Christian Courtesy
1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, be you all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brothers, be pitiful, be courteous:…

The words "courtesy" and "courteousness" are derived from the term "court," and are used, in their primitive sense, to describe that refinement of manners which prevails in the palaces of princes and distinguishes the intercourse of the great; and because, from the corruption of courts, those who move in them have often used the manner and phraseology of respect when feelings directly the reverse have been rankling in the heart, the terms themselves have been associated in many minds with all that belongs to flattery, insincerity, and falsehood. Courtesy unquestionably refers to all that belongs to affability of manner in intercourse with one another; but Christian Courtesy involves along with it the internal principle from which that affability should proceed. All true courtesy presupposes the principle of benevolence, or goodwill towards men; a desire to promote, and complacency in, the happiness of others. It has been called "benevolence in trifles" — a care in little things, in words and manner and acts, by minute attention, to guard the feelings and to consult the comfort and happiness of others. It comprehends a readiness to conform to their tastes and habits in matters of indifference, an obvious preference of their accommodation to our own; a solicitude to avoid whatever may give pain, when no principle forbids; and, in short, a constant endeavour to prevent pain and impart pleasure.

I. Let us, then, examine SOME DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF COURTESY. Towards superiors it is respect and deference; towards inferiors it is condescension and civility; towards equals it is bland and affable attention. Or we shall see better what it is by looking at its opposites. Christian courtesy stands opposed to gross defects and errors in the behaviour. In relation, for instance, to superiors, it is opposed not only to impertinence and presumption, but to obsequiousness. In relation to inferiors it stands opposed to coldness, to neglect, to pride, to positive contempt of them altogether, or a disregard of their feelings. In relation to equals it stands opposed to moroseness, or an unwillingness to be conciliated; to sullenness, or a kind of settled gloom of countenance and carriage; to impertinence of remark and rudeness of reply; to inattention of two kinds, inattention either positive or negative that is, either to do something for others, or kindly to receive what is done for us. It stands opposed to whatever is eccentric, or the indulgence of what is not tolerated by the general usages of society. It stands opposed to fretfulness — that is, the art of determining never to be pleased, and the want of disposition even to appreciate the sacrifices made for the very purpose of promoting their pleasure. Finally, it stands opposed to pride — to pride of family, to pride of intellect, to pride of money, to pride of accomplishments, and to the worst of all pride — the pride of spiritual pretensions. It is to be observed that the possession of this virtue in full play implies two things. It implies that benevolence exists in the mind of the individual as a principle; not merely as a fluctuating feeling, according to the flow of the spirits and the circumstances of the day, but as a principle — that is, the steady purpose of the reason, based upon the remembrance of the relation of man and man, and a just regard to the will of God. It implies, secondly, that it is so regular as to be habitual; that an occasion of failure from a sudden irruption of what remains, either of unsanctified or incurable depravity, is felt and lamented; that an endeavour to repair the injury accompanies the neglect; and that the principle is reestablished in the moment of the judgment regaining the ascendency. Let us now observe more particularly the sphere in which this virtue is to act and to display itself; of course, this is commensurate with our social relations, but we may mention some a little more particularly.

1. It should be seen in the family, and should regulate the intercourse of kindred. Here it is the mode of manifesting love, properly so called; and it preserves and purifies affection, by requiring that its expression be respectful and delicate; it keeps it from being disordered and debased by vulgar familiarity; it prompts to little ingenious devices, by which it is sustained.

2. But, further, the virtue to which I refer should be seen in the Church. As far as the present condition of society allows, it will promote among the members of a church the expression of interest and sympathy.

3. Again, it should accompany the Christian into the world. In the transaction of business a Christian should be distinguished by a readiness to oblige, and a carefulness to observe whatever may diffuse pleasure and give satisfaction. In social and familiar intercourse it requires to be often and habitually observed. But I remark, more particularly, that in argumentative conversation courtesy is eminently required. It should make us fair in argument, just to objections, calm in reply, capable of combining affability of manner with firmness of opinion, and respect for conscience with opposition to mistake. It should lead us to despise a spirit of personality. But two observations still remain.

(1) I wish it, then, not to be supposed that Christian courtesy extinguishes all strong feeling, and forbids the excited and powerful expressions of benevolence. Goodwill towards man implies no approval of his vices; love to humanity does not destroy distinctions of character.

(2) Neither is it to be supposed that courtesy to others involves a forgetfulness of what we owe to ourselves, or a just sense of what others owe to us. There are two extreme opposites to which the man whose courtesy is Christian and conscientious cannot go; and, therefore, his character may sometimes be mistaken. He cannot give, as is said in Scripture, "flattering words" — that is one extreme. And he cannot return "railing for railing" — that is another. In this descriptive account of courtesy it may not be amiss to make a remark, suggested by our Lord's conduct. It is to be distinctly noticed that in all His allusions to publicans and sinners He never uttered anything against them like the language He employed towards the Pharisees; it was their profession of religion, in connection with their vices, which called forth His terrible rebuke. Now, from this circumstance we learn that in the exercise of courtesy a greater degree of it may be expressed towards decidedly worldly characters than towards inconsistent professors of religion.

II. THE OBLIGATIONS under which we lie to the cultivation of this Christian grace.

1. In the first place, it rests upon the very same authority with every other part of the Divine law. God has expressly enjoined it; and we are thus, at once, in possession of the most infallible of all arguments to vindicate its propriety.

2. Secondly, to Divine authority we join Divine example. Our Lord during His incarnation exemplified this virtue.

3. In the third place, to the example of our Divine Master we add some of the examples of eminent saints. Abraham, when he stood up before his dead and "bowed himself to the people of the land"; Solomon's bearing towards the Queen of Sheba, rising and paying her distinguished regard; many of the prophets, from their deportment to the kings, though armed with messages to which the monarchs had to bow; but, above all, Paul — Paul, the most distinguished for zeal as an apostle, was the most remarkable for courtesy as a man.

4. I conclude this part of the subject by simply repeating a few passages of Scripture, which either especially inculcate or obviously involve the exercise of the duty. I merely enumerate them: "Be gentle towards all men." "Let all wrath, and anger, and clamour, and malice, and evil speaking, be put away from you; and be ye kind one to another, with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another." "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others"; that is, avoid selfishness, and cultivate courteousness and reciprocal sympathy. "Let each man please his neighbour to his good for edification." "Let your speech be always with grace." "Give honour to whom honour is due." "Honour the king." "Honour all men; love the brotherhood." "Give none offence to any man, neither to Jew nor Gentile, nor to the Church of God." "Let love be without dissimulation."

III. INDUCEMENTS to the exercise.

1. Now, in the first place, in relation to this virtue of courteousness, we may begin with the very lowest by remarking that an inducement to the cultivation of courtesy towards others arises from the pleasure we experience when it is exercised towards ourselves. We cannot help being conciliated by attention when it seems to be sincere. It prepossesses us in favour of a person. It removes prejudices which we entertain.

2. Secondly, the consciousness of the power should lead us to reflect that others may be acutely pained by little omissions and acts of which it is possible we were not aware at the moment, and by which we meant no evil.

3. In the third place, another inducement, equally worthy the attention of persons professing godliness, arises from the effect which a courteous or an opposite behaviour may have upon men of the world. "Let not your good," says the apostle, "be evil spoken of." This want of courtesy often has the effect of destroying the influence of distinguished excellence,

4. Lastly, in looking at a character distinguished by this virtue in its real principle, as well as in its manifestation, we cannot but be impressed with the worth to which it conducts and the dignity it confers. It sup poses — in its higher state and more perfect exercises — it supposes a very great degree of self-government, a noble superiority to little weaknesses, by which many are characterised.

5. In fine, we should discover an inducement to this duty in the charm with which, when sincere, it embellishes existence. If all mankind were perfect in the principle and expression of courtesy, the world would be the scene of perfect and exalted felicity.

(T. Binney.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:

WEB: Finally, be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tenderhearted, courteous,

Brotherly Love
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