The Bible: the Manifesto of Compassion
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 15:1 (Holman) Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.
This verse begins a new chapter, but not a new thought. Paul was still discussing the way church members should treat one another.
Why did Paul address himself to the strong in our text? Probably because no one would ever regard themselves as being among the weak. Also, in using a compliment Paul hoped the readers would be inspired to live up to the accolade.
The Apostle presents the strong as being in debt. We are in debt because of what Jesus did for us. Payment on that debt is made through others.
The word “bear” means to help carry a load. We are not merely to endure brothers and sisters, but to help them stand. We are to lift them up. The stronger we become in the Lord, the more able and obligated we are to help the weak.
A cardinal tenet of Christian living is the denial of our selves. Jesus was very clear on this matter. He bluntly told His disciples, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
We Christians are not to make it our aim in life to gratify all our own petty appetites and desires. We need to cross and displease ourselves sometimes. For one thing, it would make us more tolerant when others annoy us.
The principle taught in our text was revolutionary and took worldwide significance. The ancient world knew very little about self-denial. Interestingly, there are still languages in which there is no word for the concept of unselfishness.
Without fear of contradiction we acclaim, Scripture is the manifesto of compassion. The Bible elevated compassion to the level of a supreme virtue. In non-biblical cultures, compassion is often viewed as a weakness. Menander, an ancient Greek dramatist, wrote, “The man who first proposed to support the poor increased the number of the miserable; it would have been simpler to let them die.”
“Survival of the fittest” is not only a tenet from the fable of evolution, but also a way of life for many people. In this world, people tend to look our for themselves. The strong protect themselves; the weak go to the wall. In the rush for wealth and fame, the strong trample the weak, and the powerful prey on the infirm.
In a world with this mindset, the Bible explodes. The Jews were commanded not to harvest the edges of their fields and not to pick up a dropped handful of grain. These were reserved for the poor, the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
David said, “Blessed is he that considers the poor” (Psalm 41:1). John the Baptist preached, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none” (LK 3:11). Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” His lips provide us the musical strain, “One of the least of these My brethren.” Of our God it is said, the bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not quench.
The world cries, “Euthanasia.” Scripture replies, rise up before the hoary head, honor the aged. The world cries, “Abortion.” The Scriptures say God Himself forms children in the womb. The world cries, “Let sick babies die.” The Scriptures teach all human life is from God and therefore sacred. The world cries, “Keep out the aliens.” The Scriptures teach us to welcome them.
It is no coincidence the civilizations influenced most by Christianity and the Bible have been noted for their institutions for the weak, such as rescue missions, halfway houses, rest homes, orphanages, welfare agencies. These are the legacy of Scripture. It is also no coincidence as our society loses its Biblical roots, more institutions that foster selfishness are appearing – – race tracks, brothels, gambling halls, taverns, lottery ticket outlets, abortion clinics, adult theatres, liquor stores.
God help us Christians to be what we are meant to be: people of compassion. Christianity is meant to be a mother, a nurse, a healer, a watcher through the night, a gentle spirit that dislikes tears and loves them away. Christianity is meant to be a sweet, beautiful, summer-like angel seeking a place to plant something beautiful.
Romans 15:2 Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Lest we slip off into a “social Gospel” mindset, Paul quickly returned us to our proper senses. Please others for their good. We are not to please their wicked desires, or humor them in sins. Doing this would please neighbors to their ruin.
The purpose of our compassion is edification, building up people to God. Here is the shortcoming of non-Christian humanitarianism. It helps in and of itself, but does not go far enough. No edification is in it. It does not point people to the Savior, and no one has even begun to be edified until they come to know Jesus.
After hearing the “Messiah” Lord Kinnoul complimented Handel on the entertainment his music was providing people. The composer replied, “My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertain them; I wish to make them better.”
Humanitarianism and benevolence are Christian only if they point people to Jesus. We are not only to help, we are to “make them better” by leading them to God.
Romans 15:3a For even the Messiah did not please Himself.
Here is our motivation. No servants have the right to refuse to do what their Master has done. The Scriptures are the manifesto of compassion; Jesus embodied compassion. He lived for the good of others. He did not seek His own ease or pleasure. No wonder people marveled. He was a phenomenon. Here was a man who could perform miracles, but used His power solely for others.
He had nowhere to lay His head, and lived in poverty, yet was lavish toward others. People wanted Him to be an earthly king. He chose, instead, to wash feet.
He would not turn one stone into bread for Himself, but miraculously fed 5,000. He could have leaped from the pinnacle of the Temple and won applause, but chose instead to go from town to town seeking tears to wipe away.
The focus of Jesus’ life was outside Himself. Thus the people ran to Him. He focused on them. Their hurts and dreams were what mattered. He was willing to “live in their world.”
Every day we pass by hurting people who are silently screaming, “Come live in my world a while. Listen to my hurts. Pay attention to my needs.” God help us to learn what it means to live outside ourselves. Like Jesus, let’s focus on others.