Politeness, political correctness, and relational communication have something positive in common. They are attempts to use words to be friendly, to not cause offense, and to avoid confrontation. Aren’t these good things? Yes, they are. They are also surface attempts at kindness. They are mechanics. Teaching a little boy to say “Thank you” certainly makes things more pleasant, but it is not the same as teaching him thankfulness.
I was taught politeness as a boy. Then I was really taught it when I was a midshipman at the NavalAcademy. I was trained to be an officer and a gentleman. I found out that politeness worked (standing when ladies came into the room, opening doors for them, etc). I discovered that these positive mechanics were not the outward expressions of the heart. They did not express kindness, love, or patience. In many cases they actually covered up unkindness, unlove, and impatience.
Isn’t covering up unkindness better than expressing it? I am tempted to say yes, but that is a temptation from the Enemy. Why should I choose the lesser of two evils when I have a clear command?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Many years ago, after teaching an eight-week course of practical Christianity, I suspected that one of the students had not learned much. She came from a Christian home, had grown up in good churches and received a Christian education, including a degree from a famous Christian college.
For years I have listened to people’s awful stories in order to give them counsel. One day I realized that I was giving the same solution regardless of what the story was. All of the stories had two common causes:
- It had been a long time since they had read all of the New Testament.
- They had an awful, distorted, or truncated view of God. They had Satan’s caricature of Him.
I started asking people for their gut views of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I have gotten many awful answers.
I asked this young woman these questions. She had never read the New Testament through. She gave a surprisingly good answer about God the Father, but when I asked about Jesus, her answer was something like this: “Jesus was supposed to have died for our sins, but I don’t think He was very polite.”
Her answer shook me, and I did not know why. I already knew that Jesus was not very polite. Why did it bother me? This girl considered politeness the highest virtue. It was more important to her than anything else. If Jesus was not polite, that meant to her that He was not sinless and could not have died for our sins.
Since that time, I have sensed this same belief in many Christians. It colors their communication. They try to clean up the gospel so that there is no chance of anyone taking offense. And they think it is a virtue to do this! In reality, it is the enemy of truth.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
We are to speak the truth in love. The Bible does not say to “speak the truth in politeness.” Politeness is not a synonym for truth. Politeness almost always leaves out the truth. Sometimes it inserts a lie.
This post coordinates with tomorrow’s reading in the To the Word! Bible Reading Challenge. If you are not in a daily reading plan, please join us at TotheWord.com. We would love to have you reading with us.