Intentional compassion stemming from our common bond with others

“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.

The awe-inspiring perspective that changes lives

Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.

Job 6:14

“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.

Galaxy Brain is Real, The Atlantic.

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.

Genuine compassion may behave differently than we expect

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.

Luke 6:34-35

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?

Active Compassion

Core of the Bible Episode 8 – Active 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.

For example:

  • 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.

Why believers are expected to exhibit compassion

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
  • merciful Father
  • 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.

Matthew 5:48

The Torah of the Messiah

Jesus took up this question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. … But when a Samaritan on a journey came upon him, he looked at him and had compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he said, ‘and on my return I will repay you for any additional expense.’

Luke 10:30, 33-35

This famous passage is Yeshua’s definition of having compassion on one’s neighbor. True compassion is not just a feeling of sympathy, but it is a sympathy that takes action.

The apostle James, whom many consider to be the brother of Yeshua, drills down even further into the practicality of true faith in the practice of compassion with others:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?

James 2:15-16

Biblical compassion looks outward to others who are in need, beyond the comfort of one’s own personal situation or condition and says, “What can I do to help?”

Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.

Galatians 6:2

Paul’s original wording here in his message to the believers in Galatia can be rendered within its Hebraic cultural context as, “In this manner you shall fulfill the Torah of the Messiah.” This aspect of assisting others in need is considered by Paul to be the essence of Yeshua’s teaching, central to everything he stood for and practiced.

If this is the lens through which we should be viewing the life and ministry of Yeshua, then, as his followers, how much more should this same quality be applied in our own lives?

Simply respect others

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

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.

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.

The logic of this wisdom 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 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 this passage (7:1-12), Yeshua is admonishing his hearers about overall unfair judgment of others and hypocrisy in their own actions. The Golden Rule is the capstone solution to resolve his preceding points regarding these illegitimate practices.

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 of God should cause us to be equitable and compassionate in all of our relationships.

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. 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. This type of compassionate living is how God implores all of us to love one another.

The honor of difficult giving

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Luke 6:30, 34-35

Give and loan freely to whoever asks of you, expecting nothing back from them. The distinctive aspect of how believers are supposed to model giving is to go outside the normal boundaries of the culture; to willingly give to those who would be considered unlikely recipients: those who can’t repay, even those who could be considered enemies.

This is not a practice for the faint of heart. Giving as God intends requires mettle and resolve. This is not “feel-good” giving. In fact, this type of giving can hurt because it seems so contrary to common sense.

Why should I give to those whom are unable to repay? Why should I give generously to those who could be considered adversarial?

  • Because this type of intentional giving is what is expected of us by God.
  • Because everything we have is temporary at best.
  • Because everything we have has been provided by God, so why should we hold back what has been freely given to us?
  • Because believers are supposed to be distinctive in this world, not to follow the conventions of the existing culture.
  • Because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, and our goal is to be like him, and to exemplify his character of compassion in this world.

Giving in this manner has a promise of reward: you will be considered a child of the Most High.

I can think of no higher honor or greater decoration to be bestowed upon us.

Making a Difference

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Matthew 5:13

Be as distinctive and useful as salt while on this earth. 

The life of a believer should be one of influencing the world around them; not necessarily the whole world, but the extent of their personal reach. This influence should be as natural as breathing to a believer, but as profound as the most challenging ethic to others. An encounter with a believer should be a unique experience, one that carries a distinctive “taste” amidst a world of bland personal opinion and selfish actions.

In being genuinely concerned for the things of God, a believer will naturally demonstrate a quality that stands out from the experiences that most people have in their relationships with others. There will be a positive “something” that separates the believer from the rest of a person’s worldly interactions.

Drawing on the metaphor of Yeshua, salt can be an enhancement to the flavor of food. It is also a means of preservation and healing. These are the characteristics and influences that a believer will have on those around them. All of these stem from a godly heart that wants to influence others for their good while doing the right thing at all times.

If we are not demonstrating these “salty” values, then our faith is serving no real purpose; it hasn’t made a difference to anyone but ourselves.

Ultimately, is that a true faith?

Personal and Private Kindness

“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.”

Matthew 6:1-4

Be privately and sincerely compassionate toward those in need.

Helping others who are unable to help themselves should be a cornerstone of the practices of all believers. However, those who give or help others merely for outward recognition demonstrate the hypocrisy and pride hidden in their heart.

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.

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.