is a recurring
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.
letter recorded in our New Testament as First John drives home the imperatives
and consequences of this
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.
who does not love remains in death.
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?
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.)
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
Permission to copy for noncommercial use is granted