4 Important Reasons Why Compassion is Essential to Christianity
Recently I have experienced more and more a departure in modern Christianity from the founding principles that Christ taught and that the early Christian church was familiar with. This hypocrisy within the church today is doing more to repel people from Christ, than to draw and persuade them into a genuine relationship with Him. Unfortunately, the attitude of most Christians today is to justify this lack of empathy and compassion with a focus on the need for declaring truth in our anti-theistic society. However, the “truth” justified today is far from that of which was most compelling in the flourishment of Ancient Christianity. It is my attempt to counter this growing attitude by expounding upon the importance for why compassion is most essential to a genuine Christianity. For sake of brevity, I have narrowed this topic down to four important reasons, here they are.
1. We cannot truly desire to reach the lost without first experiencing God’s genuine compassion to reach us.
“We love, because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19 (NASB)
Compassion is enticing and contagious, with loving-kindness as its synonym (I hope you saw what I did there). It is never self-seeking and always desires to better others and encourage them to flourish. It is selfless and so is love. At the heart of the Gospel we cannot help but approach the most commonly known and memorized Bible verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NASB). This is a very simple, yet profound verse that really does explain most explicitly the heart and soul of the Gospel. The verse tells us God’s relationship towards His creation: one of selfless love and full of compassion. The only true kind of love takes action, all else is merely flatter. “For God so loved the world, that He gave…” if there was any compelling argument that love is a verb, it would have to be this one, that God gave… and that what He gave was a part of Himself. What is the purpose of showing this kind of love, this kind of compassion? It cannot be deserved, bought or in any way bargained for. It stands separate, unique and utterly removed from all that is selfish, prideful, arrogant or boastful. It is the most beautiful thing that makes its recipients feel so overwhelmingly undeserving; it leaves its receiver humbled and in awe.
Notice here that this description of compassion resembles and reflects what we convincting-ly know our benevolent God to be. It should be this way, and yet this is not often how American Christianity portrays God to be. We know that this good news should bring us overwhelming joy, and yet it is not reflected this way in our lives. Several passages come to my mind in regards to this subject. For instance, we know from Scripture that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). We also know that we are to love others because love comes from God (1 John 4:7), and that if we abide in this love, we will know God (1 John 4:16) and His love will complete us (1 John 4:12). We also know that God’s example of love that He set for us was that He sent His Son (1 John 4:9) and that the most loving act is to lay one’s life down for their friends (John 15:13). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16; NIV). Yet do we personally understand this love?
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8; NASB).
Love is a Verb
It may seem as though I am preaching to the choir. For most Christians these verses should not come as a shock, but unfortunately head knowledge means nothing without action, just like love means nothing without demonstration. In order for us to persuade and win souls to God, we must be aware of how we are presenting God’s image as Ambassadors of His love (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). We can only love others when we have truly experienced the love of God and “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19; NASB).
It is not enough to claim Christ. It is not enough to believe sound doctrine. It is not enough to hand out Gospel tracks, or declare God’s words to others on a platform. It is not enough to preach on a street corner or to “plant the seed.” It is not enough to host deep theological bible studies. It is not enough to declare our disdain for the world. It is not enough to be a televised Pastor to millions of people. It is not enough to attend church activities. It is not enough to start an apologetics ministry after we have received a Masters of Divinity. No, all of these things are meaningless without genuine Christ-like love and compassion. All of these seemingly good things can repel the lost if our faith is devoid of love. If we do all of the aforementioned and yet our interactions with the lost lacks sincere genuine compassion, we are better off not evangelizing at all. We are better off leaving lost man to his own devices than to offer him something that is not working in our own lives. We are better off leaving him with the possibility of encountering genuine love than converting him over to our meaningless faith.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3; NASB).
Without true love and compassion, we cannot fathom what it means to follow God, nor can we lead others to the relationship we have yet to obtain. Instead we must make Love our only God and compassion our service to Him. Like a mirror reflecting light, we are to be a reflection of Christ to others. This means to lay aside our boasting, our pride, our insecure need to be right or “win” the argument. Rather we are to humble ourselves and in compassion become to the lost what they yearn for the most: unconditional love. Paul emphasizes this best in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
2. Christianity without compassion is ugly and repulsive.
“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” – Francis Schaeffer
Have you ever tried to evangelize with someone who was hostile, edgy, and easily angered? I can tell you with certainty that I have. It is guaranteed that as ambassadors for Christ we will, if we truly evangelize, experience many encounters with people who are hostile to our cause, and many with good reason to be. We will even experience those with such irrational anger and hostility that persecution is more than likely to follow an encounter with this person. But, how is it that we can hold ourselves justified if we react and respond the exact same way? How can we preach light to a dark world, if our encounters with the darkness only produce darkness in us? This topic unfortunately gets extremely controversial with many Christians who want to justify their hostility to the world. I have heard many explanations and excuses to justify this behavior, and I think at the heart of it, our pride becomes often what is most exposed.
“Just how compassionate should I be without compromising the truth?” It is this question in its various forms that I hear most frequently. Many of those who claim to be my brothers in Christ will argue that their hostility in blasting a lost soul was biblically founded. Usually, in Facebook debates or online forums it is as if all compassion and accountability is thrown out the window and by those who “Need to warn sinners of the truth!” But just what is the truth they are presenting? Is it that they have lost all control of their emotions? Is it that confrontation concerning these topics makes their blood boil? Half of the truth of what we speak can often be understood in how we present it. This convicts me too. For a long time I would justify my vile sarcastic rantings as “speaking the hard truth that others needed to hear.” Unfortunately for me, these conversations did more to push away the very person God was convicting me to draw to Him. I was speaking the “truth” and at the same time my communication was a guarantee that the person I was addressing would not hear me. So let me discuss with you at least two very common approaches that American Christians often take and apply to evangelism.
The Shotgun Approach –
This is where we as witnessing Christians have such limited time, and our encounters with the lost are so brief, that we do everything in our power to compress our message into a memorized speech or tract. Unfortunately the biggest weakness of this approach is that our message becomes superficial. The pamphlet may very well be good and have extremely important information, but we rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate, through action, our love. Again, this is not to say that this approach is invalid, but that our message is hindered. Unfortunately, many Christians see this approach as the “work” that guarantees their admittance into heaven and care little how their pamphlet, speech, or tract was presented to the lost. It is not enough that we preach the Gospel, we must also live it out in faith.
The Political Approach –
I have often said that it is impossible to regulate morality legislatively. Sure we can make things illegal, we can come up with laws and enforce penalties and fines for those that break them. However, laws do not stop crime, if anything they make them slightly more unattractive for fear of the consequences. What determines morality ultimately is the heart of the individual; the conflict of moral obligations, the law written on man’s heart (Rom. 2:15), and the Holy Spirit bringing conviction to the world (John 16:8). Unfortunately however, we have grown fond of our political bipartisanships, we are attracted to the us/them mentality and it has sadly affected the way we outreach. Are we winning voters or converts? Does writing a politically hostile sign towards homosexuality and waving it at a gay parade win lost souls? Does shouting in repetition what you believe at onlookers and passersby help or hurt our cause? Of course we have heard from those who oppose us that we should love them, and by that they mean accept AND approve what they have identified with. This is not what I am saying. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we are mindful of where compassion fits in this evangelistic exercise. Too many Christians have a faulty view of what qualifies as persecution. Some think that being called names and being shouted at for protesting with offensive signs, merits them the title of “martyr.” However, a true martyr is one who is persecuted and ridiculed for righteousness and loving-compassion in the name of Christ. Stephen, the very first recorded New Testament martyr (apart from Christ) is an extremely good example (cf. Acts 6:8-15; 7:54-60).
What are we breeding?
I recently watched a video of a street “evangelism” group that wore black t-shirts with the words “Infidel Pride” and protested, er, “evangelized” an Islamic march. They held signs that said “FLEE THE WRATH TO COME” and “THEY CHOSE NEW GODS…” Each and every encounter with their Muslim audience was hostile and negative. One of the members told an Islamic man to “Go eat a bacon sandwich!” One of their other members was knocked over by a Muslim man and the group became more focused on involving the authorities. If this was my experience of Christianity, I would do everything within my power to avoid it. How can such an experience foster spiritual growth and maturity, let alone be attractive enough to draw others to a genuine relationship with God?
Another example was during a street evangelism session I partook in. During the session, one of the members became extremely hateful and hostile to quite a few of the people he was attempting to witness to. I confronted my brother in Christ about his antagonistic attitude to those who we encountered in this downtown plaza. He told me, “We are just here to plant the seed.” Though I agree with part of his sentiment, that not all the spiritual regeneration is on us, I couldn’t help but see this as yet another excuse of justification. Sure we are here to plant the seed, but not all soil is of the same ground. As in The Parable of the Sower (cf. Matthew 13:18-23), there are 4 different types of soil (rocky, thorny, dry, and good) all of which will require a unique evangelistic approach, one which is dependent upon compassion. People are all unique and different, coming from different backgrounds and broken or hurt in different ways. If our encounter breeds hostility and contempt, we are directing the lost to witness our brokenness, and this, opposite to the healing and redemption which is at the center of our gospel message.
3. Intellectual Christianity wins arguments, Christian compassion wins souls.
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I recently read a quote that said: “I don’t want someone perfect; I just want someone who is real.” How dead on this quote is to most people. Many find religious perfectionism repugnant. The “goody-two-shoes” who is ready to hold them to an impossible standard, one set by a person who ignorantly believes that they have attained such perfection. The lost, rather than being met by someone who genuinely sympathizes with their circumstances is often met instead by one who is more than happy to point out their faults. This kind of person plays hand in hand with the one most likely to justify themselves with the previous mentioned justification: “I just tell people the hard truth.” The truth however, is that these people do not care about the truth at all, but about being right. The man most willing to shove “truth” in another person’s face is more concerned with being right than rightly presenting the truth. Unfortunate that it is these people most often who flood Christian apologetics with their intellectual prowess. They intellectualize Scripture, doctrine and theology to the point that the pursuit for truth becomes more important than its application to those who lack it.
Like a sword in the hands of a violent man, the Scriptures become a hostile weapon to brutally “disarm” the “enemy.” Instead, the Scriptures should be like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, one who removes a cancerous tumor in the patient’s body, keeping them from a deadly end. All throughout the wisdom literature of Scripture this need for compassion is frequently made apparent. Let’s quickly take a look:
“A fool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor.”
“He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.”
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
“He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
“A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”
“A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
“An angry man stirs up strife, And a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools.”
If we are not careful, instead of producing the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23) we will instead let our evangelism turn into the very thing God hates and despises: prideful, evil, arrogant and perverted (Prov. 8:13). Rather, we are instead to consider others better than ourselves in humility (Phil. 2:3), this includes the lost (cf. Acts 10:28, 34-35; Titus 3:2). If the way we present the truth, whether through our actions, words or attitude does not align with Christ’s example of humility and compassion, we will not persuade others to embrace our message. The heart and motto of our outreach should reflect that of Paul’s words to Timothy and Peter’s to the church body:
1 Timothy 1:5
“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”
1 Peter 3:15-16
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
4. Christianity without compassion leaves only hypocrisy.
“There is no grace that the spirit of self can counterfeit with more success than a religious zeal.” – William Cowper
Here we come to the rotten core of the apple. There are multiple reasons why we as humans hate, and are hostile to, a Christianity that heavily lacks compassion. Honestly, I don’t think there is a greater cause than hypocrisy that pushes people away from God; ironic that this very reason would be the center problem of 21st century Christian evangelicalism. The point has often been made that our life should be a witness of the goodness that God has yielded in our lives. That when others look at us, they should see Christ as a reflection of the way we live our lives. Hypocrisy therefore testifies against our message, it is the fruit of a bad vine; the sour and bitter sentiment that a fake believer yields after a life of cognitive dissonance from Christ’s teachings. James says that this type of religion is utterly worthless (cf. James 1:26). John says it is impossible that one could hate his brother and at the same time claim a holy love for God (1 John 2:9; 4:20). Paul says that they are detestable, disobedient and unfit for any good work (Titus 1:16), and also that we should avoid such people (2 Tim. 3:5). Jesus Himself says that if we are to desire to enter the kingdom of Heaven, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). If we are to have any hope of winning others to Christ, we must first clean house ourselves.
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
This should be convicting (especially Matthew 23:13), not only does our hypocrisy make us unable to be an effective minister of the Gospel, it hinders those who come in contact with us as well. If our reasons for participating in apologetics, ministry or evangelism are solely to justify ourselves or convince ourselves of our election, we are in it for all the wrong reasons. Selfish motivated hypocrisy is a hindrance to compassion; a stumbling block to ourselves and others. Ironically, hypocrisy is also the single most argument made against us by the world and the foremost excuse a Christian makes for not wanting to attend his/her local church body. If we are serious at all about living our lives for Christ, we must rid our lives of any hypocrisy.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”
In Matthew 5:16 God’s Word tells us that we are to “let [our] light shine before men,” and this for the expressed purpose of the glorification they would give to God the Father. Often the first words out of a person’s mouth are “God bless you!” after they have received generously from someone who showed them compassion. Maybe we should seriously consider this approach first before immediately attempting to witness to them. Christ’s timing was impeccable; He did everything perfectly led by the Spirit. The same should be for us, the Spirit is our Helper, our Comforter (John 16:7), our guide and shepherd (Gen. 48:15-16; John 16:13). We must therefore invoke the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance so that our outreach and lives as Christians is most effective to the outside world. If we are to be the light, we must first have direct access to the Light. Without the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit we are inadequate, unprepared to live our lives as Ambassadors for Christ.
“”But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
1 John 2:27
“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.”
“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
In conclusion, it is our compassion as Christians that most clearly testifies our love for our neighbor and for God, thus fulfilling the law (Matt. 7:12; 22:40; Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14; 6:2) and pleasing Him through our fruit-yielding faith (Isa. 32:17; Heb. 7:19); remembering that faith without works is dead (James 2:17) and that a hypocritical faith based solely on works is also dead (Gal. 2:16). Therefore it is impossible to please God without true, genuine faith (Heb. 11:6). In Jesus’s parable concerning the good Samaritan, it was the one who did the Father’s will, the one who showed unconditional love and compassion, that truly acted neighborly.
Other verses for consideration:
“’Which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor of the one having fallen among the robbers?’ And he said, ‘The one having shown compassion toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘You go and do likewise.’”
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
2 Timothy 2:25
“with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”
1 Peter 2:18
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”
1 Peter 3:15
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”