I was going through customs in Hoboken, New Jersey. With a load of suitcases and parcels on a little trolley, I approached one of the customs officials. He looked worn out.
"I'm sorry to trouble you so early in the morning," I said to him. "You must have had a long night of it. You look tired." The officer eyed me a bit incredulously. "Yes, sir," he replied with a half smile. "I've been up most of the night, and I am a bit tired.
We've had an extra run of passengers the past few days. But you're the first one I've had speak like that to me in a long time. Most passengers are eager to get on their way. Usually their tempers are short if there's any holdup."
I explained to him that I am a Seventh-day Adventist minister, that I travel a lot and "bother" the customs and immigration officials frequently. A few more words of kindly sympathy with the good man about his heavy program, and he had cleared my bags and sent me on my way with words of sincere appreciation. Christian courtesy certainly smooths the way!
During His earthly ministry Jesus introduced a new spirit, a new relationship, which He desired to see among His followers. "A new commandment I give unto you," He said, "That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34).
He set the example in true courtesy. "Christ was courteous, even to His persecutors; and His true followers will manifest the same spirit" (The Ministry of Healing, page 489).
The Saviour was subjected to gross insults and indignities. He was physically maltreated in the most cruel and humiliating manner. But even to Pilate, at whose hand He had suffered much, Jesus was courteous. He sought to excuse His judge. "He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin," He said patiently (John 19:11).
"He spoke as one having authority, and His word was with power; yet in all His intercourse with rude and violent men He did not use one unkind or discourteous expression" (The Desire of Ages, page 515).
The results of Jesus' kindly courtesy toward Pilate are revealed in John 19:12: "And from thence-forth Pilate sought to release him." Courtesy always pays! The Master desires that the lives of all His followers be enriched with this heavenly attribute. "The grace of Christ in the heart will impart a heaven-born dignity and sense of propriety. It will soften whatever is harsh, and subdue all that is coarse and unkind" (The Desire of Ages, page 515). "Christianity will make a man a gentleman" (The Ministry of Healing, page 489).
One day Thomas Jefferson was riding in a carriage with his grandson. They met a slave, who removed his hat and bowed respectfully to the distinguished statesman. As was his custom, Mr. Jefferson returned the salutation by raising his hat. The grandson ignored the slave's greeting. Turning to the boy at his side, the great man said, "Thomas, do you permit a slave to be more of a gentleman than yourself?"
The Christian is always courteous. His every word and act will be mingled with a courtesy so kindly, so ^ Christlike, that no offense can be taken. Powerful is the influence for good that is exercised by a consecrated, active Christian gentleman" (Special Testimonies, Series B, No.ll, p.14).
The word courtesy has its origin in the word court, indicating that it is a royal trait. Courtesy is an act of respect not something demanded as a right but rather extended as a favor. We are courteous when we treat people as they do not deserve to be treated. Christian politeness is Christian refinement, Christian gentleness. It is being kind, considerate, and thoughtful under all circumstances. A Christian will act thus toward those who mistreat him as well as to those who are friendly with him.
"The essence of true politeness is consideration for others" (My Life Today, page 191). "A thoroughgoing Christian draws his motives of action from his deep heart love for his Master. Up through the roots of his affection for Christ springs an unselfish interest in his brethren. Love imparts to its possessor grace, propriety, and comeliness of deportment. It illuminates the countenance and subdues the voice; it refines and elevates the whole being" (The Ministry of Healing, page 490).
Christian courtesy includes an "unselfish spirit," a "gentle grace," and a "winsome temper." "These are but reflections of the character of Christ. All the real tenderness and courtesy in the world, even among those who do not acknowledge His name, is from Him. And He desires these characteristics to be perfectly reflected in His children" (Education, page 242).
Of Jesus it was said, "He was never rude." He "never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul" (Steps to Christ, page 12). "The religion of Christ never degrades the receiver, never makes him coarse or rough or uncourteous" (Letter 134, 1901). May God help us as followers of His dear Son to purge ourselves of unchristian frankness, which is often nothing but rudeness.
May He help us to never unnecessarily speak a severe word or give needless pain to a sensitive soul. Sometimes we may find ourselves in situations that require us to speak plainly to others, but on such occasions may God help us to speak as Jesus did, in a spirit of true Christian courtesy. People do not resent being corrected or counseled by one who loves them.
God grant that we may always exemplify the courtesy of our Master.
Robert H Pierson was pastor, evangelist, administrator and president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church from 1966 to 1979. This chapter is from his book Faith on Tiptoe (Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee, 1967).