Today we will be exploring the topic of compassion, and how compassionate actions stem from a root of simple respect for others based on the respect and compassion we have received from God.
Yeshua stated it this way: “Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Of course, we know this as the Golden Rule. Certainly, anything that you wish others would do for you, do in the same manner for them, for this summarizes God’s teachings regarding others.
Applying what we know about ourselves to others
The simplicity and practical wisdom of this maxim is unsurpassed. We are, after all, self-focused by nature, relating to all other things outside of ourselves as to how we are affected or influenced by them. We know what we like, and we know what is offensive to us. We know when we believe our rights have been violated. We believe we know how we should be treated by others.
Since we are so familiar with ourselves and what we believe we deserve, Yeshua uses this innate familiarity with our own perceived deservedness and turns it on its head by suggesting that is the same way we should treat others. Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity. This is the essence of compassion. Yeshua’s admonition focuses on the positive aspect of doing good for others based on what we know is acceptable, fair, and just in our eyes.
The fact that this teaching also summarizes the torah or instruction of God is of no small importance. Yeshua here defines the role and universality of the Bible message by summarizing its intent: the instruction and example of God should cause us to be equitable and compassionate in all of our relationships.
In the Greek Septuagint version of the scriptures is contained an interesting corollary to this admonition of Yeshua. It is essentially the opposite of his positive focus which reads like this: “What you hate, do not do to others,” (Tobit 4:15). Just like Yeshua’s teaching focuses on the positive, in the same way this idea of not doing to others what you yourself hate focuses on prevention of poor behavior that you recognize is unacceptable to you. If you don’t like being talked over in conversations, don’t do that to others. If you don’t like it when someone cuts you off in traffic, then don’t do that to others. If you don’t like when people talk about you behind your back, then don’t do that to others. What you hate, don’t do to others.
What we can glean from both of these complementary aspects of this teaching (do good to others, and don’t do what you yourself hate) is this: the things we like to experience and the things we feel negatively about can operate as a basic guide of God’s desires for our interactions with other people.
While there are many commands within the Word, or Torah, of God, if there were a command for every single possible error we could commit, the Bible would be a much bigger collection of books than it currently is. The simple fact is, God has built-in a sense of equity and fairness within the human condition. Even if we were to do nothing more than abide by the sense of what we believe inherently is right and wrong behavior (based on how we would like to be perceived and treated by others), then we will be miles down the road of doing what is right in God’s eyes.
Then, for believers seeking to learn more about God and his expectations for us, our expectations should continually be adjusted and refined to match his, and this feedback loop of doing what’s right in his eyes is enacted. As our actions then become more in tune with his will, we exhibit more compassion with others when we learn and observe just how compassionate God really is with us. It is meant to become a cycle of positive reinforcement, thereby expanding the reach of God’s kingdom and ultimately glorifying him.
Respecting the context of the Golden Rule
The logic of this wisdom of the Golden Rule, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” has been mocked by some who would take a literal rendering to the extreme. “What about individuals who enjoy being harmed by others? Should they go and harm others, because that’s how they would want to be treated?” The folly of this is self-evident: beginning with the premise of a non-universal aberration (those who enjoy harm) leads to a faulty non-universal conclusion.
As is typically the case, this type of flawed reasoning stems from isolating this verse from its surrounding context, which gives a broader understanding of how it is intended to be applied in the first place.
In this passage (Matthew 7:7-12), Yeshua is admonishing his hearers about the benefits of being persistent “askers” when it comes to opportunity and meeting of needs.
Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
This is a simple progression of logic: Ask-receive, seek-find, knock-receive access. Yeshua is setting up his hearers to understand that just as this is the natural order of things in God’s kingdom, God is willing to provide whatever is needed if only we are persistent in asking. This is exhibited through what can be readily seen in their lives already.
Matthew 7:9-11 – “Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.
Yeshua’s argument continues, “Since you can see that even unrighteous people know how this system works, then don’t you think God will do the same for us when we we ask? And if God is willing to assist us when we ask, then shouldn’t we do the same with others?”
Matthew 7:12 – “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you [i.e., when you ask], do also the same for them [when they ask], for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Yeshua is saying that this request-response method is a summary of basically the entire Bible when it comes to compassionate actions. Somebody has a need and makes a request (asking, seeking, knocking) and the need is met (they receive, find, and gain access). This is the very definition of compassion. God does it with us, and we should do it with each other.
Yeshua says, “therefore” because his statement of the Golden Rule summarizes his previous line of reasoning. It’s as if he is saying, “Therefore, because of the examples I just gave you, you should practice the same level of compassion with others.”
That’s why the Golden Rule isn’t meant to be some stand-alone, hypothetical, philosophical statement that can be hijacked for alternative philosophy. It is meant to summarize a simple respect for others when they are in need, which is God’s method for helping all who are in need and asking for assistance. Living by the Golden Rule demonstrates a compassion for others based on the compassion that God himself demonstrates for us.
Our compassion is owed to those in need
To delve a little further into our connection with others and exhibiting compassion in their time of need, we can explore some other passages that deal with a biblical understanding of the Golden Rule and its application.
Proverbs 3:27-28 – When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs. Don’t say to your neighbor, “Go away! Come back later. I’ll give it tomorrow” – when it is there with you.
The example here is that a person in need is asking for assistance, and the respondent instead pushes them away and delays providing the need. This may be due to inconvenience at the time, or just a desire to brush them off.
This is very similar to the admonition of the apostle James when he writes:
James 2:15-16 – If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?
James is basically saying that if we are not meeting someone’s need when they ask, whether today or tomorrow, what’s the point of our faith?
The Hebrew terms in the Proverbs passage here are interesting, because it implies that the good that is being withheld actually belongs already to the other person, it is due them. The good intention or action you have to offer someone in need is something that in actuality belongs to them already. The passage says they are the “lord” or “owner” of that good which you can bestow. You, therefore, by refraining to do the good, are keeping them from something that is rightfully theirs. When it is in your power to do good to others, you essentially owe it to them. In God’s eyes, they rightfully deserve the good that you can do for them.
Albert Barnes: The precept expresses the great Scriptural thought that the so-called possession of wealth is but a stewardship; that the true owners of what we call our own are those to whom, with it, we may do good. Not to relieve them is a breach of trust.
Pulpit Commentary: We are to do good to those who are in need or deserving of it, whenever we have the means and opportunity…The owners of good are those to whom good is due or belongs either by law or by morality, whether by desert or need…what we possess and is seemingly our own is in reality to be regarded as belonging to others. We are only stewards of our wealth…The meaning of the phrase is, “While it is practicable, and you have the opportunity and means of doing good, do it.” Do not defer, but do good promptly.
This ties in with what Paul writes in Galatians 6:9-10 – Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
If this is the real state of our obligation in this life, that everything we have is potentially owed to others in need, this should provide a monumental shift in how we interact with those around us.
What capacities and resources do we have that can truly help others?
Do we have talents or skills that can help others? Perhaps we can help to repair things around the home that they are unable to do. We may be able to simply mow the lawn, or run to the grocery store for an elderly neighbor who is unable to do either.
Do we have the financial ability to assist someone else? Whether assisting someone with a utility bill that they can’t pay, or helping them with money towards the purchase of a necessary appliance, if we have the ability to help, we should! According to Proverbs 3:27, we already owe it to them! The Bible teaches us when we do so, we are not really giving just to them, we are ultimately giving to God.
Proverbs 19:17 – Kindness to the poor is a loan to Yahweh, and he will give a reward to the lender.
The word for poor here doesn’t necessarily mean a beggar. The word literally means those who are “dangling, weak or thin.” Certainly, while these words can describe beggars, they imply those who cannot help themselves due to their own weakness or perhaps financial leanness and are hanging by a thread. The word for loan means to join (as with Yahweh) in lending to those in such need, and their need becomes our own. Our participation in true acts of compassion means that we are co-laboring with God in his Creation to see his good kingdom come about. Many times our generosity and provision to others is in reality God’s way of providing for them, and we are merely the instruments of his provision.
Conversely, it is not in our power to give what we don’t have.
Acts 3:6 – But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk! “
Peter said, “What I do have, I give you.” He didn’t have silver or gold, what the beggar was asking for, but he had something better: he could help him walk! This should be our guide for being compassionate with others. They may be asking for a specific need, but we may only be able to assist in another, perhaps greater, way that helps them even more! This just continues to highlight how we need to learn to get our focus off of ourselves, and learn to perceive the real needs of those around us when they ask us for help.
We shouldn’t be concerned with our lack of ability to give substantially due to the necessity of providing for our own needs. God does not expect us to bankrupt ourselves for the sake of others, otherwise, other people would then need to provide for us. The goal, then, is that our assistance of others comes from the good that we can do, what opportunities we do have, not the ones we don’t.
The future of compassion
Paul writes: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 – It is not that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality. At the present time your surplus is available for their need, so that their abundance may in turn meet your need, in order that there may be equality. As it is written: The person who had much did not have too much, and the person who had little did not have too little.
In this type of scenario, all believers work together, not to a base of uniformity, but from a base of unity. We all have a commitment to the kingdom first, and therefore our personal resources become secondary to the needs of those in the kingdom, those to whom our good is “due.”
The equality of needs would all be met in God’s type of economy. Consider the unity and equality of the early believers:
Acts 4:32-35 – Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need.
Wow, this is a bold example for us. Consider the possibilities if congregations today practiced this type and level of commitment to compassionate provision of others. Those who had multiple homes or additional land or resources would sell them. Those who had income above their needs would cheerfully provide it to the congregation leadership. All of those surplus funds would then be distributed to those in need within the fellowship of believers.
In a capitalist economy with a reliance on self-ownership of property and goods, this can seem like a crazy, left-wing, socialist type of proposition. And yet, as you can see by this very passage in Acts, this is the biblical design for the people in God’s kingdom. One of the primary reasons it seems so strange to us is because we have been raised in a culture that is in many ways fundamentally and diametrically opposed to this type of communal participation and care.
But I’m not talking here about the type of national government system that we should be promoting, not at all. The early believers lived in the Roman economy with all of its faults and shortcomings, and yet “there were no needy among them.” What I am presenting is the biblical model of congregational governance. For this type of system to work, you would really have to trust God and trust your leaders. This is why it can only work with true believers who are committed to following God’s Word by living beyond reproach, and according to his Word.
But I can guarantee you that congregations who truly and faithfully practiced this would explode in growth. As people’s needs would be met, they would become more available to help the needs of others, and so on. Poverty rates would drop and standards of living would rise. Just like those early days in the believers’ congregations, outsiders would take notice and respect their commitment to help one another.
Acts 5:13-14 – No one else dared to join them, but the people spoke well of them. Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers – multitudes of both men and women.
The kingdom of God could be advanced with amazing rapidity, all through the faithfulness of men and women willing to trust God and one another with true acts of compassion.
Ultimately, since it is God’s design for his kingdom to increase and fill the earth, we can look with eager anticipation toward its fulfillment while continuing to lay its foundations in our current generation. While we may struggle today with our own needs and the needs of others in our current society, we can still demonstrate biblical compassion by abiding by the principles of common respect contained within the Golden Rule. If you like people being nice to you, be nice to them first. If you enjoy being congratulated by others, then look outside your own perspective and do the same to others. If you desire that others provide help to you in your time of need, then find opportunities to do so for others when you are able to do so. If you want people to respect your views, then respect theirs. While you may disagree with their conclusions, they still have the same right to hold their views as you do with your own.
Simple respect solves all interpersonal relationships. Compassionate giving solves the needs of the community. While we may not be able to immediately solve all of the social ills of our current society, this type of simple respect and compassionate giving is how God implores all of us to love one another. When we do so, others will take notice of how our lives are based on different standards, higher standards. And that may be all that’s needed to open a door to sharing the message of the kingdom with them when they ask. And once they ask, and we faithfully respond, then they just need to be willing to receive.
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