The last in our series of core values for Eastside Christian
church concerns the phrase, "Unleash Compassion." There are certain
difficulties with this as a core value.
The word "unleash" implies that compassion is held up
within the individual, and needs to be allowed to come out. This is very much
the modern view that people are basically good, not that they are basically
sinners. The classic Christian view would be that Christians must be trained to
be compassionate. We will discuss this later in the lesson.
This being the last of the core values, it is useful to note the
absence of the concept of evangelism. If the church has such a thing as a
mission statement, it would be the Great Commission. The closest we come to that
in our core values concerned something titled, "Random Acts of
Kindness." This is a variant on the older conception of lifestyle
evangelism; it must be admitted that the label in use now has a much higher
cool factor. As far as I can tell, however, evangelism is something that
missionaries in foreign countries do. This might be less than optimal.
It is also clear that compassion, in the Eastside view, is a
corporate activity. There seems to be no use for compassion as an individual;
it apparently must be done only in groups. This is a conclusion from a lack of
evidence, and therefore should be viewed with some reserve.
As we mentioned, Eastside's compassion is corporate in
nature. It comes in two flavors: local and global.
Eastside provides a wide variety of global compassion
Child sponsorship is the most common. We sponsor a large number
of children in Kenya to provide for meals and education.
Global Partner Hospitality Ministry provides for visiting missionaries
in their needs for housing and transportation.
Global Partner Adoption is a program where a small group can
informally adopt a missionary, providing support and praying for them.
One particular opportunity is run by one particular class: the Barnabas
Brigade. These folks send electronic greetings and messages of support to
Project Purl is a group of knitters who provide garments for
children in Nairobi.
Serving in Stitches is a group which provides simple seamstress
work in support of the Miriam Center in Haiti.
Further details on these ministries can be found at http://web.me.com/eastsidecompassion/compassion/-Global_Service_Opportunities.html.
A similar set of opportunities exists locally:
Scrip Ministry gives you the opportunity to purchase gift cards
to various local merchants, a portion of which goes to support local compassion
ministries. I particularly recommend this one, as it is a win-win situation. It
also allows you to give five bucks to the guy with the cardboard road sign,
knowing that he won't buy drugs at McDonald's.
Come to Him Ministry provides a home for single mothers in
Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Services is our local ministry
which provides food for those in need. This is a joint ministry with many other
Eastside Friends is a ministry providing companionship to those
who live at a local nursing home.
Further details on these ministries can be found at http://web.me.com/eastsidecompassion/compassion/-Local_Service_Opportunities.html.
The first observation the teacher would make is that I was
unaware of the existence of some of these opportunities. In a church this size
this is not surprising, but I put the reference point in so that you might go
and learn more.
Note please that every one of these activities is a corporate
Likewise, every one of these activities is a good thing to do. We
don't sponsor nut case organizations.
Compassion is done in the form of labor, money or a travel and
adventure trip. (We go to Kenya a lot.)
A little further analysis will show you that if we do not have a
partner in a given geographic area, we do not send money or people. We only
pray for them. (The current example would be Japan.)
All of these activities contain little to no risk for the
individual. That is the nature of corporate compassion.
Having seen what we as a church do, we may now go over to
the New Testament and see what the early church (and Jesus himself) practiced.
The first and most striking thing to be discovered in the
New Testament is how seldom the word "compassion" is used. In most
modern translations, it is found less than 20 times in the New Testament. We
may examine that use.
The Word Compassion
The word in the Greek is splagchnizomai
(pronounced splangkh-nid'-zom-ahee), and the less we try to pronounce that,
the better. Strong's dictionary defines it thusly:
to have the bowels yearn, that is, (figuratively) feel
sympathy, to pity: - have (be moved with) compassion.
It is distinguished from the words for mercy and pity largely
by the fact that it is an emotion. In the Scripture, this word almost always
has an object — that is, someone upon whom the subject is having compassion. I
can find no instance of compassion which does not imply this.
As Used Today
The uses of the word compassion today may be broken down
into three categories:
First, there is charity. We give money or time and effort to the
poor; noting carefully that they neither deserve our charity nor do they fail
to deserve our charity. Their circumstances are the only thing we really
Next, there is mercy. This is the same kind of help, but extended
to those who really don't deserve it. In this instance, our sympathy for their
circumstances exceeds our willingness to judge.
Then there is pure forgiveness — they don't deserve it, but the
Christian (for the love of Christ) does it anyway. This is usually a personal
act, but can be a group act.
The Example of Christ
In the New Testament, Christ is pictured as showing
compassion to the crowds of people who follow him. He is moved by the fact that
they are in the wilderness, without food, without shepherds — lost. But he also
cites two examples of compassion in his parables:
The first is the lender who had compassion upon the debtor. You will
recall that the debtor then went out and choked somebody who owed him money.
The second is in the story of the Prodigal Son. Christ tells
us that the father had compassion on his prodigal son, even seeing him a long
The point is rather clear: God is compassionate to us. And
we should be compassionate with each other.
In the Letters
There are three principle uses of compassion in the letters
of the New Testament:
The first is Paul, quoting God via Moses, telling us that God
will have compassion upon whom he will have compassion.
In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul makes the argument for
the unity of the church in the spirit. He cites compassion as one reason for
this. It would seem, therefore, that a sense of personal compassion is
necessary for the unity of the church.
In Colossians Paul tells us to put on a heart of compassion; this
is in the context of forgiveness.
To understand personal compassion, we must see that it is
first and foremost an emotion. In the new church of today, this is seen as
being of primary importance. The church today emphasizes the primacy of a
person's emotions and experience over the truth of Scripture. In the classic
phrasing, "check your brain at the door — because God wants your heart."
Emotions are encouraged in the new church.
The classic view of Christianity is different. In the
classic view, the emotions are to be trained to be subject to the will. This is
confusing to modern readers, because when the Greek writers spoke of the heart,
they did not mean the center of emotions. In the Greek, the heart means the
center of the will. If you wanted to talk about somebody's emotions, you would
have referenced their liver. The ancient writers would've seen it as absolutely
necessary that your emotions be under the control of your will. Then, training
your will to the will of God would produce a full and complete Christian,
mature in every respect. The modern view is that this is impossible. To
understand the ancient view, I must introduce you to some philosophical terms.
We will then use those terms to explain how compassion works in the classic
Suppose you decided to create a statue. The ancient
philosophers would've held that there are four causes to such a creation. The
first is the "material" cause — in this instance, marble. The second
cause is referred to as the "formal" cause. This has to do with the
form, not with prom dresses and tuxedos. This cause would be the person who was
being honored with the statue, as you would want it to look like them. The
third cause is the "efficient" cause. That's the actual agency that
does the work; in this instance, the sculptor. Then there is the
"final" cause — the reason you're doing this in the first place.
Now look at compassion in the
same way. The material cause might be your credit card; the formal cause would
be what ever form your gift takes — let's say scrip. The efficient cause is you
signing the credit card slip. The trouble comes in the final cause. Is the
final cause that we feel proud of ourselves or superior to the person getting
the gift? Or is the final cause our love for Christ? God knows the heart (remember
that's your will) and will judge you accordingly. So how do we train ourselves
to be compassionate in the right way?
The Imitation of Christ
The rule of practice for the Christian is always the
imitation of Christ. We should do what he would do. In that regard I would put
to you three pertinent points:
Compassion is utterly useless if it does not lead to action.
Whether this is personal compassion or corporate compassion, if it does
nothing, it's worth nothing.
Almost always, compassion involves some aspect of forgiveness.
The easiest compassion is giving to someone you've never met, who circumstances
are horrible. Compassion starts to get difficult when you have to forgive.
Difficult, but still required.
If your compassion is to be acceptable to God, it must spring
from your love of Christ. In that love you will follow the Golden Rule
cheerfully. And you know that God loves a cheerful giver.