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Eastside Core Values

Unleash Compassion

Lesson audio

Introduction

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.

Eastside's Compassion

As we mentioned, Eastside's compassion is corporate in nature. It comes in two flavors: local and global.

Global Compassion

Eastside provides a wide variety of global compassion opportunities:

·         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 various missionaries.

·         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.

Local Compassion

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 transition.

·         Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Services is our local ministry which provides food for those in need. This is a joint ministry with many other churches.

·         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.

Observations

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 activity.

·         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.

New Testament

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 examine.

·         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.[1] 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.[2]  Christ tells us that the father had compassion on his prodigal son, even seeing him a long way off.

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.[3]

·         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.[4]

Personal Compassion

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 view.

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.


[1] Matthew 18:23 – 35

[2] Luke 15:20

[3] Romans 9:15. James makes the same point in James 5:11.

[4] Colossians 3:2

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