“A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him” (Proverbs 11:25). This scripture helps illustrate the importance of manners; the kindness you show to others will eventually come back to reward you. Often, we do not see the reward of our own politeness, but we must understand that it is there.
It seems like manners have gone out the window in our society today. Kids do not see the importance of having good manners because their parents do not teach about it. If the average teenage boy were asked about manners and cordiality, he would probably know very little. Boorish table manners, rude speech, disrespectful titles of our elders, slovenly dress both at home and at the worship of the Lord – these are just a few of the results of a lack of training in things pertaining to manners.
So what is the big deal? What’s so important about manners that we should waste our time learning about it and acting all stuffy around our elders? Is there any merit to having good manners? Indeed there is! How we act on the outside is a reflection of who we are on the inside. And just as important as how we act is how we speak (James 3:6).
Take notice of the fact that manners are stressed in the Bible. This concept is not just something that boring old people are trying to force on exciting young people! Rather, the concept of being a gentleman is Biblical, and God expects His people to act with constant care toward others (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). In the Old Testament, we read that courtesy toward guests at meals is important. Abraham was a good example of this when he entertained the three messengers from God (Genesis 18:2). His service to them was genuine and attentive. He cared for the strangers, feeding them, washing their feet, and giving them time to rest. He saw to it that every one of their needs was met. Lot showed the same diligence (Genesis 19:1). Also, Abraham made it a point to stand while his guests ate (Genesis 18:8).
“To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (1 Peter 3:8). If only kids today would learn to follow this example! The word “kindhearted” that is used in the New American Standard Version is translated “courteous” in the King James Version of the Bible. How many of us can say that we are courteous people all the time?
The point of this lesson is to help you become a more courteous Christian man. It reflects very poorly on you when you carry yourself in a discourteous, sloppy, or disrespectful manner, so if you want to become the best man possible, you must take the proper steps to learning gentlemanliness. The next sections of this lesson will help you determine what to do and what not to do in specific social situations:
When addressing people you know – It is simply courteous to address those who are your elders by the title “Mister” or “Miss”, even with people you know very well. It is so uncommon today to call a woman “Miss Betty” or “Miss Julie” that she will certainly appreciate the respect that you show.
When seeing an elder man, call him “Mister Jim” or “Mister Stephen” as the case may be. Always accept a handshake when it is offered, and squeeze at about the same pressure that you are feeling from him. Never offer a left-handed handshake, as this is a customary sign of disrespect. Understand that there is often more to a handshake than you realize. When one man offers his hand with the palm facing up, it shows respect and reverence for the other person. If a man shakes another’s hand and forces his hand on top of the other’s, it is an indication that he is trying to show dominance.
When an elder enters a room, stand out of respect. If you are sitting and he approaches you to shake your hand and greet you, stand from your chair for the duration of the greeting, or until he directs you to sit back down. Standing is a very common expression of great regard and honor.
Consider what Job wrote, “The young men saw me and hid themselves, and the old men arose and stood” (Job 29:8). In this scripture, it almost seems like Job is describing people today! Too many young people do not follow the good example of respect that their elders show toward one another.
For verbal salutations, understand that most adults do not greet each other the way you and your friends greet each other. Use kind, simple, cordial salutations like “Hello, Mister. . .”, “It is a pleasure to see you. . .”, “How are you, Sir?”
When meeting people you do not know – Always offer a handshake and give your name in a clear manner so that the person does not need to ask for your name again. Speak clearly and at an appropriate pace and volume for the situation. Do not squeeze the other person’s hand too tightly, as this is disrespectful. When shaking the hand of a woman, be gentle and kind, as most women do not prefer the same kind of hearty grip that men do.
When the conversation is finished, always express how honored you are to have met the person.
When eating as a guest at somebody’s home – Before the meal even begins, there is one important things you can do to start the evening off smoothly: show up on time! Punctuality is key to establishing good social relationships. Realize that if you are late for an engagement, it indicates to the host that you do not care enough about the engagement. If you are too early, it may make your host feel awkward and unprepared to entertain you. Simply try your hardest to show up at exactly the time that you have been asked.
Before the meal, there may be a time for casual conversation between yourself and your hosts. This is a good time to thank them for inviting you over. Never seem impatient to begin the meal, as this will make your host feel rushed into food preparation.
When the meal begins, ask where the host wants you to be seated and comply without argument. Do not touch anything on the table, including your drink glass, until every person has also been seated. Take the time before every meal to pray to the Lord, just as Christ did (Matthew 14:19, Matthew 15:36). If the hosts are not members of the church, and do not pray before their meals, pray a short, silent prayer before eating.
As the meal progresses, show your self-control in the way you eat. The writer of Proverbs reminds us of this in Proverbs 23:1-2. Do not hog the best portions, calmly wait for things to be passed to you, always say please when you ask for anything, no matter how minor. Keep your napkin on your lap unless you need to clean a spot on your face or hands. Sit up straight at the table, do not hunch over or slouch as this makes you look uninterested in the meal or the conversation. Do not talk with your mouth full of food. In fact, do not talk at all unless it is information that is pertinent and appropriate for dinner conversation – nobody likes an annoyingly talkative person at a meal. When speaking to the group, talk politely and at a volume that is appropriate to the setting. Oh, and one more thing: do not slurp, gulp, belch, or make any other noises!
Keep your elbows off the table while you eat.
Do not hunch over your plate while eating. It is only proper for a human being to bring food to his face, and not the other way around. Even in the Bible we find that those who bring food or drink to their face are more perceptive than those who bend over for that purpose. Turn to Judges 7:4-7. When God was choosing who would go with Gideon to fight for Israel, He was not interested in those men who bent over to the water to drink, but only in them that would bring the water up to their faces. Why? Because only a foolish soldier would let his guard down and bend over for a drink. Keen soldiers never let down their guard. At meals, it is not considered proper to bend over your plate and shovel your food!
Even as a teenager, you can show your appreciation to your hosts by complimenting the meal, not so much that it sounds over the top, but simply to the point that you make it clear the meal was enjoyed. And, perhaps, the most important tip that can be given when you are eating at somebody’s home is this: EAT WHAT IS GIVEN TO YOU. Do not complain about the meal and do not ask for other meal options. Few things are more intolerable than asking for something else to eat. Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:27. If you happen to not enjoy the taste of the food presented to you, eat it anyway and smile. Imagine how you would feel if you spent hours preparing a meal for guests only to have their bratty teenage son complain about your cooking! It seems like parents today have successfully reared a generation of annoyingly picky eaters! Even Christ taught us this concept in Luke 10:7-8, “And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”
“Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Proverbs 17:1). If the food being served to you is not very delicious, it is best just to keep your thoughts to yourself and not cause hurt feelings or strife.
When the meal is finished, offer to clear the table, asking politely where the host wants the dishes placed.
When sitting through worship services – The time for worshipping God is one of the most important times in your life. Realize that you are there to sing praises to the Lord Almighty, the One who created you. You owe it to God to give Him your best effort during the service.
If possible, get plenty of sleep Saturday night so that you are not tired and unreceptive for the morning service on Sunday. If necessary, take a quick nap Sunday afternoon to ensure alertness during the evening service. We all know what happens to young men who sleep during worship services! In Acts 20:9, a boy named Eutychus fell out of a window from an upper story when he fell asleep during Paul’s sermon. Luckily, Paul healed the boy and, hopefully, he learned his lesson.
Sit quietly during worship, participating during all the times when it is appropriate and remaining silent at all other times. Have your Bible with you always so that you can follow along during Scripture readings and during the sermon. After the service is over, let the song leader and the preacher know how well they did and assure them that you were benefited by their work.
In what you wear and how well-groomed you are – It may seem like a very insignificant matter for which you should be concerned, but so much can be ascertained about a person based on the way he dresses or wears his hair.
Naturally, we must maintain modesty at all times in front of others. Wearing immodest clothes reflects very poorly on your character because, often, what you are on the outside is a good indication of what you are on the inside. So many kids get angry with adults because they think “adults just judge us based on what we wear!” Well, that is completely true. And rightly so. If a young man is going to dress disrespectfully at worship services, in sloppy clothes that are not well-maintained, then disrespect is all he will get.
Christ makes it clear that we need to keep ourselves clean and well-kempt during times of fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In the Old Law, wearing clean clothes was a sign of being prepared or cleansed before worship (Exodus 19:10). In the same way, no priests were considered ready to perform their duties until they were washed (Exodus 29:4). Surely, if God expected His priests under the Old Law to be clean, well-groomed, and wearing appropriately washed clothes, then does He not require the same from us?
As much as some young men hate it, long hair on a man is also a sign of immodesty. “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). Read 1 Corinthians 11:1-15 to get the greater scope of what Paul is teaching in this passage. Essentially, Paul makes the assertion that a man should not have his head covered with long hair during worship to God because he is made in the image of God. Any head covering would be a sign of disrespect to the One in whose image we are made.
When writing a greeting/”thank you” card – One of the very small, simple gestures you can do for other people is to prepare “thank you” cards or “get well” cards for those in need. After a dinner party, write a card to make sure your host knows he or she was appreciated. When given a gift from somebody, write a card also.
When dealing with girls – Perhaps you are starting to notice the opposite sex a little bit more than you used to. That is fine. This is about the time in your life that you should be noticing them. But be aware that they are not objects, and should be treated with as much respect and dignity as possible. As a man, it is your responsibility to treat girls as if they were the weaker vessel. This includes opening doors for them, giving up your seat on the bus or at the church building for them, and carrying heavy loads for them.
Always allow a girl to walk into a room before you, never behind you. Traditionally, this is because women are much prettier than men and we know it!
When walking down a sidewalk with a girl, always allow her to walk on the side farthest from the street, as it is a safer, cleaner position and you have an obligation to ensure her safety.
Part of being a good Christian man is maintaining the most appropriate attitudes of respect and cordiality at the right times. If you are not a gentleman, then you are not a complete Christian! God does not expect us to maintain such high standards because he wants to punish us. Rather, He simply wants what is best for us – everything from cleanliness to politeness all the way to our salvation!
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).