Just like the armbands that are still fairly popular today, it is a valid question to ask ourselves WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) when faced with life issues. But another very valid question is to ask WDJD (What Did Jesus Do). We have a collection of four letters (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) called the gospels that give us a complete picture of what Jesus taught and what Jesus actually did when faced with the same situations, circumstances and life issues that we face.
Last week we looked at one of the first components that we must properly understand when defining what it means to be a true, heartfelt, committed follower of Jesus. It is the concept of being a servant. The Big Idea for last week was . . . If you really want to GO BIG, you really have to think small! If you are going to go big in God’s Kingdom you have to let go of pride, not focus on position, and give up any and all desire for prominence. We must “bend down” so we can “look up” and see Jesus.
The second component of being a true, heartfelt, committed follower of Jesus is compassion. Compassion is defined as, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” It is critical to understand that Jesus has no body but yours, no hands to serve with but yours, and no feet to go with but yours. We are the very embodiment of Jesus to the world around us and when we are made aware of a need we are called and obligated to meet that need. We must say what Jesus would say, go where Jesus would go, and do what Jesus would do.
Once we are made aware of a need, we can’t ignore the need or our responsibility to meet the need. Tim Keller says, “To the degree you understand the Gospel of grace, you will live a radically generous life! If you truly have a spiritual inheritance, you are going to be promiscuously generous with your earthly inheritance.” God has a plan for how to meet the needs in the world . . . it’s spelled Y.O.U.!
If you have your Bible, turn with me to Luke 5. If you don’t have your Bible, it will be on the screen so you can follow along. As we work our way though our Luke 5 our Big Idea for today is . . . Changed people pursue change for other people! You cannot be changed and not pursue the same change for other people. “12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:12-16).
Anytime we have a conversation in the church about compassion we have to be very careful that we don’t get so focused on meeting the needs that we miss the opportunity to share the Gospel. As Tim Keller has said, “ministries of mercy involve meeting felt needs through deeds.” (Ordinary-Tony Merida, p. 27). If we are not careful we can ere on either side and miss the total picture. Let me explain something before we go any further . . . I am going to use the word “Gospel” several times today. When I do what I am referring to is everything about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is a reference to the life-changing, transforming power of Jesus’ blood shed for all of us on the cross and His victory over the grave that give us forgiveness from all sin and makes us a new creation in Christ.
There are two wrong approaches we can have to extending compassion. On one hand we can seek to promote social action but not preach justification by faith alone. It is social ministry with no Gospel. People get their needs met but have no idea what is truly the reason their needs are being met. There is a sincere desire to see the needs met, but it is sincerely wrong when the Gospel is either overlooked or avoided. On the other hand we can seek to proclaim the Gospel and at the same time pull away from social action because we are afraid of compromising the truth.
Some people have tried to justify showing compassion without sharing the Gospel by quoting St. Francs of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” This is problematic and even debatable that St. Francis even said this. The problem with this approach is the Gospel must include words because the Gospel is an announcement. Think about it . . . there will never be a news broadcaster that will come on the newscast and say, “I’m going to bring you the news, and if necessary, I’ll use words.” They have to speak words to give the news.
We must share the Gospel with words while we are showing compassion. People need to hear the Gospel and see the Gospel in action. We must do both . . . we must show compassion while sharing the Gospel. Because if we don’t it only causes confusion and we are just addressing the temporary suffering. We should want to alleviate more than just temporary suffering. The suffering in this life without Jesus extends to eternal suffering so focus on both the temporary and the eternal.
When we think about compassion and having sympathy for the sufferings and misfortunes of others we must still use discretion and discernment. In order to be compassionate for the right reasons in the right way we need to Observe Their Posture. “And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him,” (Luke 5:12). We must simultaneously look at two things . . . Immediate Situation and Long-Term Solution. Ask yourself, “Why are they in the situation they are in and what is the appropriate response?” A word of caution . . . Do not use discretion and discernment as a “cover-up” for a poor attitude and a total lack of compassion.
What I mean by observe their posture is as you look at their situation, there might be a teachable moment. And what might work for this person’s situation might not work for another person’s situation. When you observe their posture there are a couple of questions to ask yourself . . . Why are they in this position? . . . Are there bad habits or addictions that need to be addressed? . . . Are they in a position of humility or a posture of arrogance? . . . etc. Don’t look at them and say, “I really can’t help you (meaning I really don’t want to help you) but here is a gospel tract I want to leave with you.
It’s the difference in a person looking for a “hand out” or a “hand up”. The posture between the two are totally different (Illustrate the difference between “hand out” and “hand up”). Because of his skin disease the leper was an exile. He was excluded from society because his skin did not look right. But somehow, this leper who was an outcast entered society just long enough to encounter and talk to Jesus. He prostrated himself as somebody traditionally would before kings or slave owners or God. He recognizes the higher position of authority Jesus had over him and made no demands. He just begged for mercy.
The way he addressed Jesus matched his prostrate position. “Lord” (Luke 5:12) is a term of respect that recognizes the higher status of the person you are talking to. It was also the Jewish way of referring to God without using the sacred divine name. Then he extends a plea of faith and leaves the initiative and choice to God. “If you want to, Lord Jesus,” the leper pleaded, “you can heal me and let me back into society with my friends and family. I know you can. Will you, please, Lord?” He was totally coming to Jesus with a “hands up” posture and not a “hands out” posture. When he said, “if you will, you can make me clean.” (Luke 5:12) that was not statement of the lack of faith but totally the opposite. That was a plea to Jesus’ compassion and ability saying, “I know you can so will you please help me?”
In order to be compassionate for the right reasons in the right way we need to Get Personally Involved. “13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.” (Luke 5:13). Here is what I have learned over the years . . . It is easy to get excited about a cause, but never actually doing anything for a real person. Why is that? Because just to get excited about a cause doesn’t take a lot of personal effort or involvement. I can sit in my recliner and talk about a cause . . . I can stay in the comfort of my own home and write a check . . . or I can “pray” for the cause. Jesus was not just concerned about the issue of leprosy; He was concerned personally for this man who had leprosy. Unless you give of yourself and get personally involved . . . it’s just all talk!
I have to believe that when you and I take that approach to just talk and give money, God looks at us when we pray and says, “What? I really can’t respond to that because your actions are not matching what you are praying to me about.” It’s like Matthew West’s song called Do Something. He said he looked at all the trouble, poverty, slavery in the world and he thought, “God, why don’t You do something?” Later in his disgust he says, “So, I shook my fist at Heaven and said ‘God, why don’t You do something?” And God said, “I did, I created you.” If you embrace compassion while keeping your focused on the cross, the only possible response is to get personally involved.
In order to be compassionate for the right reasons in the right way we need to Don’t Be Afraid To Push For Accountability. “14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Luke 5:14). Sometimes in our efforts to help all we do is hinder. Sometimes when we try to equip all we do is enable. It is never wrong when you show compassion to push for accountability and responsibility. As soon as this man is healed, Jesus immediately tells him to go make things right and get back to being a functioning and contributing part of society.
In order to be compassionate for the right reasons in the right way we need to always Take Time To Refocus And Pray. “15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16). All of us need to take time on a regular basis to pray and as we pray for God to refocus our hearts and minds on what is really important.
I’ve got to be honest with you about something. If I am not intentional about praying and refocusing my mind and my heart, I am so quick to judge and have a cynical attitude about everybody and every situation. If I am not “prayed up” I will confront any and every situation that God puts in my path with anger, resentment, and a cynical attitude.
You must realize that there are so many needs for compassion around you and you simply can’t meet all of them. That is the reason for the Church (the Body of Christ). That is why it is so important for everybody to do their part. But the question for all of us is . . . “Who has God made you aware of that needs compassion?” And when you have been made aware of the need, you are commanded and obligated to meet that need.
In order to be compassionate for the right reasons in the right way we need to Be Motivated By The Gospel Of Grace And Not Guilt. If you have been radically changed by the Gospel and by the grace of God extended to you, you will be motivated to do something about injustice and need around you. If you have been changed by the Gospel and grace you will seek change for others. You will do whatever it takes so people will see, hear and understand the Gospel for themselves.
Guilt will only take you so far. Guilt is a great initiator but also a poor sustainer. Pictures and stories will only do so much and last so long. The only thing that will truly sustain us extending compassion to others is the Gospel of grace. The Gospel melts our hearts. The Gospel is the only thing that will genuinely initiate and sustain you in a life of compassion. Tony Merida says, “Grace-saturated people should be mercy-showing and justice-seeking people.”
If you have ever truly encountered people in need of compassion and real poverty, you will never be the same. As I have always said about ministry . . . When you have been there and invested your life in it, pictures and words cannot tell the whole story. During our trip to Guatemala on Thursday, August 11th, I was able to go see for the first time where Darlin lives. We have been sponsoring her for three years and I saw her home for the very first time.
That night I wrote something in my journal that keeps coming back to me. (Show the picture of Darlin’s house). “We took Darlin, Allison and Angel home to visit with them. I will have to admit that what I saw was totally shocking to me. They have dirt floors and the walls and roof are tin with holes all around. They have two rooms for all seven of them. The wall facing the entryway and the wall between them and their Grandma are tarps because the tin is completely gone. This is the one thing I will have to say I never get used to. I pray on this day like I always do, “God, please break my heart for what breaks yours.”
When you have been changed by the Gospel, everything changes! Your life is changed . . . Your desires are changed . . . Your perspective is changed . . . Your attitude is changed . . . Your goals are changed . . . Your selfishness is replaced by selflessness . . . etc. When you have been radically changed you realize God has made you to bring about change! Your entire life is about God using you where you live, work and play to see change in others so that God is glorified. Changed people pursue change for other people!