the curse of politeness


After personal experience and much thought about some of the things the Lord has been teaching me lately, I’ve come to a conclusion:

politeness is a great destroyer of true fellowship and close friendships.

That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say…I mean, aren’t we supposed to be polite to each other?!  Well, actually, according to the Bible, we are supposed to love each other.  Jesus tells us that by this the world will know that we follow Him…“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).   And before anyone argues that being polite to each other is loving each other…it’s not.   According to my trusty Oxford Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus, “polite” is defined as “having good manners, courteous…cultivated, cultured…refined, elegant”.  Those are all nice things, but loving someone goes much deeper than just being courteous to them.

But back to my original statement about politeness destroying true fellowship and close friendships.  Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” If you look at it honestly, much of politeness is just lying.  Someone asks you if it would bother you if they do something in particular…it really does bother you, but in order to “be polite” you tell them you don’t mind.  That is a lie.  And to make it worse, usually in a situation like that, if you told them it doesn’t bother you just out of politeness, you’ll probably end up slightly resenting them because they are doing something that bothers you.  It really is quite ridiculous when you think about it!

Lest this all be taken wrongly, please know that I am not saying we should all be selfish and make everyone do what we want because it’s “just being polite” to say otherwise.  Or that you go around offending people just for the sake of not being polite.  But what I am saying is that we should “speak truth” to each other because “we are members of one another”. 

Speak truth…the whole truth.  Not just most of the truth covered with a polite veneer. 

For, and this I know from personal experience, not speaking the whole truth with each other prevents true fellowship (we are “members of one another”) from happening.  How can you be of the same Body with someone else when you aren’t ever sure if they are telling the whole truth?

Both of the scenarios mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph could easily happen if someone decided to just stop being polite.   But the point of this isn’t to just stop being polite.  As believers, the point is to replace politeness with something that goes much deeper…loving one another as Jesus desires us to because we are all members of His Body.  And to really love one another, we can’t let any untruth (no matter how “small” it may seem) keep us from being members of one another.  Society would tell us that it definitely is not polite to confront someone about their sin. However, as brothers and sisters in Christ, it is our responsibility to confront each other about sin (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1).  And if we truly love each other, we would want to confront each other about anything that is keeping the other from drawing closer to Jesus or that is detracting from giving glory to the Lord.

I recently told one of my dearest friends that I wanted her to not be polite to me and I wouldn’t be polite to her.  And despite my recently formed convictions regarding all this (though the seedling forms of those convictions have been there for awhile), I know that statement will be hard to always follow through with.  After it has been ingrained in you since day one that you need to be polite to everyone, etc., it’s hard to break out of that and go past it to speaking the whole truth, in love, to each other about all things.  But I know and can trust that the Lord will continue to keep working in me, because ultimately, this all is for His glory.

“…but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ…”
(Ephesians 4:1)

originally published September 2007


  1. God clearly instructs His children to speak the truth. We should not ever be afraid to obey Him in social situations or times when speaking the truth may be controversial. But just as God’s perfect holiness finds meets His deep love in a balance we can never fully understand, truth graciously shared speaks more clearly of God than either false politeness or blunt or harsh honesty. The friends and counselors who have spoken truth directed to real-life situations are the best friends I could ever ask for. But they spoke with kindness, when the time was right, with a background of relationship that laid the foundation for such words. Politeness characterizes their interactions with me. Because I know they value me as a person, willingly showing respect and courtesy, I’m ready to listen to the hard things they may need to say. Their politeness, just like their truthfulness flows out of their love of God and for me. When Jesus walked on earth He treated people with a gracious respect that not one deserved. While I never want politeness to be a veneer of behavior, I want my words and actions to show the intrinsic value God has given to each person. My words and actions ought to flow from a heart transformed by God: one that values the other person’s desires, one that speaks truth because God calls His children to speak truth, and one that speaks graciously because our God is a kind and gracious God.

  2. You’re right! Honesty is sooooo important in friendships! It’s also unbelievably important in marriage. I used to have a problem with little white polite lying like that until the Lord got on my case about it and told me that when I got married my husband really wouldn’t like that habit. Then he showed me Proverbs 24:26 which says: “Giving an honest answer is like giving a kiss.”
    Honesty is special to God, and a real, good friend should appreciate it too!
    Great post!
    Much Love!

  3. Good thoughts, Jessica!
    I think honesty is extremely important in friendships and we need to speak the Truth (in love) regardless of trying to be “polite”.
    It’s definitely not easy to live this out each day but with God’s help, anything can be done! 🙂

  4. It seems that genuine courtesy is the kind that is based on charity. Our courtesy is a witness to the dignity of the human person as an image of God. I agree that a superficial politeness can interfere with acting for the genuine good of another. If we’re going to build one another up in Christ, we have to be willing to go a little deeper.

    At the same time, there is something to be said for refraining from telling the whole truth in certain circumstances, if the whole truth would actually have the effect of being detrimental to the spiritual good of another. This doesn’t mean that lying is ever acceptable, but just that prudence should be exercised in deciding when and how much and in what way the truth can best be presented to any individual.

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