The Invention of Manners

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

Sixties radical Abbie Hoffman played a major role in fomenting street turmoil during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. For his efforts, Hoffman, along with the other members of the Chicago Seven, were charged with conspiring to incite a riot and with contempt of court.1 Over a decade later, Hoffman was still urging his admirers to be rude in their dealings with authority: “Remember that manners were invented by kings to maintain power. The determination to interrupt business as usual is often misunderstood as ill-mannered. Don’t let the ‘king’ define your behavior.”2

He was right in suggesting that there is a time to “interrupt business as usual.” The biblical prophets showed this. But Hoffman was wrong about the invention of manners. God invented them, as His Word demonstrates.

mannersProverbs 15:1 instructs the reader in wise decorum, with both benefit and risk. If one’s speech is conciliatory and self-effacing, then the conversation will more likely continue to a fruitful conclusion. If, instead, one leads with insult or menace, communication will probably break down, and the backlash can be fierce. Of course, in handling proverbs such as this one, it is important to use words such as “likely” and “probably,” for this book offers rules of thumb rather than hard-and-fast predictions or promises. Occasionally, a soft answer will do nothing to cool the other’s temper, and caustic speech may simply demoralize the hearer. But, as a general rule, this proverb is true.

Proverbs 15:1 is not cast in the language of absolute morality. It does not say that tender speech is by definition godly or that hard words are an abomination to the Lord. If so, then the strident John the Baptist was reprobate, not deserving the high praise Jesus gave him in Matthew 11:11. But if one understands this proverb as a matter of prudence for those engaged in the workaday affairs of life, then it fits perfectly.3

Examples spring readily to mind – at the store, in the post office, at the driver’s license center, in a ticket queue, on a crowded walkway, in a parking lot, at a sporting event, or in the neighborhood. And the principle applies equally to all parties involved, whether clerk or customer, coach or player, bicyclist or pedestrian. And in each setting, Christians should take the lead in gracious speech, disarming conflict and advancing cooperation by precept and example.

Of course, one need not enter the marketplace to use this maxim. It serves quite well in the home and church, where a lot of senseless strife could be avoided with its employment. Again, this is not to say that all speech in these sectors must be quiet and even bland to please God. There are certainly occasions for sharp rebuke and stern pronouncements. But these cannot be the norm, for they would lose their effectiveness in a general atmosphere of bitterness. And if Christians are to be salt and light in the world, they must cultivate the ways of grace along with their zeal for truth.



1 Some of the convictions and charges were later overruled on account of procedural irregularities in the original trial.

2 Abbie Hoffman, “How to Fight City Hall,” The Best of Abbie Hoffman (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1989), 373. This article was originally written for Parade magazine in 1984.

3 It is doubtful that Solomon, who wrote Proverbs, was the king Hoffman had in mind. But even if he was, Proverbs comes by the inspiration of God, not the imperious heart of an earthly monarch.


What Is ‘False Modesty’?

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:16-17 (ESV)

In 1941 C. S. Lewis penned The Screwtape Letters, in which a seasoned demon, Screwtape, counsels his young nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt a new believer. In one letter the diabolical uncle urges Wormwood to lure a Christian into a false humility: “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.”1 Screwtape knows the “Enemy” (God) will oppose such an attack: “Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all.”2

No opinion of his own talents? Sort of. According to Lewis, the Christian should be able to build the best cathedral in the world, know it is the best cathedral in the world, and yet be just as happy to have the cathedral have been built by someone else. In other words, the Christian should be able to truly rejoice in his gifts as well as the gifts of his brother or sister in Christ. To dabble with false modesty, denying the goodness of one’s work (when Hypocrisyit is quite obvious the work is good), is to assume the appearance of a virtue one does not possess. This is hypocrisy, and it is deadly to the Christian soul.

James offers readers an explanation for why there is no room in the Christian life for this brand of hypocrisy: a perfect God is the source of every good and perfect gift. In the context of James chapter one, this is really a staggering claim since the subject matter of these opening verses has been tests, trials, and suffering. These are hardly the good gifts about which one is tempted to be falsely modest.

Nonetheless, the teaching of verse 17 is clear. God is the giver of “every” good and perfect gift. This includes the gift of regeneration (verse 18, God “brought us forth by the word of truth”), the gift of wisdom (verse 5, “[i]f any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”), and every gift in between. King David credited God as the source of every material blessing, “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Jesus told the disciples that God is not only the source of physical goods, He gives righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). Likewise, James wanted his readers to keep their eyes on the sure, reliable, and generous God. Thus, that new car and the ability to work that earned the car come from Him; He is the source of both good gifts. This is the doctrine taught by James.

Screwtape explains to young Wormwood how God would try to keep the believer from false modesty, and it has everything to do with bringing to mind the doctrine found in James 1:16-17: “The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair.”3

Thus, there is no room for false modesty. This kind of hypocrisy is simply precluded from the Christian life. The fact of the matter is the glorious God of the universe has chosen to bless His children with extraordinary gifts. Some of them have gifts of leadership, some gifts of teaching, some gifts of encouragement, some gifts of administration, and so on. Nonetheless, when a true achievement is pointed out, Christians too often reply, “No, no, it really was not that good!”—a response designed to elicit more praise. Indeed, false modesty—hypocrisy—deadens the Christian soul by subtly turning the attention to oneself and one’s talents and away from the giver of all good gifts.



1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; repr., San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 70.

2 Ibid., 72.

3 Ibid. Italics added.


What Does the Bible Say About Entertainment?

entertainmentYou might be surprised at the number of times the Bible touches on the subject of entertainment. On the positive side, Jesus went to parties and made time to get away from the grind of ministry with His disciples. Paul said that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), and he obviously knew something about poetry (Acts 17:28), sports (1 Corinthians 9:24-26), and the theater (1 Corinthians 4:9). What’s more, the end of history is pictured as a banquet for God’s people in Revelation. Negatively, King Herod’s attempt to entertain his guests led to John the Baptist’s execution (Matthew 14:6-12), and the Persian King Ahasuerus’ wild party ended with what amounted to a divorce (Esther 1:1-22). How do we sort through these biblical references? Here are several principles to help you determine Scripture’s teaching on entertainment and amusement.

1. Keep entertainment in perspective. The deepest, most abiding joy comes from fellowship with God, not a fleeting source of amusement. The psalmist longed for God’s presence and said to Him, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). The amount of entertainment available in the western world is overwhelming. Yet people still abuse substances, lead deeply troubled lives, and even commit suicide. This is evidence that no amount of entertainment can bring ultimate fulfillment. Such satisfaction can only be achieved by walking daily with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

2. Seek levity and amusement in the proper context. The fact that entertainment is not our ultimate source of satisfaction does not mean it’s evil. On the contrary, Scripture suggests that God’s people should pursue wholesome entertainment. For instance, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Ecclesiastes urges, “Eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

3. Don’t use entertainment to escape from reality. The author of Ecclesiastes mentions work and feasting in the same verse: “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:13). The obvious suggestion is that God’s people must not pursue sources of amusement at the expense of tending to life’s responsibilities such as work and family. When King David sought relaxation at the expense of meeting his obligations, the results were catastrophic (2 Samuel 11:1-27). The Lord wants us to enjoy His gifts while we meet our obligations, not in lieu of meeting our obligations.

4. Satisfying sinful desires is not a valid source of entertainment. This ought to go without saying. Unfortunately it doesn’t, as many view excursions into drunkenness, sexual titillation, or crass humor as “harmless fun.” Along with Herod and Ahasuerus, Babylon’s King Belshazzar exemplifies the folly of entertaining oneself by satisfying sinful cravings. The very night that he indulged in drunken reveling, the Medes killed him and overthrew his kingdom (Daniel 5:31).

5. Allow interruptions to your entertainment. Though Jesus enjoyed a wedding (John 2:1-12), a banquet (Matthew 9:10), and a getaway to the lake (Matthew 14:13), He was often willing to be interrupted to meet people’s needs. It was a matter of priorities. In the same way, our entertainment is never so important that it cannot be stopped to help a friend in need or share the gospel with a person who needs Jesus.

The Bible’s advocacy of godly entertainment has played a role in the development of sports, literature, art, music and more among Judeo-Christian cultures. So the next time opportunity presents itself to enjoy a wholesome form of entertainment, think about this heritage and thank God for His good gifts.


What Is Meant by “The Glory of God”?

(Note:  The following video and article is presented within The Biblical Story Course under ERA 5: Israel, lesson 18, “Solomon’s Reign and Its Aftermath”.

The glory of God is His majesty and the honor due to His name. Israel of old and the Church today are called by God to bring glory to His name.

Statement of Doctrine
There are no rivals to God’s magnificence and righteousness. All should acknowledge His power and splendor – His glory – even as His creation proclaims it.

Biblical Support
Having been overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord at the moment of his calling as a prophet (Isaiah 6:1-7), Isaiah had much to say about it throughout his ministry (for instance, Isaiah 40:12-31). He declared that Yahweh was so great that He could hold all the waters of the earth in the palm of His hand and weigh the mountains on a scale. He alone created, without the help of anyone else. Moreover, God alone had all knowledge, needing no one to instruct Him in anything. Therefore, the Lord declared that He would not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).1

The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) connotes grandeur, substance, and might. It manifests itself in many ways. For instance, the glory of the Lord appeared like a consuming fire at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:17) and as a cloud filling Solomon’s newly built Temple. So overwhelming was the cloud that the priests could not even enter the building (2nd Chronicles 7:1-2).2 Then, in Ezekiel 10, the sad spectacle of God’s glory departing the Temple involves not only a bright cloud, but also the image of jewel-encrusted wheels.

There is also a strong moral component to God’s grandeur. When, on Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you . . .” (Deuteronomy 33:19).

Frequently in Scripture, the glory of God is presented as the aim of His action in the world. For instance, it says He created people for His own glory (Isaiah 43:7), and He restrained His anger and redeemed His people so that His name would be magnified (Isaiah 48:9-11; cf. Isaiah 43:25; Ezekiel 20:9). Accordingly, a central part of Israel’s worship was to give God the glory that was due to His name.3

Historical Interpretation
The Westminster Shorter Catechism of the seventeenth century begins with the question “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”4 In the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards developed this theme, saying, “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”5 Today, another pastor-theologian, John Piper, has drawn on Edwards to suggest a new answer to the Westminster question: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”6

The Old Testament prophets spoke of a day when acknowledgement of God’s glory would extend beyond the nation of Israel. Then “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14; cf. Isaiah 11:9). The fulfillment of this prophecy began when Jesus Christ, who was the “radiance of the glory of God,” came to earth (Hebrews 1:3).

One day, this radiance will be so great that there will no longer be need for a sun or a moon, for God Himself will provide all the light needed (Revelation 22:5). The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will join the heavenly multitude in crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory . . .” (Revelation 19:6).

For Further Study
John Piper, “What Is God’s Glory?” Desiring God Website, (accessed August 12, 2014); John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998); C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001); Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God (Nashville: B&H, 2004).



1Though God’s glory is utterly unique, He does confer significant dignity and splendor upon humanity, which is made in His image. As it says in Psalms 8:5 regarding “the son of man,” “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”

2 This was a wonderful moment of recovery, for the Ark of the Covenant was once again in the Most Holy Place. When the ark, with its attendant glory, was captured by the Philistines (1st Samuel 4:1-22), Israel was stung by a sense of disgrace and weakness. Upon hearing the terrible news of this loss, the daughter-in-law of the priest Eli gave birth suddenly and named the child “Ichabod,” meaning “the glory has departed.”

3 See Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 96:3, Psalms 96:7-8; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 115:1.

4 See “Westminster Shorter Catechism (1674),” Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website, (accessed September 9, 2009).

5 Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies, vol. 13 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Thomas Schafer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 495, Miscellany #448; see also #87, p. 251-252 and #332, p. 410. For an online discussion of the significance of this passage, see John Piper, “A God-Entranced Vision of All Things,” Desiring God Website,…(accessed September 9, 2009).

John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 18.



The Bible and Sixteenth-Century Culture

Andrew Pettegree is a history professor at the University of St. Andrews and founder of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. In a recent work entitled Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, he reflects on the profound cultural impact of the Christian Scriptures in sixteenth-century Europe. In particular, the work addresses the means of persuasion: how it was that people became committed to distinctively Christian living. The primary means of this persuasion was the distribution of the Bible.


[I]t is hard in any survey to do real justice to [the Bible’s] primacy and influence. But this was a remarkable and many-faceted book, a success in so many of the categories of print that sixteenth-century readers found so fascinating. It was a travelogue and a work of history; a work of literature and poetry; it provided the model for much of the most successful drama of the age; it was a work of prophecy in an age obsessed by prophecy; it was a treasure trove for botanists, grammarians and etymologists, and a foundation text for students of the ancient languages; it was a work of jurisprudence, perhaps the sixteenth century’s most influential legal text; it was certainly the century’s most influential work of political thought. It provided role models for rulers and priests, for fathers and mothers, for soldiers and martyrs.

In this book the print culture of the sixteenth century was displayed in all its technical sophistication. It could be a handy pocket-sized book in tiny print, or a gloriously illustrated folio. The narrative illustrations in the Old Testament brought to life some of the greatest stories of the Christian tradition; even in the austere purged editions of the later Protestant tradition the text often came accompanied by maps, technical drawings, and ingenious diagrams of belief and unbelief. It is not too much to say that in this one volume is epitomized much of what sixteenth-century book culture had to offer.

The sixteenth century placed this compendious and many-sided work directly in the hands of unprecedented numbers of people. Throughout the century and in all European vernaculars there were published at least 5,000 whole or partial editions of the Bible, a total of at least 5 million copies.1



1 Andrew Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 191.

Biblical Insight: She Conceived and . . . Killed?

BabyInside“He slept with Hagar, and she conceived . . . So Hagar bore Abram a son.”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son . . .”
“Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son . . .”
“So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters . . .”
“The woman conceived and sent word to David . . . she became his wife and bore him a son . . .”
“I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“So he married Gomer . . . and she conceived and bore him a son.”
“Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter.”

Genesis 16:4, etc. (NIV)

Human life is created at conception. When a baby is conceived, God intends the child to be born. For a baby to die between conception and birth is unnatural, aberrant, and a wrenching departure from God’s created order.

The word “conceived” is used some 18 times in the NIV Bible to refer to the conception of a child. In every instance, the conceived child is finally born. According to the biblical narrative, this is the proper pattern—conception results in birth.

God intended the womb to be a sanctuary where human life might be wonderfully and secretly fashioned by His hand (cf., Psalm 139:13-16). He never meant it to be a place of death. In fact, the Bible pictures conception without birth as a sign of divine judgment. Consider Hosea 9:14—“Give them, O LORD—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry . . .” Even Hosea’s prophetic voice fails as he tries to think of a judgment terrible enough to repay the sin of the Ephraimites. Flushed with anger, he finally prays that God would cause their children to die in their mother’s wombs.

It would, of course, be wrong to tell a couple suffering miscarriage that the cause was God’s judgment upon them. Terrible things happen to innocents in this broken world. The point of this Scripture is that such loss is mournful, something they know full well. More than anyone, they understand how abominable it is to kill an unborn child; it is high-handed rebellion against the glory and creative authority of God.

Modern society has carved a moral chasm between conception and live birth. Legal maneuvering in America has led to the declaration of unborn children as categorically different from those actually born. In essence, all legal rights to life are rendered void in the period between conception and birth. The freedom to kill the unborn at will is defined as a parental right. Scripture allows no such right, and the Church must fiercely oppose it wherever it exists in the world.