In the 18th century, French King Louis XVI’s beautiful palace grounds at Versailles faced a crisis: Every time King Louis invited guests, they trampled all over the lush gardens. The gardener put up warning signs called etiquets that said “Keep off the grass!” hoping the guests would not walk past the signs into the gardens, but to no avail. Distraught, he brought it up with the king himself, who enforced obedience to the boundaries the gardener put up. Over time “etiquets” came to include all rules about how visitors to the royal palace in France behaved in court. Today, etiquette is defined as “the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group” (dictionary.com).
Though the term originated in 1750, the idea of having certain standards of behavior has been around much longer than that, tracing back even to 2400 b.c. when an adviser to the pharaoh developed a rulebook. One of the rules was, “When sitting with one’s superior, laugh when he laughs.”
A lot of different cultures have developed their own standards of etiquette. America has one or two books for etiquette: George Washington wrote 110 rules for etiquette in 1814 that he called Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. Jacqueline Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt have written more modern ones. Benjamin Franklin had a lot to say about rules of etiquette as well. These rules of etiquette are continually developing. These days, there is even such a thing as netiquette, which means etiquette for Internet usage.
Why is knowing any of this important? Because God places a high value on etiquette.
The way King David is described in 1 Samuel 16:18 definitely exudes the sense of etiquette, especially the Ferrar Fenton translation: “I have seen a son of Jessai of Bethlehem, a skilful musician, a fine dancer, a gentleman, and a good reciter, and a handsome man, and the Ever-Living is with him.”
The world’s standards of etiquette were established in the royal courts of Europe. Etiquette was developed by royalty, and defined how people were to behave. Royalty is to set the example. In fact, good etiquette is a major dimension to developing the personality of a king.
Psalm 45:15-16 reads, “With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace. Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.”
Royalty has to be made—constructed.We have to be educated in right and proper etiquette, and then we have to practice it. God invested a lot of time and resources into teaching His royalty proper behavior, or conduct. This is something that He wants us to think about too. Our modern world doesn’t think about this much anymore. We live in a culture where good manners are not valued. Table etiquette is not something that we think about. It is not like it was in Victorian England. A lot of people look at the time of Pride and Prejudice and think of it as stuffy and uptight and Victorian, but there is a lot about that era to admire and appreciate.
We can find another example of God’s royalty in the life of young Daniel and his three friends: “Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4). Here we get a glimpse into their conduct and even their personal appearance. These Jewish teens had bright, active minds and were skillful in mathematics and engineering.
Lange’s Commentary translates the phrase “no blemish” in verse 4 as “no physical defect.” “Well favoured” can refer to physical appearance. They were handsome and well dressed. They were hygienic and had good manners. “Cunning in knowledge” doesn’t just mean they were full of knowledge, but also that they knew how to apply it. Lange’s says “they could understand thought.” They had strong self-awareness: They could see how others responded to their behavior and conduct, and they could read the room.
Etiquette is all about how to behave in the presence of royalty. These boys knew that. They could be brought into King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and know how to behave—even as teenagers.
Daniel 1 continues the description of these four teens: “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm” (verses 17-20).
God places a high value on etiquette, and we must too. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his friends went to finishing school. In a lot of ways, our homes and dinner tables should be a bit like a finishing school, where we are taught how to have proper etiquette.
The queen of Sheba was blown away by the etiquette of Solomon’s servants! Read the account in 1 Kings 10:1-9. The Ferrar Fenton says, “When the Queen of Sheba perceived all the sciences of Solomon, and the House which he had built, and his dining-room, and the residences of his ministers, and the attendants serving him, and their uniforms, and the cup-bearers, and the offerings which he offered in the House of the EVER-LIVING, there was no more spirit left in her …” (verses 4-6).
If a world leader came into the Herbert W. Armstrong College cafeteria dining room at the field house, would they be blown away by the table manners and conduct of the students? If they came into your dining room, would they be blown away how royal your manners are?
We see what really shone through most of all to the queen of Sheba in verse 8: “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.”
Happiness is undeniably tied to etiquette! Don’t underestimate the powers of happiness and joy. Good etiquette means radiating joy and happiness. Don’t be grumpy! And even if you are occasionally grumpy—if there is a pressure, stress or anxiety—try to master the ability to radiate joy and happiness in your outward expressions. This is a skill that will serve you well in life, because life does bring struggles, anxieties and frustrations from time to time. You can serve others with a joyous countenance.
Read the end result of the impression Solomon, his servants and his surroundings had on the Queen of Sheba in verse 9: It caused her to glorify God! She recognized that all that splendor and happiness came from God. She was so moved that she gave sizable offerings to King Solomon! (verse 10). This is what true, royal etiquette is all about: giving people a glimpse into God’s personality.
In his article “Is It Wrong to Be a Cultured Individual?” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “There is much sophisticated ‘culture’ in this world that is pure snobbery and vanity. But true culture is based on God’s great law ….” God’s great law of love breaks down into two parts: love toward God and love toward man. He quoted Matthew 22:39: “’Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” and then continued: “That part of culture and manners that expresses concern for one’s neighbour in politeness, graciousness, pleasantness, smiles and service is true culture.”
Godly etiquette is motivated by God’s love, and serves by being polite, gracious and pleasant. Mr. Armstrong wrote further, “What about dress? Yes, one should dress according to the occasion, and also within reason—according to his pocketbook. … During classes, [students] do not ‘dress up’ … but [are always] clean, neat and orderly. For an evening function, they dress up in whatever is their best ….”
The point Mr. Armstrong was making is that it is good to have high standards in dress and conduct. Godly etiquette is about service. This is how we live the way of give. We live in a culture that does not value etiquette or dress standards. In fact, we live in a culture that hates any sort of standard. The message in the world is to just be yourself. Be true to yourself. As long as you love your style, then it makes no difference what anyone else thinks. Don’t worry what impact your appearance or language has on others. That thinking is based on the way of get, and it is not right. God’s law of love says to think about others. Think about how you are representing God first and foremost in your conduct and appearance, and then think about the influence you are having on others!
There are three basic principles of etiquette that apply to men and woman across the board, whether at the dinner table, in conversation, or in anything we do.
1. Radiate joy.
Smile! Look others in the eye. Engage with people; be joyous; be happy. Of all the mental characteristics that you could develop, few are more beautiful than happiness. Everybody loves people who consistently smile, whose eyes are always sparkling. Prioritize developing this!
2. Radiate service and selflessness.
Strive to put others first and take an interest in them. Look for opportunities to serve others. Show respect for others, both guys and girls. If you are putting these principles into practice, then the minutia will fall into place. If you are looking to serve others, for instance, you will never chew with your mouth open at the dinner table. All the practical things we talk about when we talk about etiquette stem from an attitude of selflessly serving others.
Practice good table etiquette at mealtimes. Even if you forget some of the minor points, remember the big ones: Do not talk with your mouth full, do not prop up your elbows on the table, and do not shovel food into your mouth.
3. Radiate humble confidence.
This helps others around you feel more comfortable. Look other people in the eye, and speak to be heard; don’t be too quiet. If you have a humble confidence about you, that will go a long way to removing awkwardness. That will go a long way to helping others.
Dress following the guidelines set by the Church. The girls especially should look modest and feminine. We want to look nice. Take an interest in studying what colors look good on you. Pay attention to color schemes, skin tone and the way something fits.
Additionally, there are some further points that apply to young ladies in particular.
1. Radiate meekness and humility.
1 Peter 3:4 says, “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
Young ladies, strive to develop a meek and quiet spirit. This does not mean withdrawing or never speaking up . You should learn to be a great communicator—a feminine communicator. There is a time to speak up and be heard, but in a feminine voice. There is an art to this—speaking loudly and leading, but in a feminine way. Try to remove aggression from your tone while still maximizing vocal resonance. Aim for words of encouragement and admonition. Strive to encourage young men rather than compete with them.
Proper meekness and humility will inform you about what you can and cannot say, or when to defer to a man to say what needs to be said. The feminine woman does not debate, argue or insist on her way. Many proverbs contain instruction on this.
2. Develop kindness and patience.
This is something men should be developing as well, but God has given women an advantage here because they are naturally more empathetic and compassionate. Use that, girls: Become genuinely interested in others! The Proverbs 31 woman “… openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (verse 26).
Guys truly appreciate it when girls have general kindness, a tender heart, and a caring spirit with everyone. And even as a teenager, there is one guy in particular that you can take care of and express an interest in right now: your dad! Learn to love, support and help him. Encourage him and appreciate all that he does for the family. Developing that attitude will serve you well when you do eventually marry.
Whether you are boy or girl, young or old, you can always become a better servant to your fellow man by observing the basic laws of etiquette. In a world where the guests to the party are trampling over the gardens, serve your fellow man by observing the boundaries of etiquette.