Compassion


Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

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“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

   “return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

   and rend your hearts not your garments.”

Return to the LORD your God,

   for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;

   and he relents over disaster.

Joel 2: 12, 13

When people have departed from a relationship with God, His greatest desire is for them to return to Him. In these situations, God is not motivated by a need for power or for control, for those are things that He holds in His hands as a part of the nature of His being. The Lord gains nothing from our obedience to Him except for our companionship, and that is the thing that matters most to Him. God was willing to give everything in order to bring people into close communion with Him; so, that is exactly what He did. Christ’s blood is more than sufficient to cover any of the sinfulness in which we are able to engage, and it is more powerful than all of the drive to roam and to wander that often seems to propel people away from God and out of fellowship with His church.

The Lord enters into thE troubled, painful, and damaged places in our hearts. He brings a form of healing that cannot be found in any other place or through other mediums of restoration. Christ speaks truth into the challenging realities of our lives, and He does so with a clarity that is born out of His intimate knowledge of each of us. God takes the time that is required to truly understand the intricacies of our hearts and the complex processes of our minds so that He can engage with each person in a manner that enters into our lives fully and with a form of love and care that is typically found only in the relationship of parent to child. This is true even when we have attempted to put as much distance between ourselves and the Lord as it is possible to travel. The Lord will continue to seek after people when anyone else would have long before given up the pursuit.

The grace and the mercy that are offered to these wandering souls is fueled by God’s love. This is a love that knows neither limits nor situations or circumstances that inhibit or that defeat it. Christ’s love for each person that would ever be born into life on this earth is so great that even the torturous nature of the cross and humanity’s most strident of attempts to crush it out with ridicule and death could not extinguish it. Christ is calling to all of us who are far apart from our God. He is asking that we open our hearts to His love so that we can accept the grace and the mercy that He is holding out to us as a gift. Redemption, restoration, love, peace, and fellowship are set before us as a banquet feast that has been prepared by the Lord to celebrate the joyous return of those who have been absent from His table. So, for any and all people who have wandered away from the Lord’s presence and have taken themselves out of relationship with Him, Christ is calling, and He speaks out with grace and with love as He says, “Return for you are precious to me.”       

He has told you, O man, what it is and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6: 8

God is a clear communicator, and He makes it rather easy to understand the way of living that He desires for His children to follow. We are to be people who live in a just and a righteous manner without demanding justice for ourselves. We are to be people who show kindness, which is often called mercy, to everyone without the expectation or the prerequirement that they will be merciful to us. This is the nature of God, for He grants the total grace of His loving forgiveness to everyone who will accept it. He does this even knowing that from God’s perspective, we are all antagonistic and hostile to His will, for we are all, in our natural states, unjust and merciless.

God’s Spirit teaches, counsels, guides, and directs us toward decisions and responses to other’s actions that will reflect His concept of what is just and how to grant mercy. Justice and kindness are key threads in the cloth of life that God has woven and that He has wrapped around every one of His children. As we seek to live in the center of our relationship with Christ, His Spirit infuses our hearts with His essential truths and with the values and the ethics that spring forth from them. Christ calls upon us to become people who value the just treatment of everyone at a very high level; so, we need to seek to interact with others in a way that reflects the grace and the mercy that Christ has shown to us.

When we actually live in this manner it means that we are required to place ourselves and our concepts of our own importance on a level that is far beneath that of God’s. Then we can become humble students of the Master, and we are more readily able to stay humble through everything that comes our way. I will not have all of the answers, but Christ does. I won’t always respond well to what others do and say, yet God has already forgiven my failure and guides me into restoration of the relationships that have been harmed. When I see my futility and powerlessness in the face of oppression and hatred in my world, the Lord simply says for me to walk with Him, and He will provide the insight and the wisdom that I require to meet the needs of the victimized and the battered. As I am weak and lacking in knowledge and understanding, Christ is with me to provide everything that I need to be bold, courageous, and loving throughout the day. 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14-16

Jesus did all of this a very long time ago. Yet, we are still not living in the reality of what is described here. For there is certainly more than just a little hostility out there in the world, and I cannot see an end to it soon. We just find new reasons to dislike others, to fear them and to seek to keep ourselves separate and apart from many of the people in our world. We can even contemplate and fabricate compelling arguments for the need for these barriers and the laws or rules that are enacted in order to enforce them. In this environment, it is easy to justify the expenditure of extraordinary sums of money on this process of separation, and we name all of it as necessary, acts carried out for the sake of national pride, and in the name of religious purity.

So, you might come back at me with a statement about the fact that Paul, in this letter, was not talking about the same things that I am in the words above, and I will agree with you, to a point. However, I think that Paul’s deeper concept here is one of re-creation or of restoration of that which God designed and devised to be the state of being in our world. When humanity was formed up and established on this earth by the hand of God and with His breath breathed into our lungs, we were not intended to be separated by race, nationality, social or economic status, or by the way that we worship God. These divisions and separations have all come about in the aftermath of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. So, Paul may have been talking specifically about the very broad divisions of Jews and Gentiles, but when that discussion is extended out to its fullest reach, I contend that it is about every form of separation and division that might exist in our world.

Jesus came to break down all of those walls. He entered into His destiny in order to give us the way and the means by which God’s heart for restoration of His creation could begin to be carried out in our world. Now it is our responsibility and duty to follow Christ into that same work of restoration. Where there are divisions, we need to seek reconciliation. As there are barriers to fellowship, Christ’s people must reach out to share a table of grace, understanding, and peace. When people proclaim nationality or other forms of human-devised superiority, Christians and Christ’s church need to raise up a chorus of praise to our only true and sovereign King Jesus as we also stand up and risk defiance of power that is established in this world so that the valid power of the cross is what the world sees standing tall above our heads. There is one road that leads to peace in our world, one path to reconciliation of humanity to God, and a singular way into an eternal relationship with God, and this is the one that takes us to the cross and that leads into the arms of Jesus the Christ.    

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 19, 20

If truth were to be told, most of us deserve more than we actually get by way of payment in terms of punishment for our sinfulness and by way of pain and suffering in response to that which we have inflicted upon others. Yet, where God is concerned, there is really no equity in these matters. He has taken on far more than He gives out, and in Christ, God accepted all of the deepest sorrow and the harshest pain as His own reward for sinlessness and for faithfulness. So, that which should be mine, was brutally beaten and pounded into Jesus’ flesh. The just judgement that my own evil ways deserves has been taken on by the only living being to be ever and steadfastly pure, perfect, and absolutely sinless in all regards. 

Now, we all do endure the outworking of the brokenness of our world. Each and every person that is born into life here will encounter illness, injury, loss, grief, and trials of many different types. This is the reality that surrounds us, and these are the circumstances that often haunt our days. It is also true that the more we seek to follow Christ in this world, the more likely it is that we will feel the sort of pain that is formed up out of caring for and about others. As we learn to love as Christ does, we enter into the lives of people at a deep and a substantive level where the real burdens of their days become the ones that inflict us with shared sorrow and with burdens accepted to help carry. In a very real sense, when we enter into supporting people in their days of need and times of trial, we are following Christ’s lead and answering God’s call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Care and concern and burdens carried are verbs in a disciple of Christ’s vocabulary.

Sometimes the burdens that we take up will belong to people who are themselves unlovely, out of favor, or in many other ways disadvantaged or marginalized by our society. These are people that Jesus saw in the full light of heaven, for He viewed all people as lovely and every one of us as people for whom grace, mercy, and redemption were poured out on the cross. As Jesus took on the shame of sin for all people, so, too, are we to enter into carrying the burdens and sharing the sorrows of everyone. The dividing walls of culture, society, race, gender, life choices, nationality, and any other separating factors were broken down and eternally abolished by Jesus’ death and the resurrection from death that followed. If we are to suffer at the hands of injustice for the sake of entering into the sorrows and the burdens of those for whom justice is scarce, any pain of hardship that may befall us is for God’s glory and all that we might endure will be counted to our credit by Christ, the only true and righteous judge of people’s hearts. 

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

1 Timothy 6: 6

There is a moment or so in this letter during which Paul seems to be particularly harsh on people who are wealthy. For he will very shortly make the often misquoted statement saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” He also expends some ink on the fact that having wealth does not equate to contentment in this life. Yet, money, the possession or the lack of it, and even the processes that are involved in earning it are not really what the Apostle is concerned about. He cares greatly about the state of his reader’s souls and the condition of their hearts. Everything else is secondary, and all of the rest of it falls into order behind the primary issues of orientation, focus, and the application of the skills and energy that we have been given by God.

According to Paul, if we wish to be truly wealthy in this world, we need to seek after the sorts of riches that are eternal in nature. None of these eternal riches involve gold, silver, bank accounts, or investment portfolios. Yet, the lasting may be influenced by the manner in which we hold and use those perishable forms of wealth. Everything is influenced by perspective, and the net result of what we do is brought about by virtue of the motivation for our actions. Gain for the sake of personal glory, notoriety, or power is never going to bring about satisfaction for the soul. This worldly form of achievement will always fall away at some point along the journey of life. True contentment is found in giving ourselves fully to Christ. That is, we find the sort of heart and soul deep satisfaction in our lives most readily when we lay down our personal goals, wishes, and desires before Christ and yield all of our being to following Him and to service to God’s kingdom as He calls upon us to give it.

So, as we do this, the nothingness that we brought with us into this life is made into the greatest of riches imaginable. The emptiness of this world is enriched with the presence of the glory of heaven, and the vast storehouse of God’s bounty is opened up for us to use in bringing the love and the care of the Eternal Father into direct contact with the impoverished people of this world. It is in serving the needy that we find the true contentment that comes from walking in close proximity to God’s heartbeat for humanity. Those needs might be physical, financial, or spiritual in nature. In fact, they often include several elements of what it means to survive and to thrive in life; yet, all of these needs are things that Christ can deal with through the labor of our hands and the care of our hearts for others. Wealth is obtained through service, and contentment is found through serving Christ. The form of riches that does go with us beyond this world is granted to us by the Lord as we enter into His calling for the use of all that He has granted to us by way of resources, talents, and gifts.    

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 17

Paul is discussing the various wonderful ways that followers of Christ are different from each other in the forms and the types of gifting that God has given to us. There is no question in my mind that this is what the Apostle is speaking about. Yet, it seems to me that there is more here. As I have been reading Richard Beck’s deep and profound book Stranger God[1],I have come to see this expanded view of the body of Christ a little more clearly. It does seem that God has given to us the gift of people. This is a really simple, yet very complicated subject. People are each different and highly distinctive, too. This differentiation exists in the form of our physical appearances, our personalities, our comfort in various situations, and in our capabilities and capacity to engage in each aspect of living within a community. Some may seem to be able to give more, and some are not as able to contribute, or at least that is how it might seem.

One of the challenges that I encounter is found in the way that my thinking has been conditioned over the course of my life. As I meet new people, I am almost immediately assessing them. While thinking that I am being open minded and accepting of the person as an individual, there are various internal filters and analytical tools at work, and these in-grained devices are busily placing this individual into broader categories that are ordered by preconceived definitions that lead me to draw value oriented conclusions regarding this person. None of this is happening at the level of volitional thought. Yet, it is all quite real and present inside of my mind so that this defining of a person has an effect upon my heart’s rendering of their worth as well. This is not at all how Christ sees people, and it has nothing to do with the way that our Lord contemplates the worth or the value of them, either.

In order to change something as long practiced and deeply held as is this form of thinking, I need to submit my perspective and view of people to Christ in repentance for the way that I have not loved His people well and with an expressed desire to be changed by the work of the Spirit within me. When Jesus met people, He was more interested in their story and in getting to know who they were than He was engaged with determining their role or their worth within the culture. So too should I care more about the life that people are living and the trials and troubles of that journey than I do about their skills or lack of them. Each of us is uniquely and beautifully formed by God to fulfill a role within His body of faith. There are no classes of citizenship in Christ’s community, for each and every person contributes to the whole as the Lord grants to them a place within His kingdom. I pray that as I go about my day that I will love and respect the people that I encounter in a manner that sees each of them as a whole and a contributing person who has a valuable and a vital place within God’s grand plan for His kingdom come to this world.    


[1]Richard Beck, “Stranger God, Meeting Jesus in Disguise” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2017)

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