Politeness is not always such a good thing. Sometimes, courtesy can be confusing. I recall inviting a British friend to my home. We were having a meal together, and were down to the last piece of the main course. He said to me, “Would you like to have that?” pointing to what I remember as being a lamb chop.
I thought to myself, “This person really has nerve. I’m the host, and he’s the guest. I bought the food. It’s in my house, prepared by my wife, and he’s offering it to me!” Since we Jews are outspoken, I asked why he was offering me my food in my house. He explained, “That’s the British way of saying, ‘I’d like to have it.’” I replied, “Well, why don’t you just say so?” And he said, “Because we’re polite.”
Now when it comes to politeness and courtesy, the British are experts. Nevertheless, in dealing with differing cultures, we sometimes find that one person’s politeness is another person’s presumption.
Many years have passed and I can now say that I recall my British friend’s idea of politeness with nostalgia and perhaps even see in it a certain charm because I understand the intent.
But here’s a different example of courtesy that I could do without. Have you ever noticed when people say “no” to you they often begin with a false apology? They’ll say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you in at this time.” Did they look sorrowful to you? Did they show that they were grieving? Did they seem sad that they had to tell you no? Of course not! It was just a polite way of rebuffing you.
Or when somebody says, “Hello. How are you?” Have you ever started telling them about your recent illness and how it affected you, or where you were hurting? Probably not, because the person asking you would have been confused. They were expecting “the right answer” which is to say, “I’m fine, and how are you?”
That kind of “rightness” or politeness can lead us away from the truth. In our country today, we have what someone decided to call “political correctness.” It’s not politically correct to discuss religion or politics. It’s especially wrong to discuss religion, and polite people will not do it. Have you ever found yourself not mentioning the Lord because you were just too polite to bring it up? But that’s the Devil’s design for society. In the world that Satan is trying to create, one can’t mention Jesus because someone might be offended.
In contrast, Jesus’ idea of manners was to prefer one another in love, and to serve one another with humility. So, is an unsaved person best served by hearing the gospel, or not hearing it? If we hold our tongue because we are afraid of what people may think about us, whom are we preferring, and how are we being humble? Perhaps it seems impolite to ask such questions—but that is part of the problem. Maybe you know how I feel when I say that I’d rather be rude than caught in a quagmire of courtesy that prevents me from telling people God’s Good News of salvation.