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Allison Althoff
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Natalie Lederhouse
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November 10, 2009

Not Minding Our Manners

Real love is more than being nice.

“Genuine love minds its manners.”

So said a church sign that I drove past recently. When I saw it, I cringed.

Sure, the mantra seems nice enough. Living this way is easy, safe, and doesn’t offend others. But is it true? Are Christians simply called to follow the rules, avoid confrontation, and love others by keeping our mouths shut?

Paul told the church in Corinth that love is kind; is not rude or boastful (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). The love we show the world is a mirror of Christ’s love working in and through us. We narrate the redeeming story of Jesus for others, sometimes even without words. Our behaviors, our attitudes, our very lives bear witness to the reality of the gospel. In this way, our outward kindness becomes a powerful tool communicating the love of Jesus.

This profound Christ-like love, though, is richer than our cheap, cultural definitions of “niceness.” It is deeper than minding our manners. It is far better than a superficial smile that doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful or lasting.

Shallow love does not rock the boats of our comfortable hearts. But the love of Christ is tumultuous and wild: it unearths ugly things in us and transforms us into a people of this fierce grace. Jesus emblazons our dull, dusty hearts with vibrant new life, a life we are called to share as we are continually refined by God.

Jesus changed people with his love. He changed their bodies. He brought sight where there was darkness, movement where there were brittle limbs, and life where there was death and destruction. He changed hearts of stone. Never worried about minding his manners, Christ disrupted a culture of mores and rules. He was a revolutionary for love, all to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:19).

We are also changed when we experience God’s love. This change means we love what God loves, and we see the world as he sees the world. We take up his ministry of reconciliation. Just as Jesus sorrowed for the needy, we weep for the lost, the destitute, the sick, the prisoner, the orphan, the widow, and the lonely.

This perspective shift moves us into action. Instead of just minding its manners, genuine love screams “No!” in the face of injustice while praying and working for redemption. Love is never rude, but it is also never silent. St. Augustine said that real love “has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

What do you think? How have you experienced genuine love that transforms you, from Christ or from others? Why is just minding our manners or being nice a truncated view of the love God offers? How do you show this real love to the world?

Related Tags: love, service


Where do we get some of the church signs that we put up? Do we think we are really witnessing to anybody?
I loved what you said about love being more than just minding our manners. We often think of Jesus as mild mannered but he overturned tables in the temple and spoke out against corruption and injustice. We sometimes confuse Christian values with our cultural ones. Jesus challenged the culture's values when they didn't line up with his. I wonder what other cultural values that we have would be challenged by him? Minding our own business perhaps? Or, cover your mouth when you sneeze - well, that last one is probably okay...

Speak the TRUTH in LOVE.

Sorry, I do not thing what you saw in Church meant what you understood. I agree with all you are saying about love being revolutionary and being Jesus's approach to Life.
Nevertheless, I treasure what taught to me by a Srilankan friend of mine. Since, as an Italian, I am brought up to give vain to my feelings,in order to eventually be better and to forget about negative sentiments towards others, he only told me: "You may be surely being better by not minding your manners, but, please, tink that others may not". Thank you, Nishantha. I have never forgotten that Christianity means that too!

Great article. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis' phrase that God has paid us "the intolerable compliment" of loving. Of course Lewis was referring to the purifying power of God's love; that is, because God loves us so much he displays this "compliment" by transforming us, even if that means sending us into a furnace of transformation. After all, "our God is a consuming fire." This is way beyond Divine Niceness. Of course our God is also infinitely tender and kind. Or as Paul would exclaim "behold the tenderness and severity of our God." Thanks for helping us see beyond the conventional, well-mannered, proper god of niceness.

holy mary , holy christ ....persuaded ...love ,justice , truthfulness, honesty .....with good manners ...and we should follow this

Thanks Bonnie for reminding us of the freedom in Christ and the genuine love we are to carry to the world!

As a follower of Christ, I am finding that when I am consciously reminindg myself to "be nice", it usually means that I am "in fear" about something (usually a relationship) and my fear is that I might rock the boat and end up being rejected. So, instead of speaking up in truth, I find myself pasting on the "smile" and pretending that everything is "okay", when inside my heart may be breaking and my hope crushed. Nice is nice and it stops there. We need to fill ourselves up with the courage of Christ and be ready to rock the boat, for the love of God, whatever the cost! Thank you for this thought-provoking article. It's "timing" is perfect and I believe God directed me to this article this morning. He and I know why. Thank you.

Sometimes I think we Christians think that 'niceness' is the primary gift of the Holy Spirit, when in reality 'niceness' is often a conscience-salving excuse for good men to do nothing while watching evil prevail. Thanks for the article - very encouraging!

I think it's shaky to equate Augustine's description of love (hands, feet, eyes, ears...) to screaming "no" at injustice. The is serving and touching and ministering those that Jesus called us to help. The other may BENEFIT them at some point, but it is not feeding, clothing, touching. We may feel righteous when we move a political or social needle one way or the other, but helping another human DIRECTLY – in the name of Jesus – is a unique and holy experience.

I find your thoughts on manners as it relates to love very profound. I have found that it easy for some “Christians” to say “I love you brother” but their life style and actions are far from the “Truth”. Love is a cognitive choice that is commanded by the Holy Spirit, it does not come from the ‘tip of your tongue’. In a Holy Spirit controlled life it is natural result. My wife and I entered a church here in the deep south, we had just arrived from a foreign land and was not very cognitive of the customs in some churches here in the US. We did not realize that church attendees mark their pews, so we unknowingly sat in pew that was marked by someone else. After a few months, my wife happened to attend a class taught by the person we had apparently taken the seat from. It was in that class the individual chose to used it as an illustration to show how ill mannered it was to take her seat. Not directing it at my wife but knowing she was attending the class. My wife was totally disturbed by such a reaction, had it not been for the foundation we have in CHRIST through mature missionary training this would have been an obstacle for us. There are time when we have to not mind our manners and let it be known in the churches that we have become like the Pharisees and not very open to change and welcoming to strangers and foreigners whatever their cultural background.

Dave - I feel sorry and ashamed that you and your wife experienced this kind of behavior. I have unforunately seen it happen all too often.

I think we make a mistake when we equate "niceness" with "kindness." God is kind, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Nice is something entirely different. I believe we should cultivate kindness, mind our manners in certain respects, be peacemakers rather than peacekeepers, not give in to political correctness when it goes against God's ways, and speak out against injustice when we see it.

Dave -- I too am sorry that you experienced such an unwelcome response to your innocent action of sitting in the "wrong" pew. This is definitely an indication of someone who is focused on the social implications of attending church rather than the transforming work of the Lord.
That said, I might also add to this stream that we often judge the "misstep" by the force of reaction and the number of those offended by it. Rather, we should always judge according to the Spirit of Christ and the Word of God. Is it wrong to call sin "sin"? We know it isn't. But when the crowd turns against us and begins to rail against us (or others we know) we falter in our resolve to do the right thing. We need to pray for strength and discernment in these "perilous times".

This is for Dave....welcome to the South. I moved here over 20 years ago and am still in awe of how people in our churches react to such petty things. I too had such an experience when I was going to sit at a table with my 2 young sons to eat before the Wednesday service only to be told by a woman that she was saving it for her family! I was so astonished and shocked that I didn't know what to say or do....I was a single mom with no family at all near me....so where was my church family? a much needed witness to my young sons??? My heart was broken...this is the reputation of many churches - so terribly sad that people attend for so many years that they've forgotten about the wounded coming to find refuge in their midst! I pray that you continue your search because I know God will lead you to a place that will love and accept you not matter where you sit!

When I was pastor of an Indian mission in south La., there was one road in and one road out of the town which sat on the edge of the Gulf. I erected a sign with changeable letters...and YES...witnessed! The local priest even told his congregation during Sunday mass that he wished everyone had as much "get up and go" to give a witness as those Baptists up the road!

If you are preaching the Love of Christ then you must be in Christ and for Christ.Jesus Christ never hated anybody.Why do people hate each other? It is because they are not in Christ.You have to choose and be careful not to mix.There are two ways that are given to us to choose and travel;wide,and broad. Nobody is forcing you to choose.It is upon you to choose which one you want to travel.But,I warn you friend! No one can serve two masters;for either he will hate the one and love the other.or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.Remember this>>."Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,and have no LOVE,I am nothing.11John 4:19-20" We love Him because He first loved us.If a man say,I love God and hateth his brother,he is a lier" You know as I know and believe that satan is a lier and when you lie you are in Satan's mission.See! Be in Christ and let love grow until He comes.

Herod didn't behead John the Baptist because he was "nice". Jesus' overthrow of the moneychangers didn't exactly make him a popular guy in Jerusalem, which helps to explain why he was crucified just a week later.

None of this is to justify unnecessary rudeness, of course. We ought to be at peace with all men as much as possible, just as the scriptures teach. There's no point in erecting barriers where none need exist. But sometimes the only way to be faithful to the truth is to say things which others consider to be rude because their values are warped. And that doesn't just pertain to our interactions with unbelievers. It also pertains to our relationships with other Christians. Conflict is unpleasant, but there are sometimes worse things than temporary conflict.

Regarding the "pew incident" experienced by Dave in a southern church, it strikes me that it was rude for those folks to assume that Dave's wife was aware of the local customs. Love "hopes all things". That means giving folks the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, and treating them as we would wish to be treated by assuming, in lieu of contrary evidence, that any offenses they might cause are unintentional.

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