Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be compassionate, and keep a humble attitude.
1 Peter 3:8-14
According to Peter, being compassionate is simply one of many expected traits believers should exhibit. The compassion he is speaking of here is extended not just to those outside of the faith, but to one another. If we cannot be compassionate with one another, how can we be truly compassionate towards others who are not believers?
For us to be truly compassionate with others, we should be operating from a base of harmony with one another, and recognizing one another’s needs sympathetically. Once we are able to show brotherly love to each other through humility and compassionate actions, we can then have a united purpose with those outside the faith.
Once he establishes their base actions with one another, Peter expands his directives to their attitude toward others who did not agree with their positions or their beliefs.
Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.
1 Peter 3:9-14
This was a very real assessment of the social status of the early believers. They were always in danger not only from the civil strife of their day, but from the religious antagonism and persecution of their Jewish brothers and sisters. Additionally, they were challenged with resisting the influences of the pagan society. Through all of this, Peter encourages them to repay evil with blessing and seeking to maintain the peace, because “this is what God has called you to do.”
In like fashion, for us to fulfill our calling, we should mimic their harmony, humility and compassionate actions with one another so we may be able to effectively stand together for God’s purpose and kingdom in a hostile world.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Compassion, how central it is to the Bible message, along with some practical ways to demonstrate compassion, specifically compassionate giving, in ways that honor God according to his word.
Yeshua stated it this way:
Matthew 6:1-4 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.”
While the main context of Yeshua’s comment is in deriding acts of hypocrisy, within this pronouncement is a nugget of wisdom as it comes to helping others in need. While he denounces the proud and their showy acts of helping others, he is effectively saying that we should be privately and sincerely compassionate toward those in need. The need is real and when we give we should be quietly genuine in our acts of helping others. That is the type of compassionate giving that God honors.
In Hebrew the term for the poor describes those who are in want and have needs that cannot be met on their own. In the Greek of the NT, the term describes those who crouch and cower, as beggars are seen to do. As we will see, the Bible describes several specific groups of individuals within the Hebrew culture who were singled out as primarily falling among the poor of the land.
Helping others who are unable to help themselves should be a cornerstone of the practices of all believers. It is here commanded by Yeshua, but is also evident throughout other areas of the Bible and by other writers.
Deuteronomy 15:10-11 Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
Psalm 82:3-4 “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
Proverbs 31:9, 20 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. … She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
Zechariah 7:10 Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
2 Corinthians 9:9 As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
Galatians 2:10 Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do.
Throughout the torah, or instruction of God, there are various blessings and curses related to how the poor are treated by individuals.
Proverbs 19:17 If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD–and he will repay you!
Prov 22:9 Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.
Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Proverbs 21:13 Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.
Proverbs 22:6 A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.
Both blessings and curses
Proverbs 28:27 Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.
In typical Biblical fashion, a topic is presented with two sides: positive and negative. Clearly, acts of compassion are a positive principle in this world, and overlooking the needs of others is a negative principle to be avoided. If we have been blessed with abundance, then God is conveying our responsibility as his children to share those resources with those in need.
The plight of the poor is an ongoing one. Yeshua and the biblical writers agree that there will always be poverty that needs to be supported.
Matthew 26:11 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.
Mark 14:7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.
John 12:8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Deuteronomy 15:11 There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
We should not let the perpetual nature of poverty dissuade us from helping others. Let’s take a look at a story that helps us understand this a little more clearly.
You may have heard a story that illustrates in vivid fashion this principle of helping the many others who are always in need. I’ve seen various versions of the story, but in general, it goes something like this:
A young boy was walking along the beach when he noticed a large amount of sand dollars had washed up on the beach during the high tide. Seeing their only hope of survival as being transferred out into the retreating water, he went about picking up the sand dollars one by one and was dropping them back into the ocean.
A man walking on the beach noticed the furious efforts of the child, and the overwhelming number of sand dollars still left stranded. Seeing a sand dollar in his small hand, the man called out to the boy, “Son, there are too many sand dollars that are still on the beach. What possible difference can you make?”
“Well, it will make a big difference for this one,” the boy replied, as he returned the sand dollar to the water.
I think this story has been variously told as involving sea stars, or some other sea creature, but the message is the same: we may not be able to help everyone, but we can meaningfully help some, or even one.
It can seem overwhelming when we look at the vast number of poor in the world, and our natural reaction is to think, “how can we solve poverty?” We look at the issue as if it’s a math problem that just needs the application of the correct formula, and then all will be resolved. But the roots of poverty are deep and varied, and depend on many conditions that are unique to specific cultures and ideologies.
We typically tend to think of poverty as being “out there” in third world countries (which is not untrue). However, even here in the US we have large swaths of our population who live below what is considered the “poverty line.” As of the most recent studies in 2021, there are currently over 38 million Americans considered impoverished, between 9-10% of the entire country.
The reasons for poverty, whether in America or anywhere else, vary by region and type of need, but do have some basic drivers. Poverty can be caused by lack of jobs, poor local infrastructures, poor education, social injustice, violent communities or warfare; the list goes on. If we solve one problem, sometimes another rises to take its place. If we overcome one injustice, another one becomes evident.
All of this is by no means to say the situation is hopeless. However, it illustrates the depth and complexity of the state of the poor, and its ongoing tendency to be evident within cultures around the world. This evergreen nature of poverty ensures that it will be a continuing challenge to varying degrees in every generation.
If there were no point to helping others, then it would not be such an oft-stated requirement within God’s word. Clearly God wants us, no, commands us, to help others. But he does not lay out a specific strategy of how to do so, only that we do so.
We can get some hints, though, by looking at the past record. Within God’s natural kingdom of ancient Israel, God laid out a structure for the corporate welfare of those less fortunate, to include:
leaving the gleaning of the harvest for the poor
providing offerings for the poor every third year
providing private loans for those in need
If these were methods of assisting the poor in God’s natural kingdom, I believe they can provide a balanced basis for his spiritual kingdom as well.
Let’s look at the first one: gleaning the harvest.
Deuteronomy 24:21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left. What remains will be for the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow.
The process of gleaning allowed the poor and needy to enter into the landowners’ fields after the harvesters had reaped the initial ripe produce. There would be some late-ripening fruit that could be gleaned for the benefit of the poor. This might work well in an agrarian society, but what is a similar process we could use today?
Since a gleaning is essentially a process of using up “leftovers,” perhaps setting aside any leftover change from a store purchase can mimic this process. Some financial institutions provide this as a savings plan for their members: when a purchase is made, the purchase amount is “rounded up” to the nearest dollar, and that “leftover” amount is deposited into a savings account. So if we were to use this money to give to those in need would be one way of exhibiting the principle of gleaning in our non-agrarian society.
The second method was providing offerings for the poor every third year.
Deuteronomy 26:12 “When you have finished paying all the tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tenth, you are to give it to the Levites, resident aliens, fatherless children and widows, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
The tithe was the firstfruits of the produce of the land. It was provided to the priests on a regular basis for their support in their work in the Temple, since the priests had no inheritance in the land. But every third year, it would be divided between the Levites and the poor of the land.
This may be updated to a process such as setting aside a third of any regular charitable giving you may be currently providing your ministry or religious organization as to be used more specifically for the poor and needy.
The third method was through loaning money or resources to those who needed a leg up.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 “If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your city gates in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. “Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.
Loans were used as a way of helping those who had fallen on hard times, but otherwise could work. However, they would be expected to repay the assistance when they were back on their feet. Yeshua instructs us in Luke 6 that we should “lend, expecting nothing in return.” However, having an intentional loan fund to help out family friends and others might be one way of fulfilling this aspect of torah.
Now many believers may bristle at the idea of tithes, and allowances, and loans, saying all of this is OT information that only applied to Israel under the Old Covenant. All we should do is give freely and give cheerfully, because according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 9, God loves a cheerful giver.
That’s all well and good and I would never dissuade someone from doing just. However, if we area to take all of God’s word into account, it can be demonstrated that within the economy of God’s kingdom, being intentional with our finances is a requirement of being a good, contributing member of the community. If we only gave when we wanted to, our giving would be spontaneous and erratic. However, if, like ancient Israel, we were basing our assistance to the poor on intentional principles from God’s torah, then we will be more engaged and productive in the process. And we can still be cheerful about it, and mean it from the heart! Putting forethought into the process should not make us any less happy about providing for others because we have been abundantly blessed! In fact, in doing so, we may be that much more aware of just how blessed we are!
Who should our efforts be focused on? I mentioned earlier that there were some specific groups that were singled out within the culture of ancient Israel that might provide us some insight.
For example, we know there was a special emphasis on widows and orphans because their primary source of income (the husband or father) was no longer around.
Job 31:16, 18 “Have I refused to help the poor, or crushed the hopes of widows? … No, from childhood I have cared for orphans like a father, and all my life I have cared for widows.
Psalm 68:5 Father to the fatherless, defender of widows–this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
Foreigners were also among the poor in ancient Israel, as they would typically have less opportunity among the established rights within each tribe. God encourages helping the foreigner just about as much as helping widows and orphans.
Deuteronomy 24:20 When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows.
Deuteronomy 26:12 “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.
Deuteronomy 27:19 ‘Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.’
Jeremiah 22:3 This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent!
Psalm 146:9 The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
Levites were also among the poor. As being set apart for the service of God’s temple and the ministry, they were not provided an allotted inheritance, and had to rely on the sacrificial offerings and kindness of their tribal counterparts.
Numbers 3:9 Assign the Levites to Aaron and his sons. They have been given from among all the people of Israel to serve as their assistants.
Numbers 8:11 Raising his hands, Aaron must then present the Levites to the LORD as a special offering from the people of Israel, thus dedicating them to the LORD’s service.
Deuteronomy 12:19 And be very careful never to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.
Deuteronomy 14:27, 29 And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you. … Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.
Deuteronomy 18:1 “Remember that the Levitical priests–that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi–will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel. Instead, the priests and Levites will eat from the special gifts given to the LORD, for that is their share.
Deuteronomy 26:12 “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.
All of these admonitions was for the kingdom participants to be as equitable as possible in all of their dealings with others. These principles were miles ahead of any such societal guidelines in the surrounding cultures, and as such, Israel gained successive power and influence in the region culminating in the expansive reign of Solomon.
So if we are to consider a place to start, it might be with those who have no income or limited income and are struggling because of the loss of the primary breadwinner, or unfamiliarity with the culture, or those who have dedicated themselves to ministering to others.
For all others who have fallen on hard times, assistance can also be provided until they can get back on their feet. These allowances were designed to assist, not solely provide for, those less fortunate. It was expected that everyone work for their meal, and begging was looked down upon as something to be ashamed of (for those who could otherwise work). But assistance was available for an occasional boost when needed.
And, one final thought: while there are areas and people groups everywhere in various need of assistance, there is wisdom in beginning with helping your neighbor, those closest to you.
Proverbs 27:10 Never abandon a friend–either yours or your father’s. When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.
If everyone is helping those nearest themselves, than huge international efforts would not be as necessary. Not that it’s wrong to contribute to these groups, but many efficiencies can be gained by us merely taking control of our own compassionate giving by being faithful with those around us.
Compassion is not a business transaction where we may assist another with the hope of some sort of gain for ourselves or our organization. Real compassion is demonstrated when there is no chance of benefit to oneself. A true act of kindness rests within the act itself, solely for the benefit of another.
God in his wisdom, knowing the potential for inequity within the various classes of the society of the kingdom, designated a set of allowances for those who were sure to be overlooked due to the personal interests of those productive members of the various tribes.
Much like today, philanthropic efforts were considered noble but were also typically reduced to a low level of priority for the affluent. That is why God set commands relative to specific groups of people whom he knew would always need help. Because being intentional about compassionate giving makes all the difference.
While these different ways of expressing compassion to the poor are personal decisions for every believer, I am merely attempting to point out biblical principles of compassionate giving from the torah, or the instruction of God. If we are to honor him in all things, including our finances, why not do it based on principles and patterns he has authorized as being valid methods in the past?
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that as we seek to exhibit the private and genuine compassion requested of Yeshua, we can seek out those around us who have the greatest needs and start there. Yeshua relates that there is a lasting spiritual power in the sincere acts of compassion that are done for the benefits of others with no outward recognition. These are the actions that God “sees,” that are accounted as vital human interactions with real, eternal worth.
Be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, then you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs.
The concept of giving to those in need is all through the biblical writings. This has come down to us through the ages as giving “alms.” This ideas stems primarily from a passage in Acts 3 where the Greek phrase was interpreted as giving alms or giving charity to a beggar at the temple.
One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.a And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.
But the term in its wider use really means any act of compassionate giving of all types.
Acts 9:36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.
Acts 10:1-2 There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.
Acts 24:17-18 “After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. “While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar.
However when it comes to giving to those in need as mentioned in our passage in Deuteronomy above, the idea of helping the poor is depicted as lending to them, not outright giving. Why make this distinction?
Well it has more to do with the receiver than the giver. If you encounter someone who is need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay you back whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance. Many times, people will struggle to accept outright handouts because of their pride. They don’t want to be made to feel they are unable to do meet their needs on their own. This is actually an emotionally good and healthy response for anyone who is otherwise able to provide for themselves but may have just fallen on hard times. It happens.
Those who would beg for handouts were those who had no other means of income: the lame or blind who could not work, widows and orphans (who had lost their husband/father as the provider). In the Hebraic culture, these were considered legitimate reasons for true charity, and helping and giving donations to these individuals is highly commended.
However, for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet. In our passage above, Moses is urging that the Israelites would open their hearts to those who were poor, and lend freely. This was because many times people would take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends.
Now, having that background, the words of Yeshua have even more meaning when he relates how believers should be viewing acts of giving and loaning to others:
“But love [even] your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.
Even if our intent is to genuinely help others by providing them a loan of some sort, Yeshua says if you are doing so, don’t expect anything in return. This accomplishes two purposes: it maintains the dignity of the receiver, and it removes any chance of hard feelings for not being repaid in the future. If you are “loaning” to someone in need, you should treat that loan as a donation and any repayment as a bonus.
All types of giving is highly recommended in the Bible, as we know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving freely is a required dynamic within the economy of the kingdom of God.
Having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving can make us more responsible givers. In outwardly loaning to those who have need, we can allow them dignity. Inwardly considering these helper loans as outright donations, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future.
God is honored when we honor and respect him in all things, including how we manage our finances and our relationships with others. By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are his children by operating by the same principles he provides to us.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.
…he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.
In our English Bibles, sometimes verses that express compassion will mention mercy or kindness; sometimes compassion is equated with forgiveness. However it is expressed, we are commanded by Yeshua to be like God in regard to his mercy and compassion. What does that look like?
Ezekiel 16:5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you, to have compassion on you; but you were cast out in the open field, for that your person was abhorred, in the day that you were born.
Psalm 78:36-39 But they flattered him with their mouth, and lied to him with their tongue. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant. But he, being compassionate, forgave iniquity, and didn’t destroy them. Yes, many times he turned his anger away, and didn’t stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and doesn’t come again.
Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and passes over the disobedience of the remnant of his heritage? He doesn’t retain his anger forever, because he delights in loving kindness. He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities under foot; and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
Jeremiah 12:15 It shall happen, after that I have plucked them up [from their land due to their disobedience], I will return and have compassion on them; and I will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.
God’s compassion has been evident in choosing to take care of Israel as caring for an abandoned baby. His compassion is evident in forgiving them when they were consistently unthankful and disobedient to him. His compassion is evident in restoring Israel to their land after their captivity for disobedience.
If we are to be merciful and compassionate like our Father, we need to recognize that the examples he sets for us is teaching us that compassion is all about helping those who are unable to help themselves.
Yeshua exhibited this same type of compassion by teaching his people who were like lost sheep without a shepherd, but also by filling their bellies when they were in need in a deserted location. Just like his Father, his compassion helped those who could not help themselves.
If someone has wronged you, the relationship cannot be restored unless you extend compassion; you are helping someone who cannot get help themselves get past some misunderstanding or offense. This is equally as compassionate as providing food or clothing to those who have none, or very little.
If we are to imitate our Father, it has to be in relentlessly building bridges between those who are unyielding in their positions or those whose circumstances will not be changed without some sort of intervention. Our compassion is designed to be the catalyst that drops barriers, opens doors, and sparks understanding. Compassion is building bridges to others who are unable to get from where they are to where God wants them to be.
This is the goal of the command for us to be merciful and compassionate with others. When we exhibit the characteristics of our Father, then people who may never have picked up a Bible will still be able to see him in action, and be helped in the process.
Jesus came out, saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.
Yeshua’s compassion here is expressed through a recognition of the general population of Israel’s lack of correct doctrine, and their eagerness to learn.
The context of this verse is set as Yeshua and his disciples have been tirelessly ministering and are now attempting to find a secluded place to be refreshed. Yet, thousands of people find out where they are going across the lake of Galilee and end up waiting for them on the shore when they arrive. Seeing these crowds, Yeshua is moved with compassion, and decides to continue to provide instruction.
Whenever a text mentions Yeshua has compassion on someone, he immediately does something to help them.
Matthew 14:14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”
Matthew 20:34 Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him.
Mark 1:41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”
In this case in Mark 6:34, his response is to provide them instruction. Instructing others in the way of God is an act of compassion toward those who are willing to hear. The most willing disciples are those who are hungry to learn. This is symbolized through the story immediately following this verse: the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Although Yeshua and his disciples had limited resources, God provided enough food to satisfy everyone with more left over.
This metaphorically reinforced his act of compassion to begin with: instructing them in the way of God. The crowds’ hunger for truth was not only satisfied, but there was so much more left over. In like fashion, we can be sure that when we act compassionately in faith, whatever our response, God will be faithful to fill that need through us.
Instructing others in the way of God should be motivated by compassion for others who are willing to hear. Teaching only for the sake of prestige, or wealth, or obligation will rob that form of instruction of its power and purpose. But teaching that is coming from a heart of true compassion will be blessed with multiplication and fulfillment.
“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do. … Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.
Deuteronomy 24:19, 22
Because ancient Israel was an agricultural society, there are many laws that apply specifically to that type of culture. Gleaning of the vineyards is one of those unique instructions that we can still learn from today.
When a field was harvested, sometimes the fruit or grain that was not quite ripe was left on the vine or the tree, with the idea that the harvesters would come back through the field at a later time to ensure all of the harvest was brought in.
However, God instructs the Israelites to leave what remained for those less fortunate in the land. After the main harvest, the poor class without income, typically widows, orphans, and resident outsiders, would be allowed to enter the fields of the wealthy and essentially scrounge whatever was left for themselves. In this way, the wealthy in the land would be assisting in providing for the literal welfare of those who could not provide for themselves.
What is interesting about this command is that God also provides the reasoning behind it. They were to be obedient in this way as a reminder to themselves of their previous slavery in Egypt. This act of compassion was to prevent them from abusing the lowest class, because they had previously collectively been in that situation in Egypt. Therefore, as they practiced this compassion within their society, they would be honoring the memory of their ancestral bondage, and making a statement that they would not be repeating the class abuse they had suffered in a foreign country.
In like fashion, we should take this ideal to heart and practice its equivalent in our day and age.
Firstly, this command should encourage us to maintain a mentality that is supportive all classes of people in our society. Unless we are among the ultra-wealthy, as a working class we need to consider how slender the line is between being solvent and becoming bankrupt ourselves. For some there may only be a few months or weeks of hardship that can transition them to a similar status. This understanding should prompt us to act compassionately, as we ourselves could easily be in a similar situation. Yeshua’s command to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” should provide an appropriate response on our part.
Secondly, we should be intentional about contributing to those among the lowest classes of our culture. Whether it is through volunteering in local events or organizations designed to provide assistance, or whether it is contributing to those types of causes through our abundance, this command should prompt us to have an intentional plan of assisting others in need. We may not have agricultural fields that others can glean from, but we all have some source or sources of income which can be be apportioned thoughtfully and compassionately.
While our current status might not be based on a lineage that has been rescued out of actual slavery, as believers we have all come from a background of spiritual slavery of disobedience to God in one form or another. He showed compassion to us when we were spiritually bankrupt and had nothing to offer him. If nothing else, this compassionate love of our God with us should provide a recognition of our common bond with all others in the world. This bond should then spur us on to obedience. to be faithful to God’s command of demonstrating compassion with those who cannot provide for themselves.
Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
“The fear of the Almighty” or “the fear of the Lord” are phrases that have fallen out of use in our modern religious vernacular. Rarely is God represented as a being who is to be feared; rather, his mercy and forgiveness are emphasized above and beyond all of the qualities of his being.
To better understand this admonition to fear God, we would do well to investigate the word that is translated in our English versions as “fear.” In regular vocabulary, that word to us means to be frightened or scared of something or someone who might do us harm. However, in biblical terminology, the term goes beyond that into a broader usage of “reverence” or “awe.”
If we have the fear of God, we have the deepest respect and reverence for God, recognizing just how awesome and powerful he really is. Whether we read of his power in the creation of all things, or the separating of the Red Sea, or in the resurrection of Yeshua, we are glimpsing the majesty and glory that sits outside of our natural understanding into the supernatural realm of God’s character and abilities. When we incorporate that perspective of the other-ness of God into our daily lives, we cannot help acting and working differently than others around us who have a physical-only worldview.
In Job’s perspective above, he mentions how the fear of the Almighty is a factor in us helping those around us. If we do not have the fear of God, Job says, we have no motivation for expressing compassion to those less fortunate or those who are going through rough patches in their lives; we withhold kindness. We instead focus on our personal agendas which end up being relatively insignificant by comparison. Having the larger perspective of awe can help us realize that the things we value as important to us in the short term of our temporary lives pale in contrast with the more important things that the God of the universe expects of us, such as helping others.
This concept of perspective-changing awe is a known commodity, even outside of religious environments.
Imagine yourself at a scenic vista somewhere on Earth, such as the rim of the Grand Canyon or the shore of an ocean stretching out past the horizon line. As your brain processes the view and its sheer vastness, feelings of awe kick in. Looking at a photo is not the same, but we might get a dose of that when we look at a particularly sparkly Hubble picture of a star cluster. The experience of awe, whether we’re standing at the summit of a mountain or sitting in front of a computer screen, can lead to “a diminished sense of self,” a phrase psychologists use to describe feelings of smallness or insignificance in the face of something larger than oneself. Alarming as that may sound, research has shown that the sensation can be a good thing: A shot of awe can boost feelings of connectedness with other people.
Taken as a whole, the Bible is all about instilling in us a sense of awe and wonder for the God who created all things and who placed us within his creation to make a compassionate difference in the lives of those around us. When we operate within that sense of big-picture reverence for our Creator, we are not only encouraged but compelled to express his compassion. In this way, the two greatest commands, to love God and love others, can be fulfilled in us.
And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
In a former essay, we have looked at the importance of being kind to our enemies, or those who may act in adversarial ways towards us.
But in this passage lies another aspect of being compassionate that may get overlooked because of our general unfamiliarity with the culture that this teaching arises out of.
In today’s American culture, we typically view “alms” or giving to the needy as something that is a straight donation to their welfare, a practice that we should certainly continue. However, in the middle Eastern culture of the Bible, “alms” was actually a form of a loan to the less fortunate, typically for friends or associates who had fallen on hard times. This was how the community could look out for one another’s needs in practical ways.
Since banks as we know them today did not exist, there were only a few means for someone who had fallen on hard times to extricate themselves from their circumstances.
One way to repay someone was to become their slave until the debt was repaid. This was a form of indentured servitude, a commitment to the benefactor to recoup their investment. This was widely practiced and is mentioned all throughout the Bible (and, unfortunately, usually misunderstood as the brutal, savage slavery that we typically associate with that word).
But another method of redeeming oneself was to ask friends, family and acquaintances for a loan to get by until they could repay. This is what is usually being described when this concept of “alms” is being presented to us in the biblical texts.
If we understand this principle, then the verse above from Yeshua’s teaching takes on new perspective on several levels. He is here commanding his followers to give these “loans” freely, even with the understanding that they are likely not to be repaid. There should not be a measurement of hard feelings if the indebted friend cannot pay, because God has demonstrated a similar mercy to us as believers.
Additionally, the disciple should be willing to lend also to their enemies, not just friends and acquaintances. This is a drastic diversion even from the cultural practice of the day, and highlights the extent of compassion believers should be demonstrating at all times. It is one thing to forgive a friend or acquaintance of a debt, but to lend in the same fashion to an adversary? This would be a truly unorthodox and radical admonition to his followers.
It is such a revolutionary and profound concept that it still shakes us to the core to this day, two thousand years later. True compassion is like that; it is profound, challenging, and requires real commitment and, many times, heart-wrenching, white-knuckled, gut-twisting sacrifice. This is the type of genuine life transformation believers are called to.
Are you up to the challenge of what it really means to be a follower of the Messiah and demonstrate true compassion?
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of compassion, as Yeshua mentions this quality in our highlighted verse this week:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7
I have paraphrased this as “Extend mercy and compassion to others and you will be blessed, receiving mercy in return.”
There are two aspects to this verse that I would like to explore with you today. One aspect is just reviewing what the biblical concept of mercy is that we are expected to be extending to others.
The other aspect is that the verse has this reflexive type of principle present, where the practice of some value or ethic brings that value or ethic back to the individual practicing it.
WHAT IS MERCY?
In order to receive more understanding about the concept of mercy in our focus passage today, and how we can exhibit it faithfully with others, then it may be helpful to see how the Bible defines mercy.
Mercy, compassion, pity, kindness; these all have similar meanings in English, while the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible have various words that approximate these meanings.
The word “mercy” is used widely throughout the Bible, but is mostly represented in the Hebrew scriptures by the original word chesed (kheh’-sed). This is typically defined as goodness, kindness; sometimes lovingkindness, good deeds, pity. Depending on context, these definitions all demonstrate a type of outward-based kindness towards others.
By comparison, in the Greek of the NT the most frequent representation of mercy is by the word eleéō, el-eh-eh’-o; to compassionate (by word or deed):—have compassion, pity, or show mercy.
You may have noticed in that definition is an unusual emphasis. I find it interesting that the Strong’s definition here expresses compassionate to emphasize its verb form: to compassionate, as if it’s something actively going on, like to calibrate an instrument or to rotate an object. To compassionate is to actively exemplify compassion.
This is most commonly used in phrases extolling God’s mercy on believers, or God’s mercy on Israel. It is something bestowed upon others who are not deserving, and recognized as such by those who receive it.
From a resource called the Outline of Bible Usage, the word here in Matt 5:7 for mercy has its root in the following meanings:
to have mercy on
to help one afflicted or seeking aid, or to bring help
to experience mercy
Joseph Benson, a minister in the early 1800’s, provides this commentary:
Matthew 5:7. Blessed [or happy] are the merciful — The tender-hearted, compassionate, kind, and beneficent, who, being inwardly affected with the infirmities, necessities, and miseries of their fellow-creatures, and feeling them as their own, with tender sympathy endeavour, as they have ability, to relieve them; and who, not confining their efforts to the communicating of temporal relief to the needy and wretched, labour also to do spiritual good; to enlighten the darkness of men’s minds, heal the disorders of their souls, and reclaim them from vice and misery, from every unholy and unhappy temper, from every sinful word and work; always manifesting a readiness to forgive the faults of others, as they themselves need and expect forgiveness from God. The merciful, says Erasmus, are those “who, through brotherly love, account another person’s misery their own; who weep over the calamities of others; who, out of their own property, feed the hungry and clothe the naked; who admonish those that are in error, inform the ignorant, pardon the offending; and who, in short, use their utmost endeavours to relieve and comfort others.”
These qualities have all been an idealized hallmark of believers throughout the years. Many an orphanage, hospital, school, and missionary endeavor has been formed from these very ideals. Believers inspired and motivated by this kind of mercy would seek outlets for expressing it in their communities or building new institutions to meet the needs of others.
Additionally, the specific form of the word “mercy” used in this statement of Yeshua is used in only one other place in the New Testament:
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”Hebrews 2:17
This unique sense of the word in both of these passages implies an active quality of mercy and compassion. The high priest was always and actively ministering about the work of the temple and interceding on behalf of the requirements of Torah and the offerings of the people. The idea conveys the concept of never slumbering nor relaxing its guard. In this regard, the compassionate believer is one who is always ready and prepared to provide help and assistance at the slightest indication of need.
REFLEXIVE USE OF THIS PRINCIPLE As we review the passage again “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” we see how one who is merciful to others is also destined to receive mercy. It is not unusual in the teachings of Yeshua to find what I call reflexive teachings, kind of like the biblical version of karma.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
By extending mercy, you will receive mercy.
Give, and it shall be given to you.
These passages are typically viewed as the giver of the quality then becoming a recipient of that same quality from God.
However, I wonder if you may have ever considered that the giver may not always directly be God, but simply the response of those around you? If you are always providing forgiveness, then it is more likely you will be forgiven by others for some misstep. If you extend mercy on a regular basis, then others will be more merciful with you. If you are generous to others, then others are more likely to be generous with you.
It appears to me that one of the cornerstones of Yeshua’s teaching and ministry is the necessity for believers to avoid hypocrisy at all cost, because that was what the religious life of Israel had become at that point. Yeshua was constantly railing against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders because of their incessant obsession with the minutiae of the letter of the Torah, all the while remaining oblivious to the spirit of the Torah.
Matthew 23:23 "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law--justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
I believe he was really trying to get to the root of the issue which was the heart condition: if the heart is right, then the outward practice will be right.
These reflexive sayings of Yeshua also point to that objective: if we are forgiving, extending mercy, and giving from the sincerity of the heart, then those things will be exhibited back to us with the same level of sincerity.
Newton’s law of physics may state that every action has an opposite and equal reaction, but Yeshua teaches that every action can have a responsive action in kind, that is, in the same quality as it is offered, not its opposite.
This is a great principle when it is understood correctly, but it needs to be removed from its common misunderstood application, which is that we should be giving in order to get something back. “Giving to get” is so far removed from every biblical principle and pattern, it defies comprehension.
When understood correctly, this general principle of Yeshua actually states the opposite of giving to get something in return. We are just supposed to give mercy and compassion unilaterally at all times, and by default we will then be receiving back in the same measure we use towards others.
If we don’t receive back in every instance, then it is no big deal; we are simply applying a law of averages. Sometimes we may not have an immediate response; other times we may receive back more than we gave. The point is that it is a principle to be applied generally, not absolutely.
And don’t we see this to be true in our lives? If we are angry with someone, they are likely to respond in anger. If we are helpful to others, they are likely to be helpful back when we may need assistance.
Joseph Benson continues to comment on these acts of receiving mercy:
They shall obtain mercy — When they most need it. As they deal with their fellow-creatures, God will deal with them. He will incline men to show them mercy and deal kindly with them in this world, and he himself will grant them mercy and loving kindness in the day of final accounts. And since the best and happiest of mankind may need even the former, and inasmuch as all will want the latter, this is surely a strong and powerful argument to persuade us to show mercy to men, in any and every way in our power, that both God and men may show mercy to us. Add to this, that, were there no other inducement, the comfort and satisfaction arising from a disposition that renders us so like our heavenly Father, might, one would suppose, be sufficient to prevail with us to endeavour, especially in this instance, to imitate him who, being touched with the feeling of our infirmities, was daily employed in relieving them, and even took them upon himself, continually going about doing good, and at last giving up his life to ransom ours.
And really, all of these qualities that we talk about at the Core of the Bible have to do with this imitation of God. Because when we imitate God, we, being made in his image, then reflect his character and glory to those around us. In so doing, the kingdom is evidenced and possibly grown as others are drawn to its light.
Well, as always, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Compassion is not only a way for us to reach out and exhibit God’s love to others, but when we extend mercy to others, we will be blessed by receiving mercy in return, not in order to receive mercy, but as a by-product of our own attitude of compassion toward those around us.
We need to keep in mind that compassion is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, and forgiveness. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who is compassionate and the God who gives comfort. He comforts us whenever we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We are instructed here by Paul that God is “the Father who is compassionate.” Other versions render this phrase as
the Father of mercies
the Father who is merciful
Father of compassion
The Pulpit Commentary puts this phrase into perspective:
“This corresponds to a Hebrew expression, and means that compassionateness is the most characteristic attribute of God, and an emanation from him. He is the Source of all mercy; and mercy is an attribute of God himself. He is ‘full of compassion, and gracious, tong-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth’ (Psalm 86:15). ‘The Law,’ says the Talmud, ‘begins and ends with an act of mercy. At its commencement God clothes the naked; at its close be buries the dead’ (‘Sotah,’ f. 14, 1).”
As compassion is one of the primary qualities of God himself, Paul is right to encourage believers to provide the same level of compassion and mercy to others that they have received themselves. It’s only fair that we should do so; in fact, it is our obligation.
So many believers today are so overly focused on how God comforts them, or on striving after how they can receive more comfort and encouragement from God, that they overlook the glaring and unmistakable needs of the those who are all around them.
We have to remember that being a believer in the God of the Bible is not about us, it’s about him. As we focus on him and his goodness and mercy, we should, if for no other reason than close association with him, begin to exhibit the same characteristics that he has in our lives.
When we neglect acts of compassion towards others, we are in effect rejecting a key component of our spiritual DNA. Exhibiting compassion for others is not only something we are expected to do, it is who we are expected to be, just like our Father.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.