In reading the Bible one can quickly learn that God places a good amount of emphasis on mercy and compassion.
Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”; Matthew 18:33 “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?” Matthew 23:23 “and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness”; James 2:13 “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy”; James 3:17 “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits”; Jude 22 “And have mercy on some, who are doubting”.
Modern Compassion Busters
· My Work Environment: In the book the Gamesman, Michael Maccoby observed, “The most loving people were not the ones who moved up the ladder rapidly”. He said about the current American workplace, “Corporate work stimulates and rewards qualities of the head and not the heart”. A businessman noted, “Something very sick has happened in our company culture in the past five years. For me to keep my job these days, I have to check my heart at the door”. He then observed, “The problem is, I often forget to retrieve it on my way home”. “Can you relate to what he’s saying? Maybe you’re in an extremely competitive business where it’s pretty safe to assume that the other players aren’t wringing their hands about having low scores on the kindness scale. They’re the type who’ll sink to any depth to get a deal done”(Becoming a Contagious Christian, p. 72). Yet, first century Christians lived in a society that was as compassion-starved as our own (Romans 1:31 “unloving”). Unwanted children and aged parents were often abandoned to die, and so where worn out slaves. In Corinth, it appears that even some of the Christian men viewed harlots as simply an object and not a real person (1 Corinthians 6:13-16). If we are tempted to excuse ourselves and say, “Its hard being a Christian these days”, we need to remind ourselves that God expects us to act like Christians, even in the darkest times. Paul told the Philippians, “That you may prove ourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Work environment doesn’t have to drain our compassion. Cornelius was a soldier, yet at the same time, a very compassionate person (Acts 10:2).
· Too Busy: Another factor that can hinder our kindness or compassion is an unhealthy pace of life. Luke 10:29-37”But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. 31"And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32"And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33"But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35"And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' 36"Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" 37And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."
One writer had an interesting view of the priest and the Levite: “Think back to the parable of the Good Samaritan. I believe that the priest and the Levite, were, at heart, kind and compassionate people. Most people in professional religious careers are; or at least they start out that way. But something often happens to them, and the same thing can affect the rest of us as well. We plunge into our careers, then we start raising our families, we deal with ever-increasing financial demands and life keeps getting faster and faster and faster. Doesn’t it almost go without saying that people consistently living in crisis mode are generally no big distributors of compassion? Knowing the demands and pressures associated with church work, I can almost hear the priest and Levite whispering to themselves as they passed by the wounded traveler: ‘You think you’ve got problems? I’ve got six more meetings before sundown!’” Or, as a stressed-out executive told me recently, ‘I have learned that to make it my career, I have to put everything outside of work on indefinite hold” (pp. 73,74). How many times do we miss opportunities to show mercy because we “have to be somewhere”?
What are warning signs that you are too busy with less important matters? 1. No time to stay around after services and meet visitors. 2. No time to meet someone during the day or at night so you can help him or her. 3. No time during the week to have people over. 4. No time to help at least one person come to Christ. (Mark 4:18-19).
· How You Give: “Believe it or not, it’s possible to overdose on expressing compassion. I know some people in our church who early in their Christian lives got so fired up that they sort of unzipped their chests and offered their hearts to every needy person who came their way. Then one day they found themselves feeling a tinge of resentment” (pp. 75-76). One can become cold-hearted or cynical about compassion because of some misconceptions about compassion. Here are some concepts that can help us avoid the pit-fall of becoming burned-out when it comes to extending mercy: 1. First, we must have the right motivation. We will become cynical if we are motivated by human praise or some immediate and temporary reward, such as, “I want people to think that I am really spiritual”. Our compassion must be motivated by the fact that God has displayed such mercy to us that we are obligated to extend it to others (Matthew 18:33; 6:14-15). That we want others to receive the mercy and experience the tremendous grace that we have received. 2. All attempts or acts of compassion will not be appreciated (Luke 17:18 “Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?”). Jesus died for all men, yet very few have ever said, “Thank you”. 3. People may get angry when you try to help them, they may resent your “do-gooding”. 4. Your attempts at compassion may be misunderstood by the world. They may think that you are trying to “get something” or that you are only being nice out of “duty”. 5. Some people won’t get any better when we try to help them, rather, they might get worse. 6. Some people will abuse our compassion. We need to remember that caring for others, must be balanced by caring for our families and our own spiritual lives as well. God helps us here, for He does place limits at times on helping others (Matthew 7:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:6-15).
· Lack of Appreciation: Matthew 18:21-37 “Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24"And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25"But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26"The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.' 27"And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28"But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29"So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30"He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31"So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32"Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?' 34"And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35"So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
“But some of us become accustomed to grace. We take God’s kindness for granted. We get used to receiving His compassion and we wind up expecting it, absorbing it, and failing to pass it on to others” (p. 79). We need to remind ourselves that we don’t deserve God’s kindness and we don’t’ deserve the “breaks” that we get on a daily basis. Often we complain when life doesn’t seek to be cooperating with us, instead we need to recognize that in light of our sins, life should never cooperate with us. It’s very hard to show compassion, if you are convinced that life has been unfair and cruel to you. Here was John’s perspective of being a human being in a universe where God has sent His Son to die for our sins, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). “One grace after another” (Ber); “blessing after blessing” (Gspd). The word fullness suggests that this expression means an abundant supply. We have all received one undeserved blessing after another, one “break” after another, and one providential occurrence of “good luck” after another. We tend to forget that just being alive is an evidence of God’s grace (Acts 5:1ff). We need to recapture that feeling of intense gratitude and appreciation we experienced when we obeyed the gospel. That feeling of relief, that a huge burden had been lifted, that life was wonderful, the future was bright, and that we just had to share this with other people.
The Pulling Force of Compassion
John 13:33-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Rom 12:18-21 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20"But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017