Mending The Breach Of Etiquette
While watching Christian television one day I saw an advertisement which was aimed at helping the viewer understand how that organization saw their ministry. In the ad bibles were placed on the ground in some unusual places. The voice announced that it was the charge of every believer to sow seeds through the word of God; and then you would see another bible appear on the ground somewhere. Clearly it visualized the passage in Matthew 13 where the word of God is sown on different types of soil which represent the condition of our hearts. But the commercial took the message one step further and showed people approaching the bibles as they were found on sidewalks, grassy areas, benches etc... The voice then announces that we (those who sow of God’s word) cannot determine how the word will be received. At that moment two people, coming from different directions, approach bibles that are on the ground. The one person had a curious look on her face as she picked it up, looked at it and continued walking on her path but with the bible in her hands. The other person had a somewhat blank look on his face. He stops, picks up the bible and forcefully throws it away from his presence as hard as he possibly could. Then he continues on his path. The announcer comes back again and makes the plea for viewers to make a donation so that they can continue to sow seed.
Watching that commercial I thought to myself about how rude and offensive it was for that person to forcefully throw that bible away from his presence. The message was unmistakable; we sow seeds that are sometimes not able to produce fruit in the hearts of the people. Yet God illumined my mind to see what is too common of an occurrence in the family of faith. God showed me that there is a breach of etiquette in the body of Christ. What is etiquette and how does etiquette look in the body of Christ? Etiquette is a level of conduct that depicts good breeding and is observed in social or official settings.
Settings such as work, professional gatherings, and even spiritual settings all have established etiquette that outlines appropriate behavior. In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were social, religious and official standards of etiquette. Persons of good breeding, those who had been taught, and those who had accepted righteous teachings exhibited etiquette and common hospitality. On the other hand, persons who lacked good breeding, those who had never been taught, and those who had rejected righteous teachings were expected to exhibit a breach of etiquette and inhospitable behavior. For those who were about to go out into the ministry field this is a sobering debriefing from one who never lied nor ever deceived his followers.
Jesus tells his disciples, those who were doing God’s work, what to expect and how to handle a breach of etiquette. Good breeding would be demonstrated by the way the people supported those who had come to do God’s work. Good breeding would be demonstrated by the way people received the word of God. Good breeding would be demonstrated by the way God’s servant was welcomed or listened to. The quality of hospitality shown to God’s servant was evidence of good breeding. Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were going to come in contact with those who lacked etiquette. For them the instructions were straight forward; let your peace return to you, leave that place and shake the dust or memories of it off of your feet. For those who demonstrate a breach of etiquette, their path ahead is not going to be very tolerable.
We know that this passage of scripture spoke to a specific place and time in the building of the Christian faith. We know the mobile nature of the ministry was dependent upon the hospitality of others as they moved from town to town. And some would conclude that this directive for ministry is not applicable for the stableness of our current religious culture. But the question I bring to the text today is whether or not Jesus would give the same instructions to the preachers of the gospel today in light of how drastic the breach of etiquette has become.
I wrestle with the Holy Spirit over this message because I know there are those who will hear it as self-serving. But God assures me that the only way to mend the breach of etiquette is to stop avoiding the breach, to bring attention to the breach and teach about God’s standards of etiquette.
The first breach of etiquette is to operate with the attitude that spiritual authority has no authority or relevance. We see this through the mindset that the preacher is nothing special, and is a woman or man just like everybody else. God’s standard of etiquette says that the preacher of the gospel is not only not like everyone else but is in fact a gift to everyone else. God’s etiquette found in Romans 10:15 says, how beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the gospel. God’s etiquette (Ephesians 4:12) says that God gave gifts; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ etc… God’s etiquette (1 Timothy 5:17) says, Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. Some of the things that come out of our mouths, some of the thoughts that are found in our hearts, some of the ways we respond to the needs of the spiritual authority placed here by God, the pastor, are simply a breach of etiquette.
If you want to begin to mend the breach of etiquette committed against your pastor start by accepting the fact that God has sent your pastor to watch over your soul, and has given your pastor spiritual authority to execute the word of God. Accept the reality that God has sent your pastor to execute the word of God by casting out the unclean spirits, disease and sickness.
The second breach of etiquette is to operate with hostility towards the presence and words of God’s servant. Part of the established social customs was to provide hospitality so that those who were coming to serve would not be distracted by matters that those who were being served should have taken care of . God’s etiquette (Acts 6:2) says that when the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. God’s etiquette (Matt 10:14) expects us to be welcoming and to listen to God’s servants. Refusing to be taught, corrected or trained is a breach of etiquette.
If you want to begin to mend the breach of etiquette committed against your pastor start by monitoring how you receive the presence and words of your pastor. A friend of mine has a favorite line; “You say so much when you say nothing at all.” A breach of etiquette is not always in what we say but often in how we do nothing at all.
The last breach of etiquette that I will lift up today is in the way we take God’s servant for granted. We all know what it means to take someone for granted. We refuse to see the value of that person in our lives. We act like if they stay “so what” and if they go “so what”. We disregard the significance that their presence has for our well being. Most importantly we act like they will always be around to grin and bear the every level of insult and inhospitable act we care to herald at them. Jesus told his disciples that if they found a town or village to be unworthy, guilty of being inhospitable or operating outside the standards of etiquette to simply leave! Not only were they told to leave, but the result of their leaving also meant that they would lose the peace and blessings that God had meant for them to receive.
If you want to begin to mend the breach of etiquette committed by taking the gifts and graces brought to the ministry for granted then show appreciation by extending peace and cooperation. Preaching the gospel in the presence of good breeding should be a welcoming engagement. Instilling the principles of the Kingdom to those with good spiritual breeding should be a welcoming engagement. Training those with good spiritual breeding to win souls for the Kingdom should be a welcoming engagement. Leading those with good spiritual breeding, good spiritual etiquette in evangelism should be a welcoming engagement.
Spiritual etiquette has suffered a breach. For some they were never taught God’s standard of etiquette so they breach it constantly. For some they were taught it but like the man in the commercial, they have taken the lessons and thrown them away quite forcibly. And then there are others who realize today that they need to mend the breach within their hearts. For those who have ears, let them hear what the spirit of the Lord is saying.