Sometimes we may think that the cultural rules of courtesy are extra-biblical, so they are optional for Christians. But courtesy is a Christian virtue. 1 Peter 3:8 says, “be courteous” in the midst of other directions for Christian behavior. What is it to be courteous? Though its expression may vary from culture to culture, courtesy is basically kindness in the little things.
Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to one another.” How do we show kindness? Thousands of ways, but if you think about it for a minute, most manners are ways of showing kindness. Aren’t all table manners just expressions of kindness? Don’t chew with your mouth open, we tell our children. Why? Because your neighbor doesn’t want to see your half-chewed food. You are being kind to everyone at the table when you take small bites, don’t burp, keep your hair out of your plate, use your napkin and not your sleeve, don’t grab food, and don’t reach across the table. All these and myriad other table manners are courtesies, ways of loving the other people seated at the table with you.
Good manners are a sign of good breeding. And what does that mean? It means your parents took the time to teach you lots of things to do and not to do in public. Things like “Don’t scratch. Don’t pick.” These are courtesies. When we teach our children these things, others will enjoy their company more. We are teaching them to be a blessing to others.
When we demonstrate good manners, we are living the way described in Philippians 2:3-4. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” We let others go first. We don’t elbow our way to the front of the line. Courtesy is humility, which is the central way we imitate Christ.
So when you teach your children manners, don’t think you are wasting your time. This is really teaching them the Christian worldview. It is teaching them that the world does not revolve around them and their wants. They must put others first. They must look out for their little sister. They must listen and not interrupt. These are all expressions of humility.
The person with the excellent manners may not necessarily be a Christian. But the Christian should have excellent manners.