I was sitting at the kitchen table with the kids. We finished our devotions and I decided to take a few minutes to talk about manners from a booklet that I picked up somewhere. For quite some time, I noticed alarming degrees of slippage in various social graces here at Grace Estates (a.k.a. my home) that needed some attention—and the moment seemed right to take action.
Before I go any further, you know that I am a fussbudget about our identity in Christ; our union with him that is essential to live for him. This truth, so central to the gospel, and so prevalent through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is curiously absent from so many spiritual growth, marriage and parenting materials. We live in such a moralistic culture—even in the church and our homes.
Surly and Ferocious Parents
You’ve heard of helicopter parents. I am something of a helicopter identity theologian. And I’m proud of it–we’d all be better-off if we all aspired to being helicopter identity theologians. Otherwise, life—and religion—is only about whose rules are better—and can be nothing but graceless. My fastidious concern about this makes me think of myself as a cross between the surly “Child Catcher” in the 1968 hit movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the ferocious Incredible Hulk (the television show in the late 1970’s). I am always sniffing around for the absence of what always needs to be there—and usually isn’t. When I find the void, it affects me.
This book on manners I’d found was yet another volume in what seems like an endless series titled, How to Live for Christ Without Christ and Ensure a Life of Misery While Faking Joy. It was all about what we should do and nothing of the why (which contains the power) for living the Christian life.
What Motivates our Manners?
As a kid, you need better motivations for not picking your nose than that your parents thinks its gross and say that back in the “golden age” of Victorian England or 1950’s America, people didn’t pick their nose. I wish I lived in one of those times, don’t you? Family life was so perfect back then! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
We have a very serious problem in our homes when it’s all about outward appearance—especially when the picture of that obedience is derived from the Bible. Manners and rules certainly have a place because God’s holiness demands it. There is a broader conversation to be had about manners and rules that I won’t get into here. But externally doing right is never enough and frankly is an ugly caricature of the obedience that glorifies God. Why?
Love is the Best Motivator
Jesus reminds us that the summary of the law is love (Matt. 22:36-40, Rom. 13:10). Love is an active emotion (I Cor. 13.) And, why do we love? Because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Who he is and what he has done for us should always be our motive for doing. Isn’t it interesting that God freed Israel from Egyptian slavery before he gave them the law? Why? So that they would obey God out of gratitude and love for what he had already done for them, not duty, or an attempt to earn God’s blessing. Paul’s Epistles normally begin with a reminder of what God in his grace, mercy, and love has done for us before he addresses practical issues people are facing. This is not a matter of literary style but has everything to do with us being able to do.
What God has already accomplished is integrally connected to the doing because it provides a right motive (remember man sees the outward appearance but God sees the heart 1 Sam. 16:7, Luke 16:15).
How many kids stop picking their nose because of a clear understanding of God’s love? I doubt many do. And you can argue that it’s a reach (but not impossible) for kids of booger-eating age to understand that as a motivation. But there are older “kids” who should probably know better and who do understand motive where it still makes little difference. In either case, learning is rarely a perfect event but a long process of hearing something over and over and over again until it fully registers.
What’s needed is NOT a reduced concern for manners and rules. What’s needed is simply more complete training that has as its main focus knowing God’s love more fully through being enamored with all of his demonstrations of grace, love, and mercy throughout the Bible and most importantly, in the work of his perfect Son, Jesus.
Jesus not only died for us; he lived for us, too (Rom. 5:7-10). He kept the law perfectly where we could not and earned the righteousness which he has given to us to define us as God’s children, and as motivation for living more like him. Being precedes doing.
Different Training Needed
I am convinced that training that keeps this in mind looks different from what we’re used to. Perhaps to the eyes of the world and especially to the church—it’s a little odd. On the morning that I read the manners book, I flew the helicopter over the living room and started a dialog with the kids that went something like this: Who are we? We are God’s children. As God’s children, does he care how we live? Yes, of course he does. As God’s children, what is true of us? He loves us, daddy. Yes, he does. His love should cause us to want to live in ways that reflect well on him to others. So, today I wanted to talk a little about manners. And here’s the bottom line:
Booger eaters tend to stop eating their boogers when they find something better to eat.
Profound, right? I will continue to train my children in manners but Lord willing I can be faithful in reminding them that the issue—and thus my focus in training—is not one of simply saying, “yes sir”, holding the door for other people, and not picking their nose but why they choose to do those things.
Teaching manners in the heavy context of “being”, also provides what we all need, grace. We all need grace because we all fail. This is the problem with rote obedience. It provides no grace when we mess up over and over again. This causes us to hate the right things we’re trying to do—and in some cases hate the One who defines those right things. They expose our sin and don’t provide a way back to God. God is not so much glorified in our doing as he is in our satisfaction in his glory (which will lead to doing). This may seem like seminary theology but it really is kitchen table theology that we all need so that we bring God glory in our manners.
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