- Rick LoPresti
The Bible is the greatest book ever written. Nothing else even comes close. There are many reasons to make this assertion, but one of them is that it encourages man to reach for the highest virtues. No other religion tells of a God who loves His creation so much that He came down from heaven in the likeness of His own creation and died for them, even though they had chosen to become His enemies (Jn 3:16, Rom 5:7-10). No other religion calls us to not only love those who love us, but those who do not, as He did (Mt 5:43-48). It is startling to hear those that deny God and the Bible accuse Him of hatred, when they are the ones doing the hating to the One who loves them most. One aspect of the love the Bible teaches us is compassion, and it is often one of the most misunderstood.
Let’s start with some definitions. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew. The words translated compassion mean to spare, have pity, love, mercy, tender affection, and pity. The New Testament was written in Greek. In the 4 gospels, the word means bowels, as a representation of how compassion comes from the inner depths of our being. It is literally a gut wrenching sensitivity to the needs of others. However, as in all things there must be balance. God does not want us to be governed by emotion, but by principles. In Herbews 5:2, the word means to be affected moderately or in due measure, to preserve moderation in the passions, especially anger or grief, of one who is not unduly disturbed by the errors, faults, sins of others, but bears them gently. A good English word for this is empathy, which means we care about the the person, but do not get caught up in unprincipled emotional responses. Empathy is more objective than subjective. In Hebrews 4:15 and Hebrews 10:34, it is the Greek word sympatheo which is where we get the word sympathy. Sympathy means to have the same feeling. 1Pet 3:8 has the very similar word sympathes. Sympathy is to feel what the other person is feeling. In Jude 22 it means mercy, pity, to help the afflicted. Anyone who claims to believe in the Bible should be a person who has compassion. The scripture calls us to love as He does (1Jn 4). However, compassion not guided by principle is easily misguided. The heart of man is gullible (Jer 17:9-10), and must be governed by the word of God. We must engage both heart and mind when loving God and others (Mk 12:29-31). Although the words heart, mind, soul, and spirit are all interchangeable in both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, it is commonly thought that heart represents emotion, and mind represents rational thought. We are not to be one dimensional beings. God gave us different aspects that are meant to work in conjunction, not opposition. The art of learning to live as a whole, fully functional person is to incorporate and balance these things together.
It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The devil is not creative. His best efforts are merely attempts to imitate God. The antichrist will be his ultimate attempt at this (Mt 24:4-5 & 10-27, 2Thes 2). There is genuine, Biblical compassion, but there is also unscriptural, misguided compassion, even from people who think they are sincere. The enemies of the gospel are especially guilty of this. They try to make up for their lack of faith in God by asserting a false compassion, even accusing Christians of failing to have compassion and claiming superior moral ground than God, the Bible, and His people. While it is true that sometimes Christians fall short of achieving the high ideals of the word of God, that does not make false attempts at fake compassion justified by the principles of the scriptures. Christians can even get caught up in this fake compassion, and become judgmental of their fellow believers for not being compassionate enough.
Saul was the first king of Israel, and he started out humbly. He made several key errors, and was told by the prophet Samuel that God had found a replacement who was after His own heart (1Sam 13:14). That man was David (1Sam 16). Saul became jealous of David, and attempted to kill him at least 20 times. At one point during his campaign, Saul accused his closest men of being double agents, and betraying his plans to David. He even accused his own son. It was actually God protecting David from him, but his pride had blinded him. Saul said, “That all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day (1Sam 22:8)?” Neither David nor Saul’s son Jonathan had conspired against him. In fact, David spaed his life twice (1Sam 24, 1Sam 26). Saul was his own worst enemy. It was a lame excuse and attempt to blame others for his own failures and irresponsibility to do the right thing. He accused others of not feeling sorry for him when the only thing anyone should have felt sorry about was that Saul had lost his way. Soon after that, the Ziphites of Keilah attempted to betray the innocent David to Saul (1Sam 23). David had just fought on behalf of the city of Keilah to deliver them from the enemy Philistines (1Sam 23:1-5). How quickly people sometimes forget the good done for them by those they wish to turn against. When the Ziphites went to Saul to betray the innocent blood, Saul said, “Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me (1Sam 23:21)”. Saul attributed their evil intent to God and compassion. This seems strange, but people do this all the time. They accredit false compassion to godliness or their own false sense of superior morality, and falsely accuse those who are actually trying to follow the Bible.
James 2 speaks of those who have pet causes, “feel good” false compassion, ideals that fit their own twisted morality, and embracing only things that fit their narrative. Verses 1-9 talk about those who would only honor the rich who were guests in their meeting while ignoring the poor. Today, there is the same false narrative, but in reverse. People like to think they are embracing compassion for the poor by hating the rich. They are also guilty of respecting persons, just the opposite group. Some rich people gained their wealth unjustly and are greedy. Others inherited their wealth. Others worked hard and followed sound financial principles. The issue here is not how they gained their wealth. It is the false idea that those who did nothing to earn it are entitled to expect it to be taken by force by the government and given to them; and they call this compassion. James 2 goes on to talk about faith without works being dead (vs 14-26). Verses 15-16 use the illustration of someone telling someone in need of clothing or food to be warm and filled without doing anything about it. If they were truly concerned, maybe they should actually do something about it.
False compassion often criticizes others for their supposed lack of compassion while claiming the moral high ground, yet not doing anything themselves. They don’t want to get their hands dirty. They want society to have compassion on people they are merely using as puppets for their pet causes as a cover up for their real agenda, but they do not lift a finger to help themselves (Mt 23:2-6). They are hypocrites and just want to look good before men like Saul (1Sam 15:30). They want to let the criminals out of prison and let all people into our society, but they don’t want them behind their private walls, past their personal security, and into their homes and lives. They claim pacifism while they are surrounded by private, paid, armed guards. It is a known fact that people who pretend to care about the poor and middle class by demanding the government take money from the wealthy and give it to them do everything they can to avoid paying taxes, and give far less of their own money than those who advocate smaller government, lower taxes, private and voluntary charity, and personal responsibility. The good Samaritan got personally involved in helping the robbed and beaten true victim (Lk 10:33). There is a lot of false victimhood crying for false compassion. Some people today would be busy justifying the robbers of the Samaritan instead of helping the victim of their crime. The father of the prodigal had compassion on his son when he confessed, repented, took personal responsibility, and took action to return (Lk 15:33). Some extremists even care more about animals than they do about people; and others want us to feel compassion for sexual perversion, and call those who do not condone it haters. These people are described in Romans 1:18-32. They accuse others of hate while extolling their own compassion while they are the intolerant haters themselves. Just do a thoughtful, factual countering of their positions, and see how they respond when cornered with the facts and their inconsistency. Often the response is emotional, falsely accusing, angry, blame shifting, and can even be violent.
There are other examples of hypocrisy as well. Advocates of abortion on demand usually also support gun control in the name of protecting the children. What more violent act against human life can there be than tearing a baby limb from limb right in his mother’s womb, or pulling his head out of the womb and then sucking his brain out of his head?
People even falsely use the Bible to promote forced government redistribution of wealth under the guise of compassion. They claim that is what Jesus would want. Jesus did miracles to meet real needs of people who could not do it themselves. He did not do it to give Himself some false sense of feeling good about Himself. He healed people who could not heal themselves. He cast demons out of people who could not disentangle themselves. His compassion was for real needs and was directly given personally. He accompanied meeting their earthly needs with preaching and teaching to meet their greatest need which was spiritual (Mt 9:35-38, Mt 14:14, Mt 15:32, Mt 18:27 & 33, Mt 20:34, Mk 1:41, Mk 5:19, Mk 9:22, Lk 7:13). He did miracles to bring people to a place of faith and salvation (Jn 4:48, Jn 5:36, Jn 10:25, Jn 14:11, Jn 20:30-31). A man came to Jesus and asked him to intervene in a dispute with his brother over their inheritance (Lk 12:13-34). He refused, and warned of placing material needs above spiritual ones. The real Jesus is often quite different than the one people describe. He said there would be many false Christs before His return.
The compassion of God is also described in the Old Testament, but it is toward the nation of Israel when they were in violation of His covenant with them, and describes His desire for them to repent and return to Him (Is 49:15, Eze 16:5, Deut 13:17, Deut 30:3, 1Ki 8:50, 2Ki 13:23, 2Chr 30:9, 2Chr 36:15 (vs 17 – Babylon had none), Ps 78:38, Jer 12:15, Lam 3:32, Mic 7:19). Again, it was about spiritual things first.
People also claim that the church in the book of Acts sharing their resources promotes socialism or communism (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-37). There are several key differences. This was private, it was voluntary, and it did not deny the idea of private property (Acts 5:4). This also had nothing to do with punishing the responsible and rewarding the irresponsible. There were strict guidelines governing charity in the early church, even for widows who have a special place in the heart of God throughout the Bible (1Tim 5:3-16). The apostle preferred that if possible the relatives would take responsibility for them, and not the church. This is where we get the phrase “charity begins at home”. The Bible says if a man refuses to work, he does not even deserve food, so everyone can do something to take personal responsibility (2Thes 3:10-12). A more thorough examination of the teaching of the Bible on personal responsibility can be found in the book “The Gift of Responsibility” which is available through awordnerd.com or amazon.com.
Biblical compassion is being concerned about legitimate personal needs and taking practical, direct steps that will actually help correct the problem without ignoring facts, personal responsibility, or other Biblical principles. False compassion is emotionally driven, ignores applicable truth, attempts superficial solutions, often hypocritical, sometimes a cover up for other agendas, self-righteous, narrow and short sighted, demands compassion from others that is does not offer itself, inconsistent, and doomed to failure at making a real, long lasting difference. God wants us to be compassionate, but that compassion is only godly when it honors all of God’s word, not just carefully extracted and falsely interpreted short passages.