By Pastor Glenn Pease
The ship Tecumseh was engaged in a battle with the ship Tennessee. A torpedo struck the Tecumseh and it began to sink immediately. Out of a crew of 114 men, 93 went down with the ship because it sank so fast. Tunis Craven was the Commander and at the time the torpedo struck he was in the tiny pilothouse with the pilot. Both ran for the small opening in the pilothouse but only one could pass at a time. Craven stood back and said, "You first, sir." The pilot escaped, but Craven went down with the ship. Courtesy was extremely costly in that particular situation, and the natural response is to think it was foolish. Even Christians do not place that high a value on being courteous, but that is due to the fact that we seldom consider the value of polite behavior for the kingdom of God.
We are fully aware of the eternal dividends to be gained by a life invested in following Jesus, but we seldom realize the potential gains to be made for both time and eternity by being courteous and polite. In other words, we do not bring out Christianity down into the practical level of everyday behavior. Agape love is segregated and reserved for special occasions only.
A survey of employees who were dismissed by 76 firms showed that only 10% lost their jobs because they lacked mechanical skill. The other 90% lost their jobs because of bad manners. A rude person who is not courteous and polite is a liability in every area of life. But one who has these qualities is always an asset. Therefore, a Christian has an obligation to be courteous, even if the Bible had nothing to say about the issue. The Bible does, however, have much to say about it because it is directly linked to agape love. Paul tells us in v. 5 that love is not rude. Phillips has it, "Love has good manners." Berkeley has it, "It is not conceited or unmannerly."
We could generalize and say that whatever is socially offensive is behavior which is incompatible with agape love. A Christian who is filled with this fruit of the Spirit will not be offensive because of personal ill behavior. His beliefs may be offensive to others, but his attitudes and manners are to be above reproach it he is to be a true channel of God's agape love. Beauty and charm are to characterize Christian conduct. This beauty of the soul is far more significant than beauty of the body. Fleshly beauty is a matter of chance, but spiritual beauty is a matter of choice. Every Christian has an obligation of God and man to be beautiful of soul by not behaving in an offensive manner. Those filled with the Spirit will be truly ladies and gentlemen.
Dr. Buckingham once said, "Wendel Phillips is the most beautiful person I eve saw...what I mean by beauty is his grace of character, his kindly generous manners, his brightness of mind, and his perfect purity and whiteness of soul." Every Christian should strive to fit that description. There are people who are proud of their offensive manners. I have heard many people say with a tone of pride, "I say just what I think, and I don't care who it is or who it hurts." This is supposedly a superior quality of character in comparison to the silent sufferer who doesn't strike back when his toes are stepped on, but according to the highest standard for Christian conduct, it is an inferior quality of character. In fact, it is incompatible with agape love, for agape love does not behave in such a proud conceited unmannerly way. Hilaire Belloc wrote,
Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart of Holiness,
Yet in my walks it seems to me
That the grace of God is in Courtesy.
The Christian must realize that all of his life is to be lived decently and in order, and not just during a church business meeting. No Christian ever has the right to be disrespectful, vulgar, or embarrassing to either a brother in Christ, or an unbeliever. When we do it, it is because we are not filled with the Spirit, and, therefore, not expressing agape love. Like the Corinthians we often fail to shape up and live in the perfect form of loveliness.
These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end,
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
In relation to the unbeliever agape love makes the Christian care what other people think, and not so much about you, but about the Christ you claim to love and follow. The Christian guided by love is cautious in the means he uses to gain his end. If he is rude and impolite, and in any way unethical in his behavior it is Christ who suffers. The Gentiles blasphemed God because of the behavior of the unfaithful Jews Paul said. Many reject Christ because of the behavior of professing Christians. Someone said, "the means some people use in getting ahead in this world probably means they are getting behind in the next." No means that is inconsistent with agape love has any part in the life of the Spirit led person.
One of the most common errors in thinking is that truth is always good. This is not so, for truth can be a great evil. A great deal of truth is evil in itself. All of the smutty and pornographic literature is dealing with what is real and true. The Chicago scandal sheet deals with bloody and gruesome facts. Gossip is often dealing with what is true. The world is filled with true things that have no place in the Christian life. Truth can be a weapon of the most cruel nature, and can be used with the most depraved motives to crush and destroy other persons. Francis de Sales said, "Judicious silence is far preferable to the truth roughly told." Agape love will often be silent when the tongue of flesh is aching to speak what is true.
Another area of life where we fail to express agape love is in the area of judging. Christians often behave unseemly at this point. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt we are so quick to hold them guilty until proven innocent. It is by being guilty of this myself that I have learned the folly and unkindness of it. It shows contempt for a basic principle of our way of life that says one is innocent until proven guilty. For example, we are so conditioned to think according to generalizations and categories and labels that persons are irrelevant to our conclusions. If a man belongs to a certain group, convention, church , or school of which I have formed an opinion, then I do not need to bother with finding out what the person believes, for I simplify everything by accepting or rejecting him on the basis of his association. This is a common reason for much evil thinking and judging.
Persons are the primary value in Christian thinking. Every individual is to be accepted or rejected for his or her personal views and commitments. To judge any person by impersonal things such as labels and associations is not only being false logic, it is being false to love, for love does not behave that way. A New England Episcopal Bishop met a young minister at a social gathering, and when he discovered he was a Congregationalist he said, "Mr Jones, excuse me, but while I recognize you as a gentleman, I cannot recognize you as a Christian." "That's all right Bishop, for while I can recognize you as a Christian, I cannot recognize you as a gentleman." Mr. Jones was right, for no man is a gentleman who judges another by a mere label. May we so yield to the Holy Spirit, and become such channels of agape love that we shall be recognized as both Christian and gentlemen, or ladies, as the case may be.
One of the major problems of the Christian life is the folly of waiting for some big opportunity to serve the Lord. This leads to meanwhile missing the many opportunities to so His will in the everyday routine of life. Dr. Paul Tournier wrote, "Love is not some great abstract idea or feeling. There are some people with such a lofty conception of love that they never succeed in expressing it in the simple kindness of ordinary life. They dream of heroic devotion and self-sacrificing service. But waiting for the opportunity which never comes, they make themselves very unlikable to those near them, and never sense their neighbor's need."
This has implication for our relationship to the world that we seldom consider. The eminent biologist T. C. Schneirla studied all types of life from the ameba to man, and concluded their is one fundamental activity common to all of them, and that is approach and withdrawal. When confronted by a stimulus that enhances pleasure the ameba moves toward the stimulus. If it is harmful it moves away. All of life seeks what is pleasurable and shrinks from what is painful. All of life moves toward what is positive and helpful. It moves toward love and away from what is not love. If the Christian is not polite, kind, and courteous, people will move away from them, but if they are loving, and all that goes with love, then people will move toward them and the Savior they represent. It is loving behavior that will drew people to Christ, and bad manners will keep them away. Just read this testimony and you realize how little Christians realize how their behavior looks to the world.
"Presently our daughter Laurie is going to college and working as a waitress in a restaurant. She frankly agrees with other waitresses that Sunday is the worst day to work. As one of the non-Christian waitress friend said, "It's horrible on Sundays with all those Christians coming in. All you hear is griping and unreasonable demands from them. They have little fights among themselves, they com plain about the menu and the prices, and they are just plain disagreeable. Then, after I serve their food, they stop everything, bow their heads, fold their hands, and pray their little prayer. It blows my mind because right after their prayer they are their same mean old selves." These Christians are totally unaware of how they are witnessing to the worthlessness of being a Christian.
When a Christian is aware of the importance of love is every relationship they will seek to add oil to the machinery and not sand. The goal is to keep things running smoothly, and to keep people living in harmony. The loving Christian is always seeking for ways to counteract friction and ease tension, and not add to it. Rudeness is insensitive and does not care if other people are offended or not. Rudeness says I have a feeling that I am going to express, and if it hurt others that is tough. It is a form of pride that says all that matter is how I feel, and how others feel is no concern of mine. When a movie wants to express the essence of pride and rudeness they have a motorcycle gang ride into town and destroy property and treat people like dirt. It is so obvious as evil that we despise them, but we fail to see we do the same thing when we show disrespect to others by being rude.
This is a major problem in marriages. Arnold Bennett wrote while single, "In a long and varied career as a bachelor, I have notices that marriage is usually the death of politeness between a man and a woman." Smiley Blanton said, "The typical husband will be quite considerate and attentive with his friends' wives. He'll open car doors for them, help them on with their coats-but somehow consider himself exempt from such niceties where his own wife is concerned. That kind of neglect is hurtful to women, who tend to equate it with lack of affection. Isn't it foolish not to try to make a good impression on ;the woman you will be seeing constantly for the rest of your life?"
The Corinthians were hurting the church-the bride of Christ, by their rudeness, and we often do the same to our brides by this form of non-love. There are so many ways to be non-loving. It is no wonder we fail constantly, but if we realize when we fail we are growing in love. What love is, we are not, is the essence of what Paul is saying in this great love poem. He is saying it in a dozen different ways so we get the point that we are a long way from the goal, and we need to keep on moving. We cannot stop and be content with where we have arrived, for wherever we are it is still a long way from the ideal of agape love. Our growth in love is never done in this life.
If we lived on a deserted island we would have no problem being kind and courteous. All the characteristics of love, however, are relational, and if you have no one to relate to you cannot be loving. Until we are able to relate to all people in love we are not through growing. Marjorie Holmes writes of just what a struggle it is to be loving in all relationships, and hold back the rudeness that wants to let loose. We have all been where she is. She writes, "Right now, calm my exasperation as I try for the third time to get that telephone operator to respond. Let me sit gently, think gently, speak gently when the connection is made.........................Help me to practice gentleness in small inconveniences like this as well as large problems with those close to me. If I can just keep gentle, firm but gentle, then I'll be better able to meet life's major crises with dignity and strength."
John Wesley was once put to the test. After he preached on the village green he was invited to the home of a wealthy man for lunch. Other guests were there, including a local preacher who was seated next to the lovely daughter of the wealthy host. She was noted for her love of luxury which was conspicuous by the several rings on her hand. The thoughtless visitor seized the hand of the young lady and said to Wesley across the table, "What do you think of this sir for a Methodist hand?" The girl was embarrassed, and began to turn crimson for everybody knew Wesley's aversion to finery and materialism. Wesley could have joined the flow of rudeness that was begun, but he nipped it in the bud and with a smile he said kindly, "The hand is very beautiful." He was not compromising his convictions, but he knew that love demanded that this was a time to ease the girls fears and embarrassment. Love has a time for judgment, but this was not the time, and in that setting it was time for love to be courteous and not rude. May God help us all to be as sensitive as Wesley was in our relation to people we can help or harm by how we express love, or fail to express it.