Manners are the coin in which love is paid out. They are one of the main ways that charity begins at home. They are extremely important in the creation and maintenance of a healthy atmosphere in any space shared by humans. They go a long way toward actually making a house a home and actually making a biological unit a happy, functioning family. In a thousand little ways throughout one single day spent together, we can chose to show love and affection and regard for one another or we can chose to communicate disinterest, disgust, disregard, and even hatred. In a thousand little ways throughout one single day, we can create and nourish and strengthen deep, lasting, profound, satisfying relationships, or we can scratch and tear and damage those relationships until they actually bleed to death.
Manners are especially important in a home environment, where we often foolishly think that we can relax our manners just because we ARE at home. But love most certainly does NOT mean never having to say you are sorry ! Rather, how we treat the people to whom we are most bound in this life, our wives, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, etc., will be an indication of how we shall treat people in other contexts. Charity really must begin at home, if it is to go anywhere at all, with any hope of being even moderately well-dressed. Habits will be in place before principles are ever understood and so parents must instill in their children the simple, basic habits of courtesy from the earliest years.
Manners also go a long way toward creating a healthy work environment. When we treat those around us with simple courtesy, we usually find it reciprocated. The principle of "measure for measure"
pertains in our public life. Generally speaking, though obviously not always, the "measure" you use in your treatment of others is the "measure" you get back (Luke 6:38). You get treated the way you treat. Difficult, even volatile situations are often defused by a single word, or even by the tone in which a single word is uttered, perhaps even by a wordless gesture. A day at work can be made more pleasant, and efficiency can be greatly enhanced, simply by the thoughtful employment of the most basic rules of courtesy.
In Spanish-speaking countries, one learns to use the subjunctive mood in order to soften requests or demands. In this way, it is possible to ask for something slightly indirectly and so much more respectfully. Or it is possible to use the diminutive form of a word in order to win someone over, to convince them to help you. "Amigo" or "amiga" can become "amigito" or "amigita". Thus "friend" quickly and easily becomes something like "my little buddy" and so becomes a key to unlock a door which might otherwise stay fast shut. Manners are the coin in which love is paid out. They are also very effective social lubricant.
You will have recognized by now that a lot of this has to do with what comes out of our mouths. A lot of this has to do with the words we chose to allow to come out of our mouths. A lot of this has to do with the tongue. The medieval proverb is true : the first virtue is to keep your tongue. And here is a modern 21st century version of that : "Never miss an opportunity to keep your BIG MOUTH SHUT!" That is, in fact, very good advice, for the tongue is a deadly weapon :
the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. James 3:6-10
What can more easily poison the atmosphere in a house than a whole bunch of people sitting around griping and complaining about ... well, take your pick : the weather, their school, their teachers, their neighbours, their friends, their relatives, each other, their work, their co-workers, their boss, their church, their pastor, the government, wages, taxes, and, if you live in Saskatchewan and it is winter, the weather once again ... ? The atmosphere in a home, because of the tongue, often becomes heavy, oppressive, and dark. In the same way, that atmosphere can become light, refreshing, liberating, when we learn to use our tongues to create rather than to destroy, to bless God rather than to curse man. Again, this is done in the very simplest of ways, with a word, or even with the slight modulation of the tone of a word.
All this is a way of saying that it is important for us to be "positive". We do need to be careful that what comes out of our mouths is gracious and helpful and encouraging (Ephesians 4:29). There must always be a significant, conscious, and very creative gap between the instant an unspoken thought forms itself in our mind and the instant it goes flying inexorably out of our mouth to lodge itself in the open and unsuspecting mind of another. Words carry powerful emotional charges. They can pierce and hurt and explode. They are missiles. And we need always to be so careful what sort of impact our words will have on those around us.
It is important, therefore, to be positive. This is especially true for Christians, since we have so much to be positive about. God is for us and so who can really be against us ? (Romans 8:31). In a sense, everything, really everything, has been given to us in Christ (1 Corinthians. 3:22). Nothing can really hurt us. We are "okay". Why should we not generally be very positive about life, about our daily challenges, about our families, about the future, about everything ? The fact is, our God reigneth (Isaiah 52:7). Hallelujah !
So, I agree that it is important to be positive (and I insist on it very positively in my own home) but, NOTA BENE, that statement must always, always be very carefully qualified and cannot be held as the main principle of a philosophy of life, the unassailable centre of a world-view. To hold to the principle "always be positive" as if it were an absolute value, an absolute truth, an unbreakable commandment of God, written in stone as by His finger, is to be foolish in the extreme. It is foolish on a very basic level because there are times when we need to talk about things that will fall into the general category of "negative". There are times when we really do need to talk about things that are unpleasant or difficult or painful, times when we need to be criticized ourselves or when we need to criticize others. It would be impossible to raise children without punishing them from time to time or criticizing them, calling attention to things that they need to change in their behaviour, or in their appearance, or in their habits. In the same way, it would be impossible for our economy to function if employers were never allowed to assess and evaluate and, if necessary, dismiss their employees. Getting fired cannot usually be considered anything but "negative", but there are people who need to be fired if our economy is going to function.
At a deeper level, holding "be positive" as the main principle of your philosophy of life, becomes quickly absurd and even dangerous. When the widely popular Joel Osteen quips, "If you can't be positive, at least be quiet", and everyone happily applauds, we need to recognize what is implied by his words. If this is actually put in the context of all that he says in general, it in fact amounts to a denial of reality, and a denial of reality that sadly deceives others and outrageously insults God. For what is he really saying but that we ought not to talk about reality, namely, the reality that this is a fallen world in which we live, and that we are a fallen race ? And let me point out, when pressed on this, Joel Osteen readily admits that he will refuse to talk about sin because it is negative and he just wants to be positive. But sin is real, both the actual sin that we commit in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and that latent, inner sin, called "original" or "birth" sin, that infects every human heart that is born into the world. As Spurgeon says, "In the youngest breast there lies a stone". And we need to take that in, even if it is not very positive.
It is not very positive, but it is true. Sin is the Great Negative. In the youngest breast there lies a stone. Human beings are fallen creatures. Who could honestly read history and think anything different ? Sin is a reality, a very significant reality. And by refusing to talk about it, people like Joel Osteen are really just telling God to be quiet. They are saying that we ought not to talk about certain things that appear in the Holy Scriptures. They obviously mean to say that God needs an editor. And they are available. Joel Osteen and others may view the Bible as a useful resource book for their happy pep talks, but they do not view it as the Word of God written. And by telling God that He cannot talk about certain things, which they as "pastors" do simply by refusing to teach those things, they deceive those who look to them for wisdom and guidance, ridiculously insulting the God whom they presume to represent.
What does it mean to be dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) ? Every human being needs to know the answer to that question. It is, in fact, an accurate description of everyone that is born into this world. There is a very real sense in which we enter this world DOA : "dead on arrival". To be dead in your trespasses and sins means to be in very great danger. It means to be unable to save yourself, unable to save yourself from the judgement, the wrath, that your condition really deserves, for God is holy, and He is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). To be dead in your trespasses and sins means to be condemned and unable to save yourself from the condemnation that awaits you. And let us be clear, there is nothing, nothing that can possibly be more "negative" than this. This is as negative as it gets. And this is what your condition is, indeed, it is what you ARE apart from Jesus Christ. This is what every human being is apart from faith in Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus Christ, only God, can by His power make you alive when you are dead in your trespasses and sins. And, please recognize, that you are so dead in your trespasses and sins that you are entirely unable even to desire him to save you, let alone turn to Him and ask for His mercy and grace and help. Even that desire and that turning He must give to you. And, please recognize, He is in no way obligated to give it to you. God is not obligated to save anyone. He is not obligated to save you or to save me. If He left us in our sins, and to the wages they inevitably earn, i.e. a lost eternity, He would be entirely just.
The wonder is that He does save. By His grace, and according to His sovereign will, He calls out of death into life all those whom He chooses to call out of death into life, all those whom He chooses to save, all those on whom He will have mercy. We come to Him in repentance and faith, being saved entirely by His grace, for even our faith in Him is His gift to us (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is of the Lord Himself, from beginning to end. The only difference between a believer and an unbeliever is the grace of God. And, if we are in our right minds, and understand the alternatives, we shall have it no other way.
Of course, this is precisely why human beings, however foolishly, hate God and hate the Gospel. The Gospel is good news, the best news ever, the most "positive" thing ever, the Great Positive, but it implies our sinfulness and our complete and utter inability to save ourselves. Man hates this. And so man will insist upon being "positive" about man and will do His best to silence God. Man refuses to let God say anything negative about man. And generally speaking, when folks get all sensitive and huffy about being judged or criticized, and when they fire at you the words of Jesus, "Judge not" (Matthew 7:1), they are really just wanting you to let them alone in their trespasses and sins. They want the freedom, the right to sin. They want God to shut-up. In this case, "If you can't be positive then at least be quiet" really means : "Shut-up. Leave me alone. I like being dead in my trespasses and sins".
Thankfully, God is not quiet. And He will not be silenced by anyone, not huffy sinners nor rich televangelists. He speaks. He speaks of the reality of sin and of the reality of His grace and mercy and only fools refuse to hear Him speak of BOTH those things. But those who do hear Him, who are willing to hear ALL that He has to say, will hear the most positive thing that can ever be, or has ever been said to man :
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me ... and him that cometh to me I will in no wise
cast out. John 6:37
God grant that all who read this may so come.