My last post talked about Paul’s deep concern for his brethren of the Jewish faith who had rejected Christ. Upon further thought, though, some may be wondering what are we supposed to do with this? How in the world do I develop compassion like that? I just simply do not care as much as I should.
Well, first of all, I’d like to say that I’m in the same boat. I wish I cared more. But I think I’ve stumbled across some helpful points that shed light on how to generate spiritual compassion.
- See the reality of your own brokenness
Chapter 6 of J. Oswald Sanders’ Enjoying Intimacy with God takes readers through Psalm 51 in order to show how intimacy with God can be restored. It starts with recognizing our own faults and need for forgiveness. Sanders goes through the Psalm, which I recommend reading in its entirety, to show how David really saw the depths of his sin and realized his need to be forgiven by God. David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (verse 3). After going through this deep anguish, however, he knew that God would indeed give him grace. He said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (verses 7, 10, 12).
What does all this have to do with loving people? Everything, actually. Psalm 51:12-15 says,
“12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.”
Here David is saying once he has been forgiven he will not be able to hold back from talking about how amazing God is! He will have seen the depths of God’s love because he will have just experienced it himself. He is asking God for the power to do this, of course, but you can’t help but see the connection between realizing our own brokenness and then proclaiming the healing power of God to other people. In other words, as the saying goes, we cannot give what we do not possess.
2. Let people become “your people”
I think there is a general resistance to saying any people are “yours” these days. Spiritually speaking, we wouldn’t want to be too “tribal,” right? Secularly speaking, that downright just doesn’t sound very inclusive. But we all have our people. Paul called the people in Romans 9 “his brethren.” The people we know, care about, and do life with are “our people.” So, if you want to develop compassion for a particular person, you have to make them into “your people.” We just don’t have the spiritual bandwidth to continually give real, life-changing compassion to people we aren’t intertwined with. I guess in other words I’m just saying let them become your friends, not a project. Bring them into your life.
3. Try to really see where people are spiritually
This one is hard. Like I said in the first post, it’s much easier to act like we can’t tell what’s really going on with other people. Why get involved? We have enough to worry about on our own. Luckily though Paul did not take that attitude. In Romans 9:4-5 he went on and on about the spiritual state of his Jewish brethren. He said, they
“are (the) Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.”
The rest of the chapter Paul spends talking in even more detail about their heritage and what God had done for them and offered them. In other words, Paul was really thinking about the state of his friends. He was like, “these guys are supposed to be God’s people! Do they not realize the privilege they are walking around with? Oh man… I just wish they could take that next step and see Jesus for who He really is.”
For us, this would look like taking the time to sift through all the spiritual realities of the person we are trying to care about. What is their family history? What involvement in church have they had in the past? What are their biggest hangups? What possible pitfalls might occur specifically to them? What would it even look like for them to walk with God where they’re at right now? Such questions are weighty but worth it. When we think like this, as I’ve reluctantly seen, we start to develop the kind of compassion that Paul had.
Compassion does not happen by accident. First of all, it takes seeing what tremendous lengths God went through in our own lives. He has forgiven us of so much, more than we often even want to think about. Second, it takes making a conscious decision to make people into “your people” like Paul did. Sure, the Jewish people were his people by birth, but Paul did the same thing on numerous other occasions with the people in the churches he helped start. For example, Paul said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” He had just met these people not so long ago, yet now he was recalling how he shared his entire life with them. He made a decision to make them into “his people.” Lastly, if we want to have life-changing compassion for people, we need to open our eyes to the spiritual world they are living in. God wants to give us comprehension that can help pierce people’s hearts and show them His love. If we allow Him to work and open our eyes to what He is already doing, we will realize He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).