Being compassionate is not what you do, but who you are

If God is our Father, exhibiting compassion is in our spiritual DNA.

Core of the Bible podcast #50 – Being compassionate is not what you do, but who you are

Today we will be exploring the topic of compassion, and how our relationship with God obligates us to demonstrate compassion with others. Through our shared experiences and trials in growing the kingdom of God, along with our close communion with God as our Father, we should be sharing the comfort we receive with those who need it most.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua Messiah! 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.”

This wise admonition of the apostle Paul contains within itself the makings of a simple truism: If we have received comfort from God through some trouble, then we have the ability, and the responsibility, to comfort others with that same comfort that we had received. In this sense, these verses contain a kind of “pay it forward” mentality. God comforts us, therefore we comfort others.

While this is a good and worthy application of this truth, looking at the passage in context can give us a broader perspective of how Paul was directly applying this truth with the Corinthian congregation. Perhaps as we see how he was applying this truth, we may find new perspective for our own application today.

First of all, let’s look at the entire context of this passage to get the wider margins of understanding about what Paul is speaking about here. The passage itself kind of breaks evenly between verses 3-7 and 8-11. Let’s look at the first section up through verse 7.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua Messiah, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Messiah overflow to us, so also through Messiah our comfort overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.

Okay, so now we can see that the kind of suffering or affliction that Paul is referring to, he labels as the “sufferings of Messiah” which have “overflowed to us.” So these are not just generic sufferings or troubles he is talking about here, like sickness or car troubles or losing one’s job; no, these are sufferings related to the Messiahship of Yeshua. What kind of sufferings were associated with the Messiahship of Yeshua?

Roy Yates, in an article in the Evangelical Quarterly, provides an overview of Paul’s hardships that he encountered during his ministry due to his conviction of the Messiahship of Yeshua.

“During the period of his Ephesian ministry (Act 19: 1-20: 1) St. Paul suffered several traumatic experiences, including personal dangers and possible imprisonments. The Acts of the Apostles mentions only the riot caused by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts:19:23-41), but there are a number of references in the Epistles which lead us to suppose that the troubles Paul experienced at Ephesus were more serious and more numerous than Luke would have us believe. The opposition reachedsuch a pitch that Paul refers to it as ‘fighting with wild beasts’ (1 Cor. 15:32). He also uses the language of the spectacle in the arena to describe the ignominy to which he had been subject in his work as an apostle (1 Cor. 4:9). At a later date he was in such serious trouble that he considered death to be the inevitable outcome of his afflictions (2 Cor. 1:8-10), and his escape as a divine deliverance. He gives a lengthy catalogue of sufferings and hardships endured for the sake of the Gospel (2 Cor. 11 :23-9), some of which must have happened to him during his stay at Ephesus. He tells of Prisca and Aquila who risked their necks for him (Rom. 16:4); warns Timothy of his adversary Alexander the coppersmith who had done him great harm (2 Tim. 4: 14-17); and describes his work in Ephesus in terms of ‘an open door . . . and many adversaries’ (1 Cor. 16:9).”

As Roy mentions in his article, later in the 2nd Corinthian epistle, Paul catalogues a list of many troubles he encountered during his ministry that were endured for Messiah.

2 Corinthians 11:23-28, 32-33 – “Are they servants of Messiah? I’m talking like a madman — I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, many times near death. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the congregations. … In Damascus, a ruler under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to arrest me. So I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.”

Even a cursory review of these events demonstrates how all of these tribulations were endured for the sake of Messiah. These were the types of hardships encountered during his missionary journeys throughout Europe, Asia, and Greece.

Now in the second section of the 2 Corinthians 1 passage beginning in verse 8, we find Paul zeroing in on some event that was so overwhelming, he and his companions despaired of death.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 – We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed — beyond our strength — so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.

Thankfully, Paul maintains they were delivered by God “who raises the dead;” a sort of allusion to what must have seemed like a type of resurrection from the type of living death they were experiencing in their persecution in Asia.

Quoting again from the Roy Yates article provides some interesting background on this event:

“Paul’s troubles in Ephesus came to a head in the experience referred to in 2 Cor. 1 :8-10. He had come so close to a terrible death that he had given himself up as lost. When deliverance came it was greeted as a miracle of resurrection, and as the action of God in response to prayer. The nature of the crisis is not specified in the epistle, but the Corinthians knew well what he was referring to, for they are meant to take comfort and hope from Paul’s suffering and deliverance (2 Cor. 1:3-7). He is eager to open up his heart to them on the matter and tell them of the joy and the sorrow which are inseparably and paradoxically joined together in the preaching of the Gospel. The weakness and suffering of the Apostle only serves to make him rely even more on the power of God, who works through him, and not on himself (2 Cor. 4:7-5:10).”

Regardless of what the event itself was, it was something that caused the apostle to rely even more upon God. This is the crux of what Paul is getting at. Because the “sufferings of Messiah” had “overflowed” to them, they were then able to provide comfort to the disciples as they experienced their own versions of the “suffering of Messiah.

Psalm 34:19 – One who is righteous has many adversities, but Yahweh rescues him from them all.

The Psalmist writes that the righteous don’t just coast through life with the best of everything. To the contrary, those who are righteous have many adversities to endure. Paul also confirms this as he writes to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:10-12 – But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured ​– ​and yet Yahweh rescued me from them all. In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.

The apostle Paul pulls no punches; anyone wanting to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.  But the good news is that through these shared tribulations, Yahweh will deliver them, just as Paul was delivered through his. He is encouraging the disciples to build one another up in their most holy faith by providing the comfort and insights they had received through these common experiences of persecution and affliction; this is what builds up the faith of the congregations.

In a moment, we’ll take a look at another aspect of why this type of shared compassion is necessary, and it has to do with a type of spiritual DNA.

As we look back to the beginning of the passage in 2 Corinthians 1, 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, long-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. 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.

Matthew 5:48 – “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So many believers today are so overly focused on God’s comfort for 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.

One of the reasons I believe we are not faithful in sharing the comfort we have received from God is because we are not truly experiencing the “sufferings of Messiah” to receive God’s comfort in the first place. When was the last time any of us were beaten or imprisoned for our faith in Messiah? Have any of us been excommunicated from our local congregation because of some radical belief we hold about Messiah? Have any of us been in physical conditions of hardship such as no food or shelter during a missionary journey? These are the types of situations that can be considered the sufferings of Messiah, and these are the types of things that God sustains believers through. Some of you listening to this may indeed have experienced some level of this type of suffering, and I’m certain you would carry some great testimony of God’s faithfulness through your trial.

Ultimately, we have to remember that being a believer in the God of the Bible is not about us, it’s about him. When we take great personal risk in order to continue to grow the kingdom of God, we then are forced to rely on God’s care and provision for our needs. Even the Lord’s Prayer contains the clause, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The provision of God that Yeshua teaches us about is for each day, one day at a time, not for unending provision with no consequence. It is when we are in the situations that cause us to rely fully on him that he is able to provide real, tangible comfort for our needs.

I can recall as a young, single, idealistic believer, I had become convinced that God was calling me into a local ministry at our congregation, yet I had no formal training or college. I was so convinced that was where God wanted me that I had quit my job and put the offer to work for the congregation for only $400 a month. At the time, that would meet all of my immediate needs, and I was trusting God for the opportunity. It took weeks while I remained steadfast in prayer, and ultimately, it came to pass. In that role of music and leading some small study groups, I grew spiritually by leaps and bounds as I was forced to rely on God for just about everything. I continued to grow in faith as I saw God’s provision, sometimes daily, and I experienced many powerful spiritual lessons that I still carry with me and share today, many times through these podcasts and daily articles. And because of that period of relying on God’s provision, I can testify today that God is sufficient.

Through our faith in Messiah, and because we believe God is our Father, we should, if for no other reason than this close spiritual and familial association with him, begin to exhibit the same characteristics that he has demonstrated in our lives. If God is compassionate, we should be also. If God has comforted us through affliction and sharing the sufferings of Messiah, we are obligated to comfort others also with the same comfort we have received. This is who we are in Messiah.


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A legacy of compassion and love

Helping those in need is the great privilege among the people of God.

They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.

Galatians 2:10

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives a brief review of his activities after becoming a believer in the Messiah. He says after his conversion he immediately went to Arabia, and then returned back to Damascus (1:17). (As an aside, some have postulated a theory that he traveled to Arabia to visit Mt. Sinai, because his own personal revelation had changed his whole world).

He then relates three more years had passed before he spent two weeks in Jerusalem with Peter, and also met with James during his visit there (1:18-19). He traveled around Syria and Cilicia at that time and was unknown to the Messianic assemblies in Judea (1:21-22).

He returned to Jerusalem fourteen years later after receiving a revelation that he should minister among the nations, and not among his own people in Judea. He wanted confirmation from the then-leaders of the Messianic believers in Jerusalem (Peter, James, and John) that this was an appropriate ministry approach (2:1-2, 9), which they acknowledged with “the right hand of fellowship,” (2:9). Upon receiving this confirmation, he relates that “they asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.”

I find it fascinating that out of all of the doctrinal issues which could potentially have been raised with the confirmation of an international ministry, that remembering the poor is the primary effort that should be a focus of this endeavor.

However, this is not without precedent in the history of the kingdom of God. As Israel was preparing to enter the land of Canaan, Moses provided specific instruction about the care and protection of those who would be needy among them.

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.”

This command comes immediately on the heels of an accompanying conditional promise that I personally have overlooked until recently re-reading this passage.

Deuteronomy 15:4-5 “There shall be no poor among you, however, because the LORD is certain to bless you in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance ​– ​ if only you obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow every one of these commands I am giving you today.”

While there is an acknowledgement that there will always be those in need in the land, there is a conditional promise that if they are careful to follow the commands of Yahweh in providing for their needy, there is no need for anyone to have lack within the earthly kingdom of God which was being established in the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 15:11 “…that is why I am commanding you, ‘Open your hand willingly to your poor and needy brother in your land.'”

To my way of thinking, this principle has enormous implications for us today. God has promised his people that within the kingdom there is no need for anyone to be in want of necessities, IF we follow his command to always help those in need. Throughout his Word, or Torah, Yahweh provides for his people time and time again, and here he is mentioning that we have an opportunity, rather, an obligation, to partner with him in that provision by helping those among the kingdom who are in need.

“There shall be no poor among you…” What a great opportunity and privilege to find ways to help those among his people who are without necessity, just as the apostles in Jerusalem commissioned Paul to do among the nations. When we are obedient to God’s Word in this area, we are participating in a legacy of compassion that is thousands of years old. But we must remember, the motivation should always be one not of compulsion, but of love.

1 Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and if I have not love, it gains me nothing.

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each person should do as he has decided in his heart ​– ​not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.

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 coreofthebible@gmail.com.