Rudeness (also called impudence or effrontery) is a display of disrespect by not complying with the social norms or etiquette of a group or culture. These laws have been established as the essential boundaries of normally accepted behavior. To be unable or unwilling to align one’s behavior with these laws known to the general population of what is socially acceptable is to be rude.This month I would like to ask you to give careful thought to whether or not you believe that rudeness is in fact incompatible with God’s definition of love.
Following our February tradition of considering the definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 one phrase at a time, we have a rather bland statement in front of us this year:
“Love is not rude.”
The question many of us may be asking right now concerns whether or not the Bible is referring to what Wikipedia described! I can well imagine many of us thinking that since societal norms (even in a society like a church) are culturally arbitrary and inherently transitional, therefore I can and should be and do precisely what makes me feel most comfortable and authentic. Compliance to norms is a greater sin in our day and age than communicating disrespect by refusing to comply. Isn’t this our new, hipper ethos what the Bible actually teaches and shouldn’t we redefine what “rudeness” means to justify our personal desires to be and become whatever we think God is calling us to regardless of whether or not others may be offended?
The word used by the Holy Spirit in giving us the first phrase of 1 Corinthians 13:5 is aschemonei. Literally this word breaks down into the negative prefix and a word we should recognize: a-scheme. Love does not, according to the Spirit of God, “break scheme” or flout conventions for the sake of personal authenticity (more on “seeking self” next year – look ahead to the next phrase!). Three examples of this “a-schematic” or “rude” behavior are given in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 7:36, a man is convicted of “acting improperly” (aschemonei – same word for rudeness!) towards his fiancé – he is not honoring his social commitment to marry her. In 1 Corinthians 11, New Testament scholar Gordon Fee finds two more examples. In verses 11-26, women are “contentiously” (v. 16) flouting societal conventions with respect to their hair in such a way that they are causing scandal. In verses 17-22, folks are arriving to Lord’s Supper celebrations at whatever times are convenient for them and refusing to wait for those who cannot arrive until later. In all three cases, we find examples of rudeness that cannot be reconciled with Christ’s command to love.
But what will you do? Are there ways in which you conduct yourself rudely in your relationship with your spouse, your family, your colleagues at work, your church? Do you work hard at graciously being a part of the world and the relationships into which God has embedded you? The nineteenth century theologian and Princeton president Charles Hodge summarizes this biblical condemnation of rudeness well: “Love doth not behave itself unseemly; it does nothing of which one ought to be ashamed. Its whole deportment is decorous and becoming.” May our love for one another be obedient to the Spirit in this way – may we never be rude.