Etiquette Still Matters

Written by Drew on January 17th, 2006

On one occasion Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee named Simon for dinner. As they reclined at the table with the other guests, an extraordinary event occurred. A woman, identified only as a “sinner,” entered uninvited bearing an “alabaster flask of ointment” and “began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” (Lk. 7:36-38).

Simon was appalled.

Jesus, knowing his host’s heart, told a parable:

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both (Lk. 7:41-42).

Following this illustration, Jesus directed a question to Simon: “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon’s reluctant answer was, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (Lk. 7:42-43).

The lesson is that our sins have created a debt that we cannot pay; therefore, we are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Also, as was the case with Jesus’ tearful admirer, our appreciation of God’s forgiveness manifests itself in acts of devotion.

Jesus scolded Simon for his indifference. If he loved his Lord, he did not show it. Jesus pointed out that:

  • Simon did not wash his feet.
  • He gave him no kiss.
  • He did not anoint his head with oil (Lk. 7:44-46).

All of these manifestations of love were evident in the woman’s conduct, but not in Simon’s. It was obvious who loved Jesus more.

Interestingly, the difference between Simon and the woman is a matter of etiquette. Simon was reprimanded because he did not observe the day’s customary set of manners. Maybe the Pharisee thought he was above foot-washing and anointing heads with oil. Kissing another man’s cheek, he felt, was beneath him. I can hear him snorting, “It’s the first century! Surely we’ve moved beyond all that useless fawning and worship.” He must have seen Jesus as an equal and thought it unnecessary to trouble himself with superficial signs of respect.

Jesus did not consider these things “superficial.” To him, they were important signs indicating what was in the heart. Maybe the actions in and of themselves mean nothing. But, in the context of first-century Palestine, they revealed a woman’s love for her Savior.

Today we observe different rules of etiquette. We no longer wash feet or anoint heads with oil. However, we do have other customs that parallel the woman’s actions that day.

What does it say about a person when he refuses to wear his best to church services? I’m seeing Sunday attire become more and more casual. Some are adamant about putting their comfort before formalities at church. Believe it or not, they reveal their lack of appreciation for the Lord. I know saying this makes me seem old-fashioned, but Simon probably thought Jesus was old-fashioned, too.

What about our conduct during worship and Bible classes? During a typical Sunday service, people are coming and going, drinking coffee and soft drinks, scribbling notes, making shopping lists, whispering to one another, and so on. These are acts of irreverence, and they do matter.

More examples could be given. And these do not only apply to one’s respect for God. Lack of etiquette also betrays a person’s feelings towards his elders (1 Thes. 5:12-13), the aged (Lev. 19:32), parents (Eph. 6:1-3), governing authorities (Rom. 13:1ff; Titus 3:1), and one another (1 Pet. 2:17).

Good manners are more than a tired protocol. Etiquette still matters.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. almcfaughn says:


    What a great reminder! In a world where manners (etiquette) are very lax, we need to be reminded of the importance of manners.

    It also should be noted that other people see our good (or bad) manners. It can be one way of drawing people to Jesus Christ. One example: I take the young people from 9th Avenue door-knocking 2-3 times per year. When we go, one of the rules is “never walk across the grass. Always use the sidewalk.” Some of the young people do not understand it, but, to elderly people, that is a sign of good manners. If those people see our young people walk down a driveway next door, out to the street, back up a driveway and to the door, they will be more likely to see these young people as friendly than if they tromp across the grass.

    Again, thanks for the reminder. Love the blog!

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