When you go out to dinner with an influential person, mind your manners: Don’t gobble your food, don’t talk with your mouth full. And don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite.
Proverbs 23:1-3 The Message (MSG)
I don’t remember just what the occasion was, but I do remember that my family was meeting some people for dinner who seemed to be very important to my mom and dad. It was going to be at the kind of restaurant to which we, as children, were never invited — one of those fancy establishments where everyone is dressed up, the waiter speaks with an air of superiority and half a drawer of silverware is set around your plate.
My mom’s speech to me sounded very much like this week’s Proverbs. All I knew was that I was to be on my absolute best behavior. I was to restrain myself. That is the gist of what the author of our passage is saying: restrain yourself. How foreign that thought is in the world in which we live. All too often, it appears that people are only mindful of themselves. We live amidst an epidemic of self-focus. Customers in restaurants and stores treat servers as if they were invisible at best or an annoyance at worst. They let loose with barrages of bad behavior no matter who is around them. Asking someone to use restraint is viewed as trampling on their rights.
It is as if society has reverted into juveniles that try to justify their actions by claiming that “everybody does it.” Loma Linda University Health’s focus is “to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Christ.” Living that mission means that we don’t seek the lowest denominator of social interaction; we are to seek the highest. We aren’t to be on our best behavior with only the top-ranking administrators, or our bosses, or influential customers. We are not to restrain ourselves just to curry favor. Jesus calls us to restrain ourselves out of respect and care and love. Jesus invites us to live like Him: Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Philippians 2:2-5 (NLT)
—Terry Swenson, DMin, is director of University Spiritual Care at Loma Linda University.