Love is civil. What does civility mean and is it important as a Christian to be civil?
[Gary Petty] The word civility is a word you don't hear too much anymore. Used to be...people would say, you know, "Come on now, be civil." You'd hear that kid...parents telling children that, "Be civil." But we don't even use the word civility anymore. What does it mean? Basically, all civility means is that you're nice to people. It means that you aren't combative. It means that you're not always confrontational. And you show courtesy in your behavior and in your words. That's what civility is.
I remember reading a book a number of years ago, The Death of Civility, and how that would lead to actually the downfall of democracy. It was a very interesting book. This is probably 25, 30 years ago. Because it'll reach the place where everybody just fights over everything. You can't even have an opinion whether I like Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeyes Chicken without getting into a fight, you know, because there's just nobody's civil anymore. And we see it. We see it in the way people drive. We see it in the way that people treat each other as enemies over the slightest disagreement, something that's not even important, and yet they treat each other as enemies. It is shown a lot in impatience, impatience that people show each other.
I had to...when I was...two weeks ago with...our daughter and Kim made out this shopping list. I had to go shopping, which is not something I'm used to doing. So I'm moving along... I thought I was doing pretty good, you know, pushing my cart along I guess an old guy because all of a sudden this woman behind me goes, "Oh, I have to get behind somebody who's just so slow," you know. And my carnal nature wanted to do this. I mean, I wanted to go down to a crawl. But I just moved on and said, no, that person's having a bad day. Let it go. But you know, that's just lack of civility. That we're just mean-spirited towards each other. And I guess she was probably having a bad day. She was in a hurry. You know, I felt like just going, "Go on by. Go on by." But we just see it all the time. We see it in the way sometimes children treat adults, that would not have been acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. They're just not civil. They'll say things that are mean. They'll do things that are mean.
And it's not something we generally think about, you know, in a sermon. Why are we going to talk about civility? Well, because it's biblical. There's something in the Bible about civility. We've been going through 1 Corinthians 13 phrase by phrase, as we're trying to understand what it means to have agape. And the next phrase that we're going to go through, the one we're going to go through today, in the New King James it says, "Agape does not behave itself unseemly." Now that's a phrase that... It's an old English phrase and it's like lost, you know, what do you mean, does not behave itself unseemly? In the NIV it's simply, is not rude. Agape is not rude.
Of all the Christian virtues, I think civility is one that we don't think about much. And of course...let's face it, you and I, because of our belief system, are going to be offensive to people. So sometimes we can get to the place where, I'm going to offend everybody anyways, I might as well be offensive, right? Why do I have to be civil? They're the ones mad at me. They're the ones treating me bad. Why do I have to be civil? And yet, Agape is not rude. And it's interesting because in that...it has to do with actions. But if you translated it literally out of the Greek, it'd be something like, Agape does not act ignorantly.
And I found that funny because I remember when I was a child, that's what the old people would say, "You're just acting ignorant." If you...any of you old enough to remember, or anyone ever told that when you were young? I mean, I had a grandmother, you know, "Well, that's just being ignorant," which meant you're being rude. But literally, it does not behave ignorant in the way that it treats other people. Being rude has to do with looking at other people as an inconvenience. It has to do with looking at other people as inferior, as other people are keeping you from what you want, right?
That's what's so hard about driving. If someone's driving too slow or weaving back and forth, and you're getting held up by it, it's like you're keeping me from being where I need to be. So then, the desire is, "Well, I'll just get on your tail." You see the people, road rage, driving down the street at 80 miles or down the road highway, and someone's on their tail, and they're weaving back and forth around each other, beeping their horn, and just like, someone's going to die here over what? But rudeness comes from the way we look at other people. And as Christians, the reason we would be rude, and we have to be careful about this, is if we take a certain pride in what God has given to us, in our righteousness, in our understanding, in our knowledge, whatever, we take a certain pride in that and we begin to treat other people a certain way because of it, and we're rude to them, then what we're doing is that we're actually not being Christians. We're not acting as Christians.
So this is difficult because, as I said, and we'll show in a couple of cases, we're going to go through some things today. This doesn't mean you're not going to offend people with the truth, but there's a difference between offending people with the truth and offending people because you're rude. Those are two different things. One's going to happen. The other we're actually supposed to try to keep from happening. That we don't offend people simply because we're being rude. And that means we have to learn tact. Civility is based on tact, it's on knowing what to say and how to act in a situation to bring about the best result, to bring about a result that hopefully can bring some kind of peace.
Now that's not always possible, right? I mean, Jesus went in and threw out the money changers in the temple. But we said, "Well, yeah, we're just going to follow Jesus. I'm going to just go around throwing out money changers." And I see...you know, you see people say that, "I'm just brutally honest." Usually, when a person brags about that, I have found through experience, they're more brutal than honest. Because honesty is not the issue “Im brutal.” That's the issue, right? I just want other people to know the truth no matter what. You know, you're ugly. There, there's the truth. So, how does Jesus deal with this idea? Okay, we see He offends people with the truth over and over again. But why was he offensive and how did he see his personal conduct? We have an example, he explains it. So Matthew 17.
Matthew 17:24 "When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and says, does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”
He said, yes, he does. Yeah, he does. Okay, this is interesting because the temple tax is actually found in Exodus. I mean, they hadn't made this up. There was a temple tax. And so, they came and said, you know, does your rabbi...does he actually pay the temple tax? There was some question about whether he did or didn't. So Peter says, yes, he does. And then he goes back to Jesus, and Jesus anticipates what's going to happen next. That's what's so funny here, because he doesn't even get to ask him a question. And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, okay, Jesus knew what had happened. He says, "I know what's on his mind."
Matthew 17:25 And he said, "What do you think Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customer taxes? From their sons or from strangers?"
He says, you know, does the king tax himself? No, he had said, and you find it in Matthew 12, he had announced, "I'm greater than the temple." I'm more important than the temple. So he declared that he was the Messiah, the one who was going to be the King. Do kings tax themselves or tax their own sons? And, of course, he says no. Peter said, from strangers. You know, the king never taxes his own family. Now Jesus' answer is very important here.
Matthew 17:26 He says to him, "Then the sons are free."
In other words, I don't have to pay a temple tax. I'm not required to do that law because I'm greater than the temple. So he says, I'm free, I don't have to do that. Nevertheless, okay, I don't have to pay a temple tax, Peter, but I'm trying to teach you something here.
Matthew 17:27 “Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook and take the fish that comes up first. When you have opened his mouth, you will find a piece of money, take that and give it to them for me and you.”
He says, I'm going to pay my temple tax and your temple tax too through a miracle. But he says, why is he doing this? Because he just proved I don't have to. I'm greater than the temple. He says, because we won't offend them. He said, there's no use offending the priest or just the common person who has to pay a temple tax. Like, wow, you think you're so great, you don't have to pay the temple tax. Well, yeah, I am so great, I don't have to pay the temple tax, but I'll pay it so that you're not offended. Now, that's real important. Jesus was never condemned for being obnoxious or rude. It's for what He taught and two, because He would hang out with sinners, teaching them God's way. Those are the two things he was content with, His teaching, which was the truth, and the fact that He would spend time with people who are considered sort of religiously inferior in order to teach them on a personal level. Not just from the pulpit yelling at them, but on a personal level.
And the religious leaders saw that as wrong. So this is the example we're looking at. How do we live our lives so that we're not needlessly offensive? You can't live your life so somebody someday is going to be offended by you because of the truth. But how do we live our lives so we're not needlessly offensive to others? So that we are...do not behave rudely, we are not rude. So you think, have you ever heard a sermon on rudeness? I've given one in my lifetime. This is only the second one. And I think yet here it is in the Bible, it's important. How do we not be offensive? Well, here's some things we can start with. Here's things we can do so that we're not rude. None of them are easy. None of these things are easy. Let's go to Proverbs chapter 15. Proverbs 15. We know this, you've all heard this, you've all read it.
Proverbs 15:1 "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
A soft answer. We have to learn to have the gift of a soft answer, but that's not easy, especially when the other person's being obnoxious, right? Now sometimes, even a soft answer won't turn away wrath. The person's angry, they're out of control, and you just have to walk away. But we should try to practice this. Remember, the point is that you're not needlessly offending somebody. And this can come down to each other as much as anything, or husband and wife, or even as parents or own children. Now our children are going to be offended by us, why? Because they're selfish. That's one thing. That's just being a parent. But if we're offensive because we treat them poorly then we have a problem. Because the example of Jesus Christ is, go pay the temple tax. I'm greater than the temple tax. I don't have to pay it, but remember, Peter, do this. There's times when in order not to offend somebody, you do something.
And this soft answer... There's something I read years and years ago that I've always thought was so interesting. And I've looked it up, you know, how you look up on Snopes and different websites to see if something's true. Because I've told stories only to find out they're not true. And I found half a dozen pictures recently from the Ukrainian war that are from the war in Syria and Libya. I just said...put them together, the Sibia. Syria and Libya. I have these amazing talents as I get older. You know, one wasn't even a Russian jet. I remember watching that one fall and think, that's weird. Well, it was, and I could see a parachute. No one ever mentioned the parachute. Well, it was from a jet that was shot down 10 years ago. There's a few other pictures I had wondered about and found out, no, they weren't real. One of them is actually from a game. And it looks like the tank's blowing up, so realistic, and it's not even real. It's from a game. And someone pulled it out and put it on there.
Now, there's plenty of real tanks blowing up. I mean, they got plenty of pictures, but you got to watch this. But this story is true. I've done enough checks. It's about Booker T. Washington, who founded Tuskegee Institute. So he founds the first black institute in the United States. And he's a well-known educator, he's famous, and he's walking down the street, he would go out for these walks, I guess for exercise, and he's got his suit on. And this woman comes out of a very wealthy house, big house, she comes out and says, "Could you please come help me cut some wood?" She thinks he's just, you know, some...he's just a black man that probably doesn't have a job and I need to hire him. So she was being nice about it and she brought him in and he said, sure. She didn't notice he had to take a suit coat off to cut the wood. So he took his suit coat off, cut the wood for her. Put it back on, shook her hand to the left.
And not long after that, someone...and here's where the story gets...it's not sure whether it's a friend or one of her...some say it was her daughter, said to her, "Do you realize who that was?" She said, no, he was just walking down the street and I needed somebody to cut wood for me and I hired him. She says, no, that was Dr. Washington. So she's just absolutely mortified. So the next day she goes into his office to apologize and he says, oh no, you know, I always think it's a good thing to help friends. And she became one of the greatest...not only people donated huge amounts of money to the Institute, but she got all of her friends to donate money to the Institute, which wasn't his purpose. But I just find it easy...that what he did was not what most of us would do. You don't know who I am. He just cut the wood for her, and it end up bringing in huge amounts of money into Tuskegee Institute.
And that story, I've kept that story, I use it every once in a while for 30 years because it's like... That, now that's tact, okay? That's civility. Because he didn't have to do it. So the ability to give a soft answer, which that's just an example of a soft answer, went in and spent half an hour cutting some woman's wood for her and didn't get upset, and it turned into something very good. We have to learn that. We have to think about that. Take a deep breath and step back. And sometimes you just got to walk away. A second thing is that before we lock into something, we must try the best we can to understand the other person's viewpoint.
This happened, Kim and I were having...wasn't really a fight or anything, but we were just having a discussion, and we had two different viewpoints. I don't know, this was a couple of months ago. And I'm saying, I don't get this, I don't get this, as we were going back and forth, and all of a sudden, I got her viewpoint. And I said, oh, wow, I don't know if she's right, but this is a whole new...we're like talking about two different things. I mean, it was so clear what she was saying. I said, you mean this? She said, yes. Oh, no wonder, we've been talking two different, I mean, two different directions here. Couldn't figure out why we couldn't understand each other.
And the fact that, boom, it made total sense. Now we can have a much better conversation, as it was like we're talking, but we're...what are you talking about? I don't know, what are you talking about? So the concept of, I must understand where the other person's coming from. And you know, when you are confronted with people who don't believe what we believe, and we launch into the scriptures we use which sometimes are just baseball bats. I mean, we can be absolutely right, but you don't know where they're coming from.
Because sometimes you'll find out a person has an emotional attachment to something and you have to work them through that first. In other words, you're trying to show that there is no immortal soul and that there are resurrections, which is biblically provable, which many, even Protestant scholars, believe, but you don't realize, well, they had somebody die, and for the first time in their life, they're dealing with death, and they're thinking, well, at least they're in heaven. So instead of helping them through the Bible, they're just fighting you from an emotional viewpoint.
And so you can't lead them to anything because of where they are. You have to understand first, I am so sorry, and have them explain what they're going through. Understanding the other person's viewpoint actually gives you the ability, one, to either help change them or two, not make a fool of yourself because you were wrong to begin with. Because sometimes we're running into the argument and then we're all offended, right? Both sides are offended. We're just running into the argument when the truth is you don't even know what the other person's point is. You heard the trigger words and you move forward into the battle and we don't really understand each other. There's something Paul says that people misunderstand. 1 Corinthians 9, 1 Corinthians chapter 9. Because I've seen this or read in commentaries where this is explained in different ways. Let's look at what he really says here. And it shows the con...what it is, it's a lesson intact, is what it is.
1 Corinthians 9:19-21 "For though I am free from all men, I've made myself a servant to all that I might win the more. And to the Jews, I became as a Jew that I might win Jews and those that are under the law is under the law, that I might win those who are under the law. To those who are without law as without law, not being without law towards God, but under the law towards Christ. That I might win those who were without law."
Now, this little parenthetical statement is very important in here. I've seen this said, well, what he did was with the Greeks, he acted just like the Greeks. So when he's with the Greeks, he didn't keep the Sabbath, he ate pork, he did whatever he needed to do to get the gentiles to come into the church, but when he was with the Jews, then he would keep the Sabbath and... So this is some of the idea that builds the concept that there were two churches in the first century. There was a Jewish church and a gentile church. And so today what we have is the gentile Church. And you will find Catholics and Protestants who believe that. They're the gentile Church. Messianic Jews are the Jewish Church. And then they look at us and say, you poor, deluded people, you're supposed to be part of the gentile Church. By keeping the Sabbath and these things, you're trying to be part of the Jewish Church.
It's a whole viewpoint of the Bible. You don't find it near as much as you used to. But they would use this scripture. But what is he saying? Oh yes, you know, and I... He's not saying, oh yeah, when I was with people that weren't Jews, I just went right into the pagan temples and was there worshiping Zeus with them to teach him about God. Of course, that's not what he's saying. What he's saying is, I learned, I knew how to interact with them where they were. And you see that all throughout Paul's writings and all through the book of Acts.
Only Paul could have stood in the Areopagus and talked to probably hundreds of Greek philosophers and not been thrown out on his ear. They listened to him. Peter couldn't have done that. John couldn't have done that. James wouldn't have done that. They couldn't. He could. He understood. The classical Greek education he had. He walked in there and he talked just like... And if you read what he said, it's just like philosophers. It's an amazing... He never quotes the Bible with them. We would think, wow, Paul's afraid to cry loud and spare no, what's wrong with him? Not even quoting the Bible. He was with a group of people that never read the Bible.
But he brings in all these Bible principles. And in the end, it says a lot of them said, you know what? Some of them said, that guy's crazy. Other people said, you know what? Let's bring him back. Let's talk to him some more. What is that? That's the ability to understand where the other person's coming from, so you deal with them where they are, not where you want them to be. And that's real difficult. We can offend people with the truth when sometimes we need to draw them to the truth. We need to draw them into the truth. Not run from the truth, not hide the truth. But this is what he did.
1 Corinthians 9:22 And that's why he says, "So to the weak, I became as weak."
Wasn't, oh yeah, to the sinners I just went out and sinned. You know, I went out and drank with them. I actually know people... I've never met anybody in our church that thinks that but, you know, "Yeah, I go out to the bars and drink with the guys so I can teach them about Jesus." Now that's not what he's saying, right? He can't be.
1 Corinthians 9:22-23 So the weak I became as weak, that I might win the week. I've become all things to all men that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be a partaker of it with you.
His point is, I've learned to see the other person's viewpoint. See, seeing another person's viewpoint doesn't mean you agree with them, by the way. If you know what you believe and you've proved it and you're strong in your relationship with God, you're going to see their viewpoint and know where they're wrong. But you also will know how to talk to them. Paul could do that. Not everybody can do that, by the way. Not everybody could do that. That's why you don't see any other of those apostles with Jesus doing what He did in the non-Jewish world. None of them did what He did because He knew how to do it.
And so, we have to learn and understand another person's viewpoint without accepting the viewpoint. And that's hard sometimes because immediately you know the viewpoint's wrong, right, immediately, and you got to wait to that point... Now sometimes it's not even worth the discussion because they're not going to listen to you, okay. But why avoid needless offense? Let him be offended when the truth is given in a right way, in the right way.
A third point is that there are times when Christians will suffer this idea of having tact. We will suffer for the good of another person's conscience. In other words, we're going to go ahead and say, look, I'll step back here for the greater good so people can learn something. And I'm going to tell you, this is the greatest example in the Bible, I'm amazed at this. This one's in Acts chapter 16. And just, the men here, at the end, I'm going to ask how many of you would have been willing to do this. Then he... Talking of Paul, and it's one of the cases where Luke isn't with him because he doesn't say we, he says he. When Luke's with him, he always says we.
Acts 16:1-3 "Then he came to Derbe and Listerum, behold, a certain disciple was there named Timothy, Son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. And Paul wanted him to go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him."
Why? Because he needed to circumcise him? No. It had already been decided by the apostles in Jerusalem that they did not have to circumcise non-Jews. He's half-Jew, he should be circumcised. No, according to this, no, he didn't have to be circumcised because he says, here's why.
Acts 16:3 “Because of the Jews are in the region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.”
In other words, all the Jews in the region said, he's not circumcised, there's something wrong with him. We know he wasn't circumcised, why? Because his father was Greek. You know, it was the father's job to go in and get his son circumcised. Well, the mom couldn't do it so they knew it. So the point is, there were people who were going to be offended by something that didn't mean anything anymore. Being circumcised was not a requirement. It's not wrong, but it's not a requirement. And as they went through the cities, they deliver them to decrees by the apostles and the elders of Jerusalem. Oh, I'm sorry. And he took him to circumcise him. Now they go through this...they go through... And every place they go, all the people come, and the churches grow and they're strengthened, because the church is primarily Jewish at this time.
Okay, how many grown men, you won't have to raise your hands. Yes, Lord, if this will help the church, count me in. Timothy did. Why? Because he thought it was an issue of salvation? No. Because it was good for the church. In other words, he didn't have to, but he did. There are times when we suffer for other people's conscience. There's times we suffer for the greater good, and we can even be right. Timothy would have been right to say, whoa, I'm not required to do this. He would have been right. That wasn't the point.
Boy, this not being rude and this civility and this tactfulness, can't we go on to something else? This is hard. You know, this isn't real Christianity. Come on, let's have another sermon like last week. Let's talk about the beast. Well, that's about Christianity too. But this is important because we're into all the qualities of the love of God that we're supposed to have internalized. A fourth thing, and do this, be very careful. If you have to confront somebody, be careful about the time and place and the words you use.
Have you ever been caught off guard by somebody? I've had that happen. You know, it seems like every place I go, I have somebody running up with something, some new doctrine, some new explanation of a scripture with notebooks. And I'm trying to understand, I'm trying to not be confrontational in any way, but sometimes it's like my brain gets blown and all that. And then you got to step back and say, now's not the time. Paul did that once, let's go to Acts 23. Paul's teaching the truth. He's standing up to a group of men who should know the truth and are denying it. So he's not holding back. Tact doesn't mean, oh, yes, I'll just keep... I'll just agree with you even though it's not true. But he gets sort of blindsided by what's happening here and he gets himself in trouble.
Acts 23:1-2 “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.”
So he says, I'm standing before God in good conscience teaching you about Jesus Christ, and this man tells a bunch of other men to go over and just slap him around. Well, you know, he has a right to say something here. He has a right to say, you can't do this. This is wrong, right?
Acts 23:3 “Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall, for you sit and judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?’”
I mean, whitewashed wall means you're just decayed, you're just rotted out, and they threw a coat of paint on you so you can sort of look good, but underneath you're just all rotted out. I mean, this is a huge insult. So he slams it with an insult. And then all the men are, like, oh, everybody steps back.
Acts 23:4 “And those who stood by said, ‘do you revile God's high priest?’”
There are commands in the Bible that you can't do and say things against the high priest. Paul is so like, oh boy, he wasn't a high priest, I could get away with that, but I can't get away with that. So Paul gives sort of an apology here, but what he does is he acknowledges he did something wrong.
Acts 23:5 “Then Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest. For it is written, you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
He stepped back and said, you know what? I did not know who he was, so I should not have said that, because here's the verse. He quotes the verse. He's now using the Bible to correct himself in front of everybody. See, that's the problem when... If we could pick the place and time and words all the time, we'd be okay. But it doesn't work that way, does it? Time and place and confrontation comes out of nowhere. So, you know, sometimes you blow it a little bit, don't feel too bad, just think of Paul, having to correct himself in front of the high priest and all these religious leaders. And he was in the right in that what he said was true. He was in the wrong, what he said to the high priest because the scripture says you can't do that to the high priest.
So we try... As carefully as we can, if we're going to have some kind of conflict with somebody, pick the time, pray about it, think about it. Remember, the purpose is to help find peace as much as we can and not cause needless offense, okay? We don't want to find needless offense. And that brings another thing too. If you're going to go criticize somebody, and sometimes you do. You have some criticism that you have to say. You know, like you said this and it hurt somebody or you did this and it just wasn't right. Before you do that, say something nice to them. You know, when someone says, I sure appreciate you a lot and everything you've done but, you know, when you said this...
A lot of people really are upset by that. I've had people come say that to me and it's like, oh my, I didn't know that. Wow, okay, thanks for telling me. If they come up and say, "You stupid jerk." I'm a little bit more standoffish. Right? But if you put the person's guard down some, and then you can say it, they'll be much more open, because their mind's open to it. They haven't got this wall up already. When we attack somebody or they feel attacked, they put a wall up and they're not listening to what we need to tell them.
Judges chapter 8, this is an interesting little story here. Because, once again, the person here that's being sort of verbally attacked is the one in the right. He's the one that's done the right thing. What happened was, of course, Gideon had destroyed the Midianite army as God had told him to. He whittled his army down to 300 men. He destroyed their army. They're chasing them. And they're getting away, and he sends out to... They're in Ephraim, going through the land of Ephraim, and he sends out to the leaders of Ephraim, and he says, grab the water crossings. Because these guys are going to get to the water crossings, they're not going to try to swim across the river. Grab the water crossings and we can slaughter them. You're on one side, we're on the other, we'll catch them in between. And that's exactly what happened. In fact, the Ephraimites captured the kings of the Midianites, which in that time, that was the greatest... It would be like capturing somebody's... It was like going into a country today and taking their capital and capturing their president and all their, you know, parliament or whatever. That's considered the greatest victory. And here's what happens.
Judges 8:1 “Now, the men of Ephraim said to him, said to Gideon, ‘Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight the Midianites?’ And they reprimanded him sharply.”
Now, he had been fighting all night and all day. He wasn't in the mood to have a bunch of Ephraimites say, well, who do you think you are to do all the fighting? I mean, he could say, I started with 30,000 men and God made them all leave until I only had 300. Who do you think you are? Or he could have turned to his men and said, let's kill them all. Let's just take out the Ephraimites while we're at it. You know, I mean, there's a lot of things he could have done. I mean, this guy, he's been killing people all day. Let's just say he's not in the best mood, okay? And there they are standing there, and they're attacking him. He just saved their tribe and he's being attacked.
Judges 8:2-3 “So he said to them, ‘What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb, and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?’ Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.”
And he looked at his men and said, let's get out of here, bunch of... You know, after they probably went down the road, he turned around and said, bunch of idiots. Okay, but that's not the point. The point is to keep a civil war from happening in the country for the greater good he just said, you captured the kings. That's considered the greatest prize. I have no kings to show. They went, oh yeah, that's true, yeah. Okay, see guys, we get Midianites to kill. And it was interesting, the Ephraimites didn't say, we'll go with you. Yeah, that's true. Yeah, we need to have a big party. We have all the glory. We'll have a big banquet tonight. We'll thump our chest and how great we are. And Gideon said, well, God has something for me and my 300 men to do, so off we go.
What a remarkable thing that he did, because it's so against human nature. It's so against human nature. But he didn't take any glory. He just went and did what God wanted him to do. And that's why sometimes you have to realize you have to give other people some credit. I mean, they had seized the waterways or the water crossings. They had done that. And in seizing those waterways, they trapped those Midianites, they couldn't get across the river. And he and his men were able to catch up. These guys were exhausted. They've been running scared. God had put fear into them and then they slaughtered them because they had come to destroy the people of Israel. God said, no, you can't do that.
So we have to give people a chance. Sometimes we have to say something good and walk away. As leaders, this is very... We've been talking about, in the discovering biblical manhood, a little bit about leadership. There's old Chinese proverb, you know you've been a great leader when a great task has been done and all the people stand around and say, look what we did. And you're like, yeah, I had to yell at you, push you, make you feel... I had to do all this stuff and they say, look what we did. And that means that, hey, you did a good job because it got accomplished.
The bigger good is what you're trying to achieve, which is what Gideon understood. A war with Ephraim isn't what God wanted. Because I remember discussing this with someone years ago and the person said, well, it looks to me like he's being dishonest. I said, no, he's not being dishonest. All he said is, you've got the greatest prize, the way people think. You got the greatest price. So, I don't have any kings. And they all... Because this was all about vanity and pride, all their pride was like, oh yeah, no, we don't have to go...maybe we get killed. We won't have to go fight now, we'll just go home, have a big banquet, celebrate our victory.
I'm going to go ahead and read this, it's sort of long, but it's important because we're almost done here with the sermon. There is a letter I read years and years ago, kept the book just because it's amazing. It was written by President Abraham Lincoln, who was an expert at civility and tact. Now, a lot of people didn't like him in his lifetime and yet, he did some amazing things. The Union Army had lost almost every major battle for years. And General McClellan, he was losing too. But he started talking to his officers and saying, you know why we're losing? It's because of our president. What we need to do is turn the Army around and march on Washington. And we march on at Washington, and we take Lincoln out, and we can stop this war. We'll sit down with the other side, and we'll solve the problems.
Now, I want you to think about, you have a man now who's the president. He can do lots of things. He can have President McClellan arrested and shot for what he's done. He could run and hide, like, boy, what if he marches the army towards me? What am I going to do? And he wrote him this letter, and this to me is the greatest example from a human's viewpoint, not from God's, it's...we have to go beyond this, from a human viewpoint of how to use civility and tact and be honest. Now, there's a little power behind this too, but that's because he's president.
He says, “I have placed you at the head of the army of the Potomac.” I love the way he starts out with, hey, I'm your boss. But he says it in such a nice way. Of course, “I have done this on what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it's best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I'm not quite satisfied with you.” In other words, I'm your boss, I put you there, and I think you're a good man for the job. But I have something I'd like to talk to you about.
Remember this guy's talking about trying to overthrow the government in the middle of a civil war. He says, “I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which of course I like.” I'm not sure McClellan was a brave...he sure wasn't skillful, but anyways. Of course, I have... I'm sorry. “I also believe you to not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable, quality.” Well, he was, there's a little sarcasm here. He was mixing politics with his profession. That's what he was guilty of doing. But I'm sure you wouldn't do that. Good men won't do that. “You are ambitious, which within reasonable bounds does good rather than harm. But I think that during General Burnside's command of the army,” and Burnside had been the man he replaced, “you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to this country and to the most meritorious and honorable brother officer.” Whoa. This is, I mean, this is like... This is harsh, and yet it's written in this... Look, I think you're a good guy, I think you're a good soldier, I think you're a good officer. I want you to be in charge of the army, but this ambition of yours is out of control.
“I have heard in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying both the army and the government need a dictator. Of course, it was for this...was not for this, but in spite of this that I gave you command.” I've heard you say the government means a dictator, yeah, well, as a duly elected president, I put you in charge so you will fight for democracy. But notice how nice he says it. This is so interesting because I can tell you McClellan response at the end. “Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators. What I ask now of you is military success. I'll risk the dictatorship.” You can't become a dictator unless you win a bunch of battles. Go out and win a bunch of battles and then come after me.
There's power behind what he's saying, but look how nice it's said. Yeah, win some battles for me then you can come talk to me about being a dictator. “The government will support you in the utmost of its ability, which is neither more or less than it has done for you and all commanders.” What he says next is brilliant. Now this is politics, but this is Abraham Lincoln. “I much fear that the spirit in which you have aided to infuse into the army of criticizing the other commander and withholding confidence from him will now turn upon you.” It's that you realize when you play these kinds of politics, now the officers under you are going to do the same thing to you.
And then he says this, he says, "I will assist you as far as I can to put it down." In other words, understand General, I'm the only friend you have left. You created an atmosphere in the army in which now your officers are going to stab you in the back. And you want to come here and take my job and be the dictator. Okay, win some battles and then realize, all I have to do is contact other officers and you're gone. “Neither you nor Napoleon," and that's funny because he was, people called him the little Napoleon. He was a very big man. "'Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could do any good out of an army with such a spirit prevails in it. Now beware of rashness, beware of rashness," he says it twice, "but with energy and sleepless diligence, go forward and give us victories."
McClellan actually wasn't much good after this. I mean, it ripped him up...his guts out of him, because he realized I played my hand against someone who I'm overmatched. So I'm not saying this for the political things he did, because what he did here was brilliant. But it's the way he thought. He did this all the time. He would take people furious, and he would calm them down by just talking to them. And this is the type of guy he was. He was an amazing man. So I find that... That's not agape. Okay. That's not agape what he did. It is though a remarkable example of tact.
Just, look, I'm your only friend because you've made a lot of bad mistakes and you lose me, you got nothing. But I'm here to help you. And he did. He did support him as long as he could. He actually did. Like Lincoln when we're confronted, appeal to the good motives. He tried to appeal to his good motives. Appeal to people's good motives first. And in the church, that should be primary. We should appeal to people's good motives first. Unless sometimes they don't have good motives, but appeal there first.
Because remember, ladies, "Honey, I know this is a sacrifice for you, but I really need you to help me move some stuff in the garage because I'm just not strong enough to pick it up." You say, well, that's appeal to a male ego. Yeah. But let's think, would that work better or, "You're so lazy, you never help me around here. I've been after you to help me to move those boxes in the garage for two weeks." Now, which is going to get what you want? So appeal to the good motives. I need help. Would you please help me because I can't do this? Yeah, I can do that. I mean, if a guy says no to that, then he's really got a problem, right? Appeal to the good motives, not put down, not put down.
We generally see rudeness as a personality trait. No, they're just a rude person, they were born that way, or their family's that way, or whatever. And some of us are more blunt in what we say, we don't mean to be rude. So I don't want to say that we all have to become an exact certain kind of personality because that's not what it's talking about here in 1 Corinthians. Some people are going to be more blunt than others. Some people are going to be more direct than others.
It's saying that our motives must be not to be rude. We have a motive not to be rude. We have a motive not to offend needlessly. If we offend, it's because we're doing what's right, not because we're just being a bull in a china shop. So it is important. Because as Paul points out, Agape is not rude or it's not ignorant. It doesn't act ignorant. It doesn't have to do with being ignorant like not knowing anything. That's not what the word means. It's just ignorant. You're just...you're acting in a way that looks... it's sort of uncouth in the way you treat others.
Civility doesn't mean taking abuse. It doesn't mean not speaking your mind. It doesn't mean compromising with truth. Civility, and I really think instead of looking at not rude we should look at being civil. We should look at being polite, yes direct but being polite because our first goal, and this is especially among the people of God, our first goal is to be a peacemaker. And you know what this really comes down to? It's a very simple thing. I've talked here for 45 minutes, but it's a really simple thing. I could have said it in 10 seconds. It's simply Jesus saying that we are to treat others in the way that we want them to treat us. That's all this is. Civility is treating other people in the way that you want to be treated.