WHAT ARE GOOD MANNERS? It depends where you are in the world, of course. In Malawi, when you shake hands with someone make sure your other hand is in view. In Japan you don’t eat or drink on the street. In Britain, don’t ever push into a queue.
Manners are a ‘social lubricant’: they help us get on with each other. We feel at ease when someone behaves the way we expect them to. Different cultures have different systems of manners, but there are some general expectations that we’ll tend to find the world over. It’s rude to talk over someone when they’re speaking. It’s polite to hold a door open for the person behind you. Basically, good manners are behaviours which show consideration for the feelings and wellbeing of other people.
The Basic Principle
As you might expect, the teaching of Jesus Christ provides an excellent definition of good manners: ‘As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them’ (Luke 6:31). Pause here, and think of that. Wouldn’t the world be a spectacularly better place if everyone just adopted that simple principle?
Actually, that verse is part of a more broad-ranging teaching. This is the verse in context:
I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (vs. 27–31).
It is common sense that if people treat each other with courtesy and consideration, society will work better. Societies all over the world have worked that out. But Jesus is not just telling us how to get on with each other (although that will be an inevitable consequence of following this teaching). He is taking the principle to another level. His followers should be so focused on the feelings and wellbeing of other people that they will naturally put others’ needs before their own. And not just their friends, but strangers as well, and even enemies. That is revolutionary—and it is of course not at all easy to do. So he explains why and how:
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (vs. 32–36).
It is an attitude that does not come naturally to us. But the reason we should aspire to it, and the key to obtaining it, is to remember that we are learning from God. ‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45). He ‘so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16)—even though He knew that His son would be rejected and killed by those who did not believe.
So the follower of Christ must think beyond themselves—not just about other people, but about God.
The Ultimate Example
Jesus Christ was a man of supremely good manners. Being a country peasant, he may not always have been recognised as such by the polite society of his time. But throughout his life he displayed thoughtfulness and consideration in everything he did and said. Think for example of the last day of his mortal life. Before he sat down to share his Last Supper with his disciples, he washed their feet (John 13:1–11). While they were eating he dipped a morsel of bread and gave it to Judas Iscariot as a sign of friendship (v. 26), even though he knew Judas was about to betray him. He led his disciples out of the city to the garden where he was arrested, and his last miracle was to heal the wound of one of his enemies (Luke 22:51).
He always put others before himself. He was kind to the ungrateful and the evil, and he was merciful (Luke 6:36). He is the ultimate example of good behaviour—that is, Godly behaviour.