Our seam-bursting schedules scream for attention. Work deadlines demand, school assignments summon, and social engagements expand our already overburdened loads. Even if we really wanted to, how could we possibly make time to care for someone in need? Can we really make a difference in that struggling teen’s life? Do we compromise the safety of our own family if we invite that stranger into our home for dinner? Can we make any difference in the lives of refugees, even as they feel the new threat to their sojourning among us?
Whatever our excuses — and surely we have some good ones — texts like James 1:27 call us as Christians to reassess our priorities:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Good Deeds with Side Effects
Let’s face it: compassion is always costly. And not just in dollars dispensed from our bank accounts. Like the list on a medicine label, compassion has side effects. Common side effects may include:
- reduced time for recreation
- increased exposure to awkward situations
- feelings of helplessness
- and any number of other inhibitors.
Like the medicine behind the warning label, however, compassion is good for you. But we have to be willing to invest ourselves. Caring for the hurting is more than a recurring withdrawal. Helping those in need will require more than the extra bit of time and effort it takes to pass a granola bar through your car window to a panhandler. Much good can come from donating money and offering a handout, but God inspires more. Visiting orphans and widows demands more than the swipe of a Visa. Tweeting about refugees is of some value. Caring for refugees — specific displaced men, women, and children — will require much more of us.
Biblical compassion compels us to invest in the lives of real people around us in a way that may cost us much but reaps eternal rewards beyond anything we stand to lose today.
Good Samaritan, Costly Compassion
In our vernacular, a “Good Samaritan” helps a stranded motorist with a flat tire or maybe carries a heavy box up a flight of stairs for an old woman. Lending a hand is always good, but the Good Samaritan from Jesus’s parable provides costly compassion. When Jesus spoke this parable to a predominantly Jewish audience, Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Jews regarded Samaritans as apostates headed for hell, and yet, the Samaritan in our parable has compassion on this Jewish man left for dead (Luke 10:33).
The Samaritan tenderly treated the wounds of his ethnic archenemy. What’s more, this caring man placed the desperately wounded man on his own transport and purchased a room for him at a nearby inn where he continued to provide care. The Samaritan goes so far as to leave behind two days’ worth of wages to ensure the Jewish victim of injustice recovers well. The Samaritan moved toward his enemy in need and painstakingly spent his precious time and money with no regard for the cost.
And Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
God in the Garden
We even see the divine design of compassion in places we might not quite expect, like Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve first sinned. God clothes them with animal skins (Genesis 3:21) and provides for an immediate need. Our minds can jump through the immediate context to the way this scene foreshadows a greater atonement, but let’s not leave Eden too quickly.
Adam and Eve just destroyed the perfection of paradise. And God moves toward them in compassion. Our first ancestors audaciously disobeyed their Creator, and yet he cares for their immediate needs. God slaughtered an animal from his pristine creation to clothe the very pair through whom sin brings death and destruction all the way down to the present (1 Corinthians 15:22). God moves toward his enemies in costly compassion.
Great Need, Grand Opportunity
Acute needs might not greet you at your doorstep, but you are most likely surrounded by people in difficult, even dire, circumstances.
Every minute, nearly twenty people become victims of domestic violence. Thirty-three percent of women and twenty-five percent of men have endured abuse. More than likely, someone you know quietly suffers domestic abuse.
In 2014, over 47,000 people died from drug overdoses — more than any other year on record. According to the New York Times, “Deaths from overdoses are reaching levels similar to the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak” — and there are no signs of slowing. More than likely, someone you know quietly suffers through addiction.
The suicide rate in the United States recently hit a thirty-year high. More than likely, someone you know is at risk of harming themselves — possibly fatally.
Even with Trump’s reduced refugee program, the United States likely will still accept 50,000 refugees in 2017. That’s more than 130 souls a day. More than likely, you can make a difference in the life of someone who may have never even heard the name of Jesus.
Such massive suffering is a cause for lament, but it’s also a call to arms for the church. When we serve the needs around us, we provide an opportunity for those sufferers who do not yet know God to turn to him and bring him glory (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). The hurting and suffering around you can serve as a bridge to the gospel so that present suffering will give way to relief in eternal joy (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Go and Do Like God
Jesus carried out the costliest act of compassion, not for his companions, but for criminals guilty of high treason. How much more should we who were once enemies with God (Romans 5:8, 10), who have reaped eternal benefits from God moving toward us in Jesus, jump at the opportunity to move toward the needs of those around us?
Compassion will cost us our time, money, and comfort, but we’ll gain irrepressible joy in serving and not being served (Mark 10:45). We can imitate God’s costly compassion by serving the orphan, the widow, and the refugee because Christ purchased an indestructible treasure for us in heaven beyond anything we might risk losing in the vapor of this life (Matthew 6:19–20). In fact, we’ll find that the path of greatest service is the path of maximum joy for our own souls because, after all, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).