The eighth of the ten descriptions of a Baptist New Mexican says, “He embraces biblical compassion by helping people who have no options (poor, orphans, widows, sick).” Though some may think compassion should be the first action of a church and its most visible characteristic, that is not what the Bible teaches. Yet, compassion is a necessary activity for saints. Its late placement among the descriptions does not minimize its importance. Its placement indicates the broad strength and devotion God fosters to undergird a saint’s compassion.
Since God is not a “respecter of persons,” He demands responsibility of all men. Thus, Proverbs distinguishes between the negligent poor (the sluggard) and those who are truly in need. Likewise, Scripture calls for families to care for their own widows before the church steps in with benevolence. God expects everyone to exercise self-responsibility to the greatest extent he or she is able. When that ability falls short, He expects His people to be ready to help with biblical compassion.
Biblical and humanitarian compassion are different. The former is driven by biblical truth and instruction. The latter is driven by the shifting morals and concerns of fallen, sinful society. Humanitarian compassion varies and drifts over time. But, biblical compassion maintains its focus, no matter what cultural shifts occur. Biblical compassion also reveals God to those who receive it through believers. It delivers much more than comfort; it delivers His presence and attention.
James ranked compassion in importance alongside moral purity (James 1:27). And, when Jesus described the people who would inherit the kingdom, he said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-26). He described acts of compassion.
In Jeremiah, God described people who do not “plead the cause of the orphan” or “defend the rights of the poor,” as wicked men, rebellious, stubborn, foolish and sinless (Jeremiah 5:28). He called those oversights iniquities or sins. Compassion manifests the heart and values of God among people with few or no options in life. Those who show no such compassion sin against Him.
The New Testament church reacted with compassion to widows needs when they mobilized the six men who are often described as the first deacons. The widows were being overlooked. Following the tradition of godly righteousness, those men acted to support the widows and ensure they were treated well. That first organized effort was a compassion ministry.
When John the Baptist sent messengers to see if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus’ response included, “the Gospel is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:15). Jesus so valued the poor that he used a poor woman’s gift to the Temple treasury as a moment to teach about generosity and giving. And, when Paul and Barnabas sought the Apostles advice on ministry to the Gentiles, Peter, James and John released Paul from teaching them the Jewish law. Paul wrote of their guidance, “They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.” Compassion was the one element of the Law the Apostles sought to retain among the Gentiles.
God cares deeply about poor people, orphans, widows, prisoners and the sick, lame and infirmed. They attract His attention. In fact, Jesus conducted much of his earthly ministry among them.
God’s care for the poor and unfortunate was so consistent that the Bible says they could trust Him and depend upon Him. When Christians follow His biblical example, people who are trapped in life without options will say the same thing about Jesus’ church.
What did God and godly people in the Bible do for needy people? What does biblical compassion look like? It reaches beyond physical benevolence. The basics of compassion encompass providing food, clothing, hospitality (shelter) and safety. Beyond those things, God and His followers defended needy people and advocated for them and their rights. God sought justice for orphans, the poor and widows. Righteous men and women pled the cause of the poor. They felt and demonstrated pity, becoming helpers for people who could not help themselves. Men and women of God stood beside the poor and widows and included them, just as they did individuals who had sufficient means and needed no help.
So, as saints grow, they increasingly reflect God’s attitudes and actions toward needy people. They advocate for, provide for and guide those who have few or no options. Baptist New Mexicans grow into compassionate people who demonstrate the heart of God toward others.
Note: This series was written for The Baptist New Mexican the news journal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. It's ten descriptions apply to any Baptist Christian, not just Baptists from New Mexico. This is article 9 in the series.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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