of him. He courteously admits he was not better himself.
Chuck says he had to learn the power of courtesy from another. Dr. Bruce Waltke, a Semitic scholar, and he, with two other pastors, were visiting a large Christian Science Church in downtown Boston. The guide was a woman, and she had no idea they were clergymen. At one point she stated they did not believe in judgment. Dr. Waltke said, "But mam, doesn't the Bible say it is appointed on to men once to die but after this the judgment?" The lady did not respond, but said, "Would you like to see the second floor?" Chuck was saying to himself, "Go for it Bruce. Now you got her." But Dr. Waltke said, "We surely would. Thank you." She sighed with relief, and they followed her. Chuck could not believe it, and he later wanted to know why he didn't nail her. Dr. Waltke said, "It would not have been very loving now, would it?" Chuck was rebuked, and never forgot the lesson. If you are not courteous to other people, why should they bother to care what you think? Later on Dr. Waltke had 20 minutes to share Christ with this woman. A chance he never would have gotten, had he not been courteous.
We do not admire Paul for what he accomplished here, for he apparently accomplished nothing, as far as the record goes. We admire him for what he was: A beautiful example of Christ-like courtesy. It is not a highly pushed virtue, nor is there any guarantee it will work, but if you really love people, and really want to please God, you will practice this seldom promoted virtue. Christ was courteous to those who crucified Him. Stephen was courteous to those who stoned him. Paul was courteous to those who sought to kill him. If you are going to judge the worth of courtesy by its fruit, you might be very disappointed.
None of these examples of friendly minded courtesy had any immediate impact on those to whom it was addressed. The mob did not change its mind. They shouted that Paul was not fit to live. If Paul was aiming to illustrate how to win friends and influence people he certainly failed. But Paul's courtesy, like that of his Lord, was not a gimmick. It was an expression of who he was, and of his love. It was right whether it paid off or not. The issue is not, does it work, but does it please God. Right is right whether it works or not.
Beauty is an end in itself, and beautiful behavior, like Paul's, is a work of art which exhibits Christ-likeness. Emerson said, "A beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form....It is the finest of the fine arts." Beauty does not fail. People can fail to respond to it, just as the mob did here. But Paul's courtesy is still beautiful, and he has left us all with an ideal example of Christian courtesy.