ETIQUETTE — what's that? — the way snobbish high society acts? That's what the average person thinks. Is genuine etiquette, or good manners, wrong? Do we need it? Like almost everything, from money to liquor, man has put the materials around him to evil uses. So it is with courtesy or etiquette. The fashionable often misuse what God intended to be for a very noble end. It will probably come as a surprise to most of you to know just how often the Bible speaks of right etiquette and good manners courtesy. Culture has unnecessarily been given a narrow application. But the true meaning of courtesy, as divinely intended, and as the soundest human minds have seen it, is broad and useful in the entire field of human relations. It is this OVERLOOKED PURPOSE of etiquette in cultural training that is STRESSED in Scripture, and according to the wisdom of God, is being instilled into the students at Ambassador College. Because of the Biblical teaching on this question everyone should have the subject clarified. Right principles of good conduct — etiquette — should be practiced by every Christian. IT IS ONE OF THE MANIFOLD WAYS IN WHICH GOD'S LAW IS FULFILLED!
What Is the Aim of Good Manners?
The right purpose of etiquette is to create a kindly interest in and a loving consideration for others — just another method of saying: love your neighbor. The popular, arbitrary rules of etiquette are decidedly secondary to this very basic purpose. All they can do is add finesse to culture in the same manner as money adds joy to spiritual understanding. Without the basis for culture — courtesy and consideration for the other fellow — etiquette is a set of MEANINGLESS RULES, hanging like a sword over every gathering and over every meal. But complete understanding of social rules does add to the ALREADY PRESENT CHARACTER WE MUST FIRST POSSESS. The knowledge that God stresses good manners should inspire each of us to make a diligent search to see how WE CAN IMPROVE OURSELVES AND COPY THE LIFE OF JESUS AS AN EXAMPLE IN COURTESY. The most important point in etiquette is to be courteous." Sounds like a Biblical phrase, doesn't it? It is. Peter said it long before any of our modern social writers, in I Peter 3:8. Courtesy is magnified in almost every book of the Bible. The one which we may need to consider most often is stated in Proverbs 25:17. "Withdraw your foot from your neighbor's house, lest he be weary of you, and so hate you." The greatest courtesy we show our friends and neighbors by so doing is to gladden their hearts instead of making ourselves disrespected. To smile and to say a good word without being a bore is good manners, good breeding, and well pleasing to God. Pro. 12:25. It permits us to "sell" people on the truth of God by the excellent character we exhibit.
Another Courteous Requirement
Courtesy in etiquette is deemed so important by God, that He had it written into the law of Moses for our ADMONITION TODAY. "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man." Lev. 19:32. This principle is magnified by varying rules established by custom, both in Scripture and out, which we should follow in so far as they do not involve respect of persons. It is proper to rise before women and dignitaries. These basic principles every servant of God should seek to have inculcated. The students at College are being taught them so they may set the very best example of manliness and womanhood possible, no matter what the situation. To follow good custom is an ordinance of God so that we may have the favor of unbelieving and contradictory men. We are never to appear unnecessarily eccentric or out-of-place.
An excellent book on etiquette points out that good manners are "methods of making and keeping friends." Human nature being so perverse, many who want to accomplish the will of the Creator either seek to follow after the friendship of the world or tend to run with fear to seclusion. What is the Biblical teaching on the maintenance of friendships?
Here Is Your Answer
No true servant of the Ever Living God is to be a part of the endless round of society with its banquetings and vain conversations. I Peter 4:3, 4. But because we ARE COMMANDED TO BE SEPARATE FROM WORLDLY SOCIAL INTERCOURSE, does that cut off all friendship entirely? No. Paul shows in I Cor. 5:9, 10, that of necessity there will be some worldly relationships. But we must not become an active PART OF THEM; we only HAVE CONTACT WITH THEM. By noticing your Bible carefully you will find many statements that the world in that day regarded Jesus as a FRIEND of tax collectors and "sinners." Certainly Jesus had many friends, but He was not deceived or led away by any. Nor did He participate in their worldly interests. And the Scripture shows us how we may have many friendly relations with our fellow human beings for THEIR BENEFIT — "A MAN THAT HAS FRIENDS, MUST SHOW HIMSELF FRIENDLY." Pro. 18:24. Unless we are friendly with others, we are not setting them a good example.
Etiquette Condemns Wrong Conduct
Many are the commands that help us to avoid the pitfalls causing broken friendships. Even proper etiquette denounces a WHISPERER OF TALES OR A GOSSIP WHO SEPARATES THE BEST OF FRIENDS. Pro. 16:28; 17:9. At no time should contentions or arguments be indulged in. STOP THEM BEFORE THEY PROCEED FURTHER! God doesn't waste His time arguing with His adversaries, so why should we? See Proverbs 17:14 for advice on the conduct of our conversation.
Some Difficult Rules
One of the hardest rules of propriety to obey is this: maintain the correct attitudes of heart even when surrounded by envious gossips. Peter said in a verse quoted before that there WOULD BE SOME who "think it strange that you do not run with them in the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you." To be CONSIDERATE, PATIENT AND FOREBEARING, IS THE MARK OF A CULTURED GENTLEMAN OR LADY, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE ACCUSED FALSELY. But we should act thus at all times. The social graciousness overlooks the errors or hostile attitudes of friends or enemies. Therefore the CHARACTER OF GOD WHICH WE SHOULD ACQUIRE IS ONE IN WHICH WE SHOULD MAKE ANYONE FEEL AT EASE AND COMFORT ABLE. Too many people take words such as kindness, long-suffering, forgiving, as mere platitudes but neglect the real purpose they serve in human conduct. God intended us to be socially at ease and gracious by GIVING US THESE PRINCIPLES TO GUIDE OUR SOCIAL CONTACTS.
Those Awkward Situations
On past occasions most of us have found ourselves in some awkward social situation because we did not know the appropriate conduct we should have followed. Perhaps we lacked poise in overcoming the obvious mental and physical peculiarities we expressed. But, because we are to express God's character to the world in our lives, it certainly behooves us to be prepared for these situations by STUDY AND BY PRACTICE. How many of you brethren realize that one of the reasons for the selection of Daniel and his friends as prophets of God was that they had "ability in them to stand in the King's palace"? Dan. 1:4. Those men knew how to handle themselves even before royalty. And we can learn proper conduct, too; although we meet only the "average" man. It takes study and diligent application of ourselves to overcome handicaps and then to forget past errors once we have mastered them. Phil. 3:13. As usual, the best and only sure way to achieve mastery is THROUGH EXPERIENCE. THAT IS THE REASON GOD WANTS US TRAINED IN THE ART OF HOSPITALITY. "Entertain strangers" and "give yourselves to hospitality" are a few of the admonitions. Ro. 12:13; I Peter 4:9. This practice we too often neglect also helps us to do good without grudging — another mark of a gracious person. In Luke 14:12, Jesus gives us an example showing whom to invite for a festive occasion that may be within our financial power to give: the poor, maimed, crippled and blind. These can NOT recompense us. Other verses tell us to care for the brethren, too.
The Principle of Hospitality
The joys of hospitality toward others become apparent when we recognize that the annual HOLY DAYS GOD REVEALED TO HIS PEOPLE ALL ARE BASED ON REJOICING WITH OUR BRETHREN OVER THE BOUNTY GIVEN US FROM THE EARTH. We all have missed much if we have neglected to follow the rule of hospitality. It is just another way of "preaching" to outsiders the wonderful ABUNDANT way of life that will result from obedience to the laws of God.
A paraphrase of these verses can be found in a saying of etiquette concerning good manners: Ask people into your home and share your joys and material goods with them or both your character and that of the stranger will be pitiably lonely. Just as children indicate the understanding of their parents by the training they exhibit, let us all realize that we, as the offspring of God Himself, exhibit every day His character by our poise and conduct. Just as the students in Ambassador College are learning the true meaning of social graciousness and consideration, so each of you, too, in the church can be learning these joyous commands BY DOING to others as you would have them do to you. For those who may find it impossible to obtain enough information on right customs not found in the Bible, but which are applications of it, perhaps some of those questions can be answered specifically later. Your questions are invited.