Archive for October, 2011


In Exodus 20, we read: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (v. 16) This is the Ninth Commandment. It has to do with the communication and establishment of truth. The Hebrew word translated “witness” (ayd) refers to giving testimony or providing evidence. The term rendered “false” (shehker) has a range of translations, such as, lie, false, vain, wrongful, deceitful, and fraud. One thing is immediately clear: that which is prohibited by this Commandment is a deliberate act. This Law is broken when we choose to lie, distort, deceive, or otherwise obscure what we know to be the truth.

Like the other Commandments, this one is grounded in the nature of God who is truth and whose word, therefore, is always truthful. Consequently, to lie is to act contrary to the nature of God and is an affront against Him, regardless of the context. Although we may lie to another person, which is a sin against them, of course, the ultimate offense is against God who has established the concept of truth-telling.

The seriousness of this issue is reflected in the Bible’s rule for judging truthful testimony. A man accused of murder, for example, could not be convicted on the word of a single witness. Two or three witnesses had to come forward before the offender could be judged guilty. The same requirements applied in the case of idolatry (cf. Deut. 17:2-6; 19:15). A liar is described as “treacherous” in Pro. 14:25 and such a person is said to represent the threat of a club, sword, and sharp arrow in Pro. 25:18. A lie, therefore, is capable of much harm and destruction. Reputations can be destroyed by lies; a man’s livelihood can be taken away as a result of lies. Because of the incredibly damaging potential represented in a lie, truth is not to be treated lightly and should never be twisted, omitted, or contradicted.

These requirements for ascertaining truth are a much-needed safeguard against false accusations. As fallen creatures, we are capable of lying about others. We are capable of making deceitful claims. We may be motivated by revenge, self-promotion, or personal gain. We may lie about one thing because we think a person should be punished for something else that has gone undetected.

I believe that misrepresenting truth, by various means, is a common sin in the modern Church. Christians lie when they state something as fact that they know is not true. But they also lie when they “shade” the truth or tell a partial truth. They sin when they allow a wrongful statement or a misleading impression to go unchecked. Any behavior that obscures truth, once again, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment.

Gossip is a dangerous activity when it comes to breaking this Law. If we pass along critical opinions shared by one person regarding another, we may very well be participating in the transmission of lies. We may not know with certainty that what we’ve been told is true (even if it is true, of course, the Bible’s teaching regarding protecting the good name of another comes into play, so it’s best never to join in this kind of conduct).

In my experience as a pastor and counselor, one of the most frequently used excuses for lying is “the greater good.” In the Church, I’ve encountered situations in which one man lied about another and attempted to justify his transgression by saying it was for the honor of Christ or the good of the Body. This is not an acceptable defense according to the Word, however. God does not allow us to violate His Law because we conclude that some good will result.

Before closing, I want to address the question of what should be done when an accusation is proven false. If I accuse another of some sin, but then my charge is not substantiated, what is my obligation? Suppose you have been accused of sin and the matter has been investigated by the appropriate authorities. And suppose further that they determined that the accusations were groundless. Once this judgment was made known, did those who made the allegations have any specific duty to fulfill? Should you expect them to make amends when those in authority dismissed their allegations? It seems to me that, in the very least, those whose accusations are determined to be false should apologize. In fact, I believe they should ask forgiveness for the harm they caused. Are they not in sin if they fail to rectify their untruthful charges?

And what if your accusers made their opinions public even before a judgment was reached? Is it not likely that the damage done to your reputation cannot be undone, especially when those with whom the charge originated refuse to acknowledge their offense or make any attempt to repair the disruption for which they are responsible?

We can acknowledge that it is certainly possible for a man to make a mistake when he alleges sin on the part of another. But as soon as that mistake is revealed or, in this case, as soon as a charge is dismissed, his priority should be the rectification of his error. And this is what you would expect to see unless the motivation behind the accusation was something other than helping a brother see and resolve his transgression. What other explanation could be given when a charge is deemed unwarranted, but the accuser remains silent?

Truth in every circumstance is our mandate. This obligation is emphasized when something we have alleged against another is shown to be false. Our love for the Word of God should cause us to take every precaution when it comes to charging another with wrongdoing. And if it turns out that we are in error, our devotion to reflecting God’s holy nature in everything we say and do should compel us to make immediate corrections.

Advertisements

In the book of 2 Samuel, the story of Absalom’s rise to power is recorded. Rather than launch an attack against his father, David, Absalom exercised great patience and quietly secured a following that eventually joined him when he made his move against the king. Absalom’s tactic involved sowing seeds of discord among the king’s citizens. In 2 Sam. 15, we read some of the details: “Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, ‘From what city are you?’ And he would say, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.’” (vv. 2, 3) Before the visitor had a chance to take his concerns before the king’s counselors, Absalom encouraged doubt regarding the fairness of the coming encounter. “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land,” Absalom declared, “then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.” (v. 4)

Whenever someone “sides” with us in a dispute, we automatically have a favorable opinion of them. Absalom used flattery to gain the confidence of visitors. By that I mean that he agreed with the person immediately, indicating approval of their opinions, and made himself out to be an ally. And, admit it or not, we all like to be told our perspective is right, our cause just, and our input needed. Little by little, Absalom won over a sizeable group of supporters. The Bible summarizes Absalom’s accomplishment in this manner: “Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” (v. 6)

When the time seemed most advantageous, Absalom made final preparations for the overthrow of the throne. He sent spies throughout the kingdom with this message: “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” (v. 10) Shortly thereafter, David learned of his son’s treachery; he chose to protect the lives of all who were with him and fled Jerusalem.

This is the story of how a wicked man undermined the integrity of a leader by putting thoughts of distrust in the minds of many people. Rather than challenge Absalom’s assertions, it appears that the majority accepted as fact whatever Absalom said and promised. David was represented as untrustworthy and unconcerned about the needs of his people. Although David had served with distinction for many years, Absalom managed to destroy the king’s reputation simply by speaking to people who foolishly and selfishly believed whatever they were told. They wanted to prevail in judgment and Absalom promised that, if he were in charge, they would certainly win their case. That sounded too good to be bothered with God’s commands regarding the establishment of truth and His warnings about the foolishness of deciding on a matter before hearing all available testimony (cf. Pro. 18:13, 17)

Two elements led to Absalom’s success. The first was Absalom’s own willingness to lie and defame. Since a lawful occupation of his father’s throne was highly unlikely, Absalom resorted to deception and manipulation. And that brings us to the second element, which was a willing audience. As I already noted, those who heard Absalom speak had the option of ignoring him or at least investigating his claims against David. Most chose to accept Absalom’s word without any proof. When you combine a man like Absalom, who is willing to do such things in order to achieve his goal of power, with people who readily set aside God’s commandments for the sake of personal gain, the outcome is all but certain. David’s kingdom was taken from him without him even perceiving a threat until the very end.

It is a disturbing fact that the behavior of Absalom can be observed in the struggles of contemporary churches. One man, with the determination and patience of Absalom, can create enough doubt about a pastor’s integrity to destroy his ministry. He will need a willing audience, of course, just like Absalom, but if he has that, the outcome, as I said before, is all but certain.

Jesus once said: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matt. 13:57) After nearly three decades of service as a minister, borrowing from the wisdom of the Savior, I would say: “A pastor is not without honor except in his own congregation.” David served as king for a very long time and you would assume that his faithfulness would have resulted in the people’s confidence and support. But that was not the case, as we know. Our fallen natures sometimes cause us to take secret satisfaction in the downfall of another even though he has done nothing wrong to us personally. This is a sign of our corruption as God’s creatures. We feel better about ourselves when we see another person being taken down, especially if that person occupies a position of leadership.

Although there is a great deal of blame to be placed on the shoulders of those people who hear an evil report and choose not to verify it or seek a response from the accused, such ecclesiastical coups would never take place without the mastermind—that man who desperately wants control and has convinced himself that his tactics are acceptable because of his self-determined righteous goal. For many months, even years, this man may toss out criticisms of the pastor—nothing scandalous, but assertions designed to entice willing souls and slowly alter the general perception of a congregation.

Eventually, these criticisms, distortions, and half-truths become “facts” in the minds of many. And, just like Absalom, when the time seems most advantageous and when sufficient preparation has been made, this man acts decisively by suddenly unleashing a barrage of accusations against his pastor in a short period of time. Those who have been groomed for months or years to think badly of their pastor react with unquestioning loyalty to their new leader; they even admire him for his courage. They seem blind to the fact of their own transgressions and the pastor, stunned by this development, has his ministry taken away and his reputation destroyed. In the end, evidence shows that the Absalom Initiative has been utilized perfectly.

Most of those reading this post will never be in the position of the instigator described above. But all of us, at one time or another, will be told damaging things about another. Even if what is said is mild, we have a duty at that very moment to respond Biblically. We can simply refuse to hear anything more outside the presence of the one being criticized. We can remind the one bringing the accusation of his Biblical obligation to take his opinion to the person himself, instead of speaking to others who have no business being involved. If more believers would just obey the simple commands of God, if more of us would commit ourselves to protecting the reputations of others with as much enthusiasm as we sometimes exhibit in the destruction of reputations, the Church would be a much more peaceful place and much more effective in accomplishing the mission given to us by the resurrected Savior.

 

It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also – He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. (Calvin’s Institutes, 1.1.2)

I once attended a meeting in which several characteristics could be observed. There was impatience, anger, deception, and unfriendliness. There were clearly two sides represented with one displaying undeniable contempt for the other. Not so long ago, most of those present would have shared at least cordial relationships. On this day, however, the climate was decidedly different.

This was not a meeting of stockholders and executives. It was not a meeting between protesters and police. This was a congregational meeting in a local church. One speaker after another came to the microphone to express opinions that seemed unnecessarily hostile, as if they were trying to preempt an attack from the other side, which never materialized. The one characteristic that was desperately needed, but cannot be included in the list I just provided, was charity.

The concept of charity is closely related to that of forgiveness. When I forgive someone for an offense, I am giving them something they did not necessarily deserve. Charity occurs when someone in need receives help for which they cannot pay or which they have not earned. Charity is an act of selfless kindness for the sake of being kind. It is not motivated by merit or the expectation of return.

Both forgiveness and charity have their origin in the nature of God who delivers us from the consequences of our sin even though we have done nothing (and could do nothing) to warrant such a response from Him. Likewise, charity is exhibited by God throughout our lives. He provides for us when we are in need; He has pity on us even when, due to our own actions, we find ourselves in a desperate situation. Charity, forgiveness, kindness, compassion—all of these attributes are grounded in the nature of God and they all represent God’s amazing grace toward sinners who are guilty.

Jesus sums up all of these qualities when He says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Show love as you have been shown love. Extend forgiveness as it has been extended to you. Be kind to one another as God has been kind to you. Abound in compassion as God’s compassion has abounded to you. The idea is not complicated. We are to mimic God’s treatment of us in our treatment of one another. If we are unwilling to live this way, we are saying that we are of greater importance than God (cf. the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matt. 18).

It’s a shameful display when believers exhibit bitterness, jealousy, and self-interest in their encounters with one another. There is no excuse for it. This is the kind of behavior seen in the world every day. We are called to do better by remembering what we have received.

The last moments of Muammar Qaddafi’s life were horrifying. A choppy cell phone video shows him being dragged along by rebels who reportedly found him hiding in a drainage pipe. Qaddafi had obviously been injured multiple times, either from the attack on his convoy that had occurred only minutes before or by the crowd itself. Although a murderous tyrant himself, Qaddafi had a change of heart as his demise appeared imminent. He was not the first man to demonstrate a transformation of character at the time of death.

During his 42 year reign, Qaddafi brutalized his own people and had a hand in numerous terrorist operations. He was a man who routinely violated the principles of the religion he professed. But, during those last moments, Qaddafi appealed to his captors on the basis of Islamic teaching. He reportedly asked them: “Do you know what is right or wrong?” His words failed to have an impact on the violent mob. Then Qaddafi asserted, “What you are doing is forbidden in Islamic law.” This time, one of the fighters replied: “Shut up, you dog.”

You have to wonder how many times victims of Qaddafi’s ruthless rule pleaded for mercy and said something similar. You also might wonder if any of those voices echoed in Qaddafi’s mind during those last minutes; or perhaps he recalled the faces of those he caused to be murdered. Whatever the case, the irony is plain. Here is a man who had little regard for any law but his own for most of his life. Just before death, however, the same man appealed to the law of Islam in an attempt to stop the rebels from doing what he had done by delegation time and time again.

All around us every day the teachings of the Bible are verified. In Qaddafi’s case, Proverbs 1:19 comes to mind. After warning his son to stay away from wicked companions because, ultimately, they destroy themselves, Solomon says: “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors.” Qaddafi wished to escape the end that frequently comes for tyrants. The mercy denied to so many sufferers by this man’s regime was denied to him (cf. James 2:3).

Qaddafi’s body is on display in a commercial freezer in a meat store in Libya’s third largest city, Misrata. Although he was once feared throughout the nation, Qaddafi’s bloodied corpse has become a gruesome tourist attraction.

1 Peter 5:1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

When you consider the qualifications for the office of elder, found in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, you might conclude that a man who met those requirements would never have to be exhorted regarding the mistreatment of the people under his care. Yet, Peter does exactly that in this passage. He contrasts two attitudes, which in turn produce two opposite patterns in a man’s service.

The first attitude or perspective is summed up in the word “shepherd.” This term brings to mind a diligent, yet gentle guidance, which includes protection and provision. A shepherd knows the characteristics of his sheep and knows best how to lead them; he knows the various temperaments found in a sizeable flock. Therefore, he is just as effective when working with one sheep as he is when working with the entire group.

This image of shepherd and sheep is found throughout Scripture to convey the nature of our relationship with God. An elder serves on behalf of Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd. He is charged with the task of caring for those who belong to Jesus. An elder’s primary goal, therefore, should be to imitate Christ in his relationships to a congregation. A description of Christ’s treatment of His people would include attributes like forgiveness, patience, self-denial, and unconditional love. This is the pattern to which an elder should strive to conform.

Peter adds that an elder should shepherd the flock of God willingly, which indicates his heartfelt regard for those in his care. He does not occupy this position for the sake of personal gain. Moreover, because of the importance of his calling and the subjects of his attention, an elder should approach his duties with eagerness. The Greek word translated as “eagerness,” refers to an established point of view that determines behavior. The writer is saying that a man who would be an elder must come to that position with a conviction concerning the high calling of the office and a sure awareness of the tremendous weight of responsibility he will have to carry.

This implies that a man seeking to serve as an elder should have a firm understanding of all aspects of the office (qualifications and duties) before he actually begins to serve. He must be a man who realizes that he will be looked upon as an example of Christian maturity. The requirements given by the apostle Paul, which were mentioned earlier, underscore these truths and are, therefore, absolutely essential when it comes to a man’s eligibility for this pivotal office.

It has always been my personal conviction that the spiritual vitality of a congregation will never exceed that of her elders. If the Biblical qualifications are rightly applied, only the most stable and capable of men will occupy the office of elder. If this is the case, the congregation has a spiritual standard that not only assures them of competence, but also, in part, defines the goal toward which every member should strive.

The second attitude or perspective set forth in this passage is represented in the phrase, “lording it over.” The term used here refers to raw power utilized to subdue others and make them subject to your will. The relationship envisioned here is not shepherd to sheep, it is master to slave. Everything said about the elder who sees himself as a shepherd of Christ’s people finds an opposite and destructive characteristic in the second perspective given by Peter.

Whereas the former description pictures a man laboring as an under-shepherd of Jesus Christ, this second description presents a man seeking to advance himself by demanding obedience and loyalty from the people. Life under this man’s rule is filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Due to his sinful ambition to glorify himself, this man will create his own standard by which the people under him are judged, rather than look to Scripture. In large part, he functions autonomously and responds even to the mildest criticism with overwhelming verbosity and threats designed to silence anyone daring to raise a question. At all times, this man assumes the role of superior to inferiors and obliterates the image of the humble shepherd giving himself for the sheep.

The harm done by an overbearing, self-righteous elder cannot be overstated. Instead of serving in the place of Christ as an under-shepherd, this man uses his authority to secure his position and insulate himself from all challenges. This way of thinking inevitably involves the abuse of those for whom Jesus Christ shed His blood. It makes a mockery of the humble and tender Savior who set aside His own glory so that He might rescue those trapped in sin.

You may have heard about the escape of a number of exotic animals in Zanesville, OH. Reportedly, the owner turned loose a number of lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys and then committed suicide. The authorities were busy tracking down these dangerous creatures and by day’s end, all had been accounted for. Referring to this incident on his television program, Pat Robertson said: “God allowed those wild animals to escape because He wanted them to find gay people and bite them.” Seriously, he really said that. Robertson claimed that the Book of the Revelation describes such an event as a prelude to the rapture. Contrary to the warnings issued by local officials, Robertson said that no one had anything to fear “unless you’re gay.”

Here we have yet another high profile Christian making a remark that will result in worldwide ridicule. Sadly, Robertson is the kind of representative on which many base their opinion of Christianity. Let me be clear: this was a ridiculous thing to say and it has no basis whatsoever in the Bible. It is one more example of the theological bankruptcy and cultural irrelevance of contemporary Christianity. While our “leaders” set up themselves and our faith for public mockery, fallen man’s need and God’s gracious offer of redemption are shrouded.

Just a few months ago, another well-known Christian personality, Harold Camping, provided a similar opportunity for the world to scoff at Christianity and the Church. When his prediction of the end of the world proved to be inaccurate, to put it mildly, many assumed Camping would drop out of sight for a long time, if not permanently. No way. Camping has returned and just announced that his initial calculations were in error and, with a correction, he could now assure us that the beginning of the end of the world will commence on Friday, October 21, 2011. It remains to be seen if his followers will respond in fear and excitement as they did before.

Enemies of the gospel love to see men like Robertson and Camping behave so foolishly. It gives them another excuse to dismiss the Word of God with a laugh. It supplies plenty of ammunition to those who delight in attacking Christianity while pointing out all the absurd and irresponsible assertions of those they see as spokesmen for our faith. This kind of conduct contributes to the obstacles already faced by the Church as She seeks to fulfill Her mission. In time, I believe the gospel will triumph throughout the world, but it will be in spite of, not because of, the opinions, pronouncements, predictions, and teachings of men like Pat Robertson and Harold Camping.

 

John 13:33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus is speaking about the characteristics that His followers would manifest before the world. Let’s keep in mind that this manifestation of Christian character would come in the midst of first century Roman culture which, by all accounts, was marked by extreme self-interest, self-promotion, self-preservation, and the overriding goal of sensual pleasure. Roman citizens were distinguished by their commitment to self, first and foremost. Individualism saturated the world into which Christianity was introduced.

In this context, Jesus is relaying information of a crucial nature. He is telling the disciples something essential about how they should conduct themselves in the days to come. Although they could not imagine being without the Savior, He knew that this is precisely what would happen very soon. Therefore, Jesus concentrates on one particular characteristic by which His disciples will be made obvious to the world.

That one particular characteristic is given in verse 35: “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will followers of Jesus Christ be known in this world? What quality will they exhibit that will identify them as disciples of the Savior?

Love for one another is the primary evidence that we have been born again and are endeavoring to live in a manner that honors our Savior. In this matter of loving one another, we find our greatest challenges and are most frequent failures. When it comes to those with whom we interact on a regular basis, it is far more likely that they will get to know what we truly are and what kind of character we actually have. It is in those close relationships that the state of the heart becomes apparent. It is in those close relationships that the profession of the mouth is shown to be true or false.

Genuine love, love defined by the Word of God, is such a rare thing in this fallen world. Genuine love is not witnessed very often. Genuine love is self-sacrificial and gentle and patient and forgiving; that is not what we see in this world. Therefore, when a particular people exhibit genuine love for one another, they’re going to stand out and call attention to themselves and cause others to ask the question: Why are those people different? By that, all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples, if we have love for one another.

While there may be many markers of faith, there is one indispensable characteristic that identifies us as disciples of Jesus Christ—and that, once again, is our love for one another. The exhortation from Jesus should lead us to return to the Scriptures and hear again what love is, according to God. And we must be zealous to become the kind of people who are known for their love toward one another.

 

Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.

The first two verses describe the character of a righteous man. God’s favor rested on him because he does not follow the thinking or conduct of the wicked, nor does he allow himself to be identified with scoffers. The word translated “seat” refers to a dwelling place or a situation of being in the company of others. This man does not “hang out” with those who mock the words of God by rejecting His words. This man finds delight in the law of the LORD and, in fact, meditates frequently on the words of God. The word translated “meditate” refers to deep contemplation, the kind that would be given to the most significant issues.

The writer describes in a bit more detail the results of living as this man lived. The image of a tree is used. Strong and vibrant trees need two things, in particular: deep roots and water. Deep roots make the tree stable and plenty of water allows it to be productive. This tree yields fruit season by season, and it remains healthy. The next phrase indicates that this description is a metaphor: “And in whatever he does, he prospers.” Because he is grounded in the law of God, this man will be stable, productive, and able to withstand the pressures of life.

Turning his attention to the wicked man, the writer declares: “the wicked are not so.” At no significant point does the wicked man resemble the righteous man; that is because they are grounded in opposite points of view. Therefore, their thinking and behavior will not be compatible; their judgments and loyalties will be in conflict; and their goals and expectations will be at odds. While the righteous man is pictured as a strong, stable, and fruitful tree, the wicked man is pictured as chaff, which is the dry casings that surround seeds of cereal grain, that is blown away by the wind. As the seed matures, the chaff is discarded because it lacks any real substance and is carried off by the wind.

This Psalm concludes with the inevitable fates of the wicked man and the righteous man. The wicked man will not be able to avoid judgment. The wicked man is forever separated from the righteous. The nature of each man’s destiny reflects each man’s character. The life of the righteous man is known by the LORD and pleases Him. The way of the wicked man, however, does not please the LORD, and so he will perish. This short Psalm encapsulates the experiences and destinies of the two kinds of people that exist in this world: those who walk by faith and obedience before God, and those who reject that course of life.

In His revelation to us, God has emphasized certain aspects of His character. One of those aspects is God’s compassion. Often, in times of distress and danger, a writer will call upon God’s compassion in hope of deliverance (cf. Psalm 25:6; 40:11; etc.). This is because God has, as just noted, revealed Himself to be full of compassion. This attribute is seen when God prevents us from facing the harsh consequences of some circumstances–sometimes of our own making and sometimes due to the behavior of others. God also demonstrates compassion when He forgives our sins, which is the most significant of examples, as David teaches in Psalm 51: “According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (v. 1)

God’s compassion is, by its nature, readily applied in situations where there is need and the need is such that there appears to be no remedy. Consider, for example, David’s words as he tells us about the ministry of the coming King: “For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:12, 13) In Christ, the Son of God, the world has encountered the compassion of God personified. As David describes the impact of Christ’s arrival, he stresses the fact that those in need, those with no helper, and the poor will find in Him a particular responsiveness.

From the example of our Savior, His people learn how compassion operates—it operates when we show genuine, life-changing concern for those in need (cf. James 2:15, 16). As the elect of God, the Savior’s compassion led to our redemption. We are subsequently charged to imitate Him in this world as God gives opportunity. And the opportunities are abundant.

Jesus said: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 7:12). If you had no place to sleep tonight, what would you want someone to do for you? If you hadn’t eaten in several days, what would you want someone to do for you? If you were suddenly facing some illness or some other dramatic and frightening change in your life, what would you want someone to do for you? If you have offended someone, what would you want that person to do for you?

Understanding the Savior’s admonition is not difficult. It’s the practical side, the act of doing, that challenges us. This is because mere words come almost without effort, but providing shelter or food or comfort with our presence  or extending forgiveness requires that we part with some of what we have—our money, our time, our pride. Of all the things we can do as believers, relieving the burden of someone in need is one of the most Christ-like steps we can take. When we provide shelter, when we provide food, when we sit with someone who is grieving, or when we forgive, we are honoring the Savior in a way that directly reflects His compassion for us.

The contemporary Church needs more, much more, of this kind of commitment. As I contemplate my future, having just ended a lengthy period of service as a pastor, my most sincere hope is that I will be able to unite with Christians who count ministry to the needy as one of their primary goals and who will labor so that their church is distinguished as a source of compassion.