Compassionate Discipleship

By Jon Zens

Discipleship: Meeting Needs With Compassion

For whatever reasons, many professing Christians are reluctant to express emotion in reaction to the experiences of life. But when Paul came to Athens he was “greatly distressed” (paroxuneto). This is an intense word. We get our English word “paroxysm” (a sudden sharp attack) from this Greek verb (Acts 17:16).

Paul was “greatly distressed” when he saw Athens filled with idolatry. As a result of this intense feeling, Paul began to evangelize among the people (Acts 17:17). There is nothing wrong with imitating Paul in this regard (1 Corinthians 11:1). Apparently a lack of compassion can reduce the urgency of our ministry to one another and to the world.

We must focus on the simple — yet often forgotten — truth that our activities as disciples are to meet the needs of others (1 John 3:16-18). When Jesus returns to scrutinize the works of men, He is going to cut through all the religious jargon, hustle-bustle, put-on, and bureaucracy. The issues then will be very down-to-earth and close to home: what concrete things did you do to help others?

The things Jesus lists as separating the sheep from the goats would not be rated very high as spiritual achievements in most religious magazines: Look at them: (1) feeding people, (2) giving cups of water, (3) sheltering strangers, (4) clothing people, (5) caring for the sick, (6) visiting those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36). Church history books aren’t filled with these kinds of activities are they?

James certainly echoes these matters by saying, “…religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27).

Again, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, if one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (2:15-16)

I’m very convicted about these issues. Are you?

The World

People in our day are frustrated, many at their wit’s end. It‘s no wonder that drugs and other “escapes” are accelerating in use. In such a world filled with hurt we must be ready to help (cf. Frank Tillapaugh, The Church Unleashed: Getting God’s People Out Where the Needs Are)

The Church

Because of the increased social upheaval, there are many in churches whose background is such that they are in desperate need of support from the body of Christ. Yet how often hurting people are ignored or meet with rejection in churches! We must encourage the timid, help the weak, and be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

In our relationships with fellow disciples we must, “…as God’s chosen people clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3:12-13).

The Example

Christ did good for people and confronted them with His claim on their lives. He does not ask us to do anything He did not do. When His searching words of evaluation strike our ears on that great day, religious talk will be very cheap (Matthew 7:21-23). The issue then will simply be “how did you minister to those in need?” (Matthew 25:35-36)

What matters then will not be how much Bible knowledge we accumulated in this life, or how many answers we can give from a catechism, but how much of the word did we carry out in very practical ways (James 1:22-25)?


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