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Volume 7, Issue 3: Femina

A Hedge of Courtesy

Nancy Wilson

Finally, all of you, be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous (1 Pet. 3:8).

Principles and methods" was the subject of my last column. We addressed how squabbles among Christians over various methods used to apply God's principles can be genuinely destructive. Christian women need to distinguish between principles and methods and cease looking for a simple list of "how to's" as the guide for Christian living. Nor should they look down on fellow Christians who employ a different method in applying the same principles.
Many different methods can be used as examples of this. Today, in the evangelical world at large, numerous people seem very eager to give us a list of do's and don't's . Women are particularly vulnerable to such "lists" because they provide a false sense of security. (I'm okay because I'm obeying the rules!) These rules are often presented to us, couched in appealing phrases like "God's way for . . .", or " the biblical view on . . ." rather than " a biblical approach to . . ."
These rules supposedly tell us how God wants us to approach courtship, birth-control, child-feeding, and child-rearing; we are given rules about how to wear our hair, how much jewlery and make-up we can wear, what clothes we must wear, what foods we may eat, what we can do on the Lord's Day, what kind of music is permissible, whether we may have a television in our home, how and where we must educate our children, whether our sons can play sports, and on and on.
We must also remember that what we decide to do in the paragraph above is not "up for grabs"God's laws and principles do apply to our lives and in these areas. But our methods of obeying the law does not have the same authority as the law itself.
But another aspect to this whole question of different methods needs to be addressed and that is the question of common courtesy. How do we treat our friends when we differ with them over methods? Do we criticize them behind their backs? The Bible calls this backbiting. Do we openly criticize them? Do we tell them their method is inferior to our own? That can be arrogant or just plain rude. Do we make officially "polite" but loaded comments which express our displeasure and disapproval of their applicatiaon of God's principles? Do we try to embarrass them to make ourselves look better? This is not courtesy.
Here are a few examples: "Can you believe how often she has to go feed her baby? My baby was sleeping through the night at six weeks." "Your youngest is almost two? You know three children are better than two!" "Sending your child to that school is a mistake! My nephew went there, and his parents have had no end of trouble." Women who feel free to express themselves about such things may have no idea of the damage they are doing. Common courtesy prohibits one woman breezily criticizing another's methods. In fact, unless someone is asking for suggestions, there are few circumstances when other women need to volunteer them. In a godly Christian home, the methods should be the result of the husband's teaching and convictions. This is all the more reason why women should not rudely give input on another Christian woman's application of God's principles. She may be cheerfully submitting to her husband's decisions, only to find her sisters stumbling her into disobedience and discouragement.
Can Christian women ever discuss their methods? Certainly! But the hedge of courtesy and good manners should be firmly in place. If it is not, defensiveness and hurt feelings will be the common result.
But if it comes up, how should we discuss methods? First, we should be, as Peter exhorts us, of one mind. We should have the mind of Christ; we should be of one mind when it comes to principles. We should have compassion on one another. This means cutting slack, bearing with weaknesses in one another, overlooking sin, forgiving one another, and, as Peter says, we should "love as brothers" and be "tenderhearted." A tenderhearted sister is not on a soapbox, preaching her method without care for the condition of her sisters. Courtesy means we listen and ask questionsand not loaded questions. We don't interrupt; we don't get impatient and angry. And, if it is a sensitive issue, courtesy demands that we ask no questions and mind our own business! Courtesy requires that we are, as the Puritans would say, tender of one another's names. We don't spread around anecdotes that would harm the name of our fellow Christians.
Courtesy and love and tenderheartedness must hedge us in. We must protect one another's good names and standing, as we bear with one another in love.

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