Dwight Stinnett ABC GRR Logo Current Thoughts
from Dwight’s Corner

August 2000

 

Compassion

“Compassion” is a recurring description of Jesus’ ministry.  As recorded in John 3:16, this compassion is rooted in the God’s love for all the cosmos.  Healthy disciples and churches share in this extravagant love.  They are truly com-passionate (“passionate with” God).  God’s love defines both the mission and method for all Christian ministry. 

The short letter recorded in our New Testament as First John drives home the imperatives and  consequences of this holy compassion. 

Repeatedly, John reminds us that love comes from God.  It is not something intrinsically ours that we discover and shape into self-care.  Love comes from God, and because of this love we can set our hearts at rest in His presence

Anyone who does not love remains in death. 

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 

And this is His [God’s] command:  to believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and to love one other as He commanded.  (The two go together—there is no separation.  Faith without works is dead, and the best of works—alone—is just filthy rags.) 

Godly passion always drives us to look outside.  Thus Jesus’ entire life of ministry is motivated by a love for others.  In words and deeds Jesus encourages his followers to look “outside themselves.”  This is a striking difference between Christianity and most Eastern religions, which encourage us to get deeper within our selves.  In fairness though, many Christian churches practice self-centeredness while denying it. 

Preoccupation with “self” is a deadly disease for both individuals and churches.  The disease perpetuates an ever-decreasing circle of concern.  It has been almost universally observed that churches which are driven to “take care of themselves” are headed for disaster.  Certainly, it is dishonest to pretend compassion and perform outreach with the ulterior motive of survival.  But disciples and churches which thrive are those committed to bona fide compassionate outreach. 

The priority is task is not to survive, or pay the bills, or gather a big youth group, or seek holiness, or recite a prayer, or pursue justice, or ….  The priority task is surrender to the divine love mediated by Christ.  Then, the love of Christ compels us

The scene of judgment Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-46 is based on continuing life in Godly love—not just a correct confession or right action.  Superficially, the “righteous” were blessed and entered the eternal kingdom for giving food, drink, hospitality, clothes, healing, and presence.  But the great irony is that did not remember doing any of those things!  What is going on here?  Could it be that they were living lives so full of the love of God that they did these things naturally and unwittingly?  As each need presented itself, they simply responded because of the Godly love in them, and then moved on to the next thing without recording it—they were blind to having done it. 

On the other hand, some were cursed because they did not give food, drink, hospitality, clothes, healing, and presence.  They gave the same response as the righteous!  We never saw you.  The implication is that they were blind to others.  The absence of God’s love made them blind to need—they had no compassion.  Yet another implication in the protest is that, if they had seen, they would have responded.  But the response would have been self-serving, rooted in duty, self-protection, or something else. 

There is an unavoidable tension here.  The activist in me wants to say “Do good things for others.”  But the pietist in me says “Be immersed in God’s love.”  The truth is, God’s love manifests itself in actions toward others, and one without the other is a sham. 

God knows the difference.

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