The Compassionate God
The last time we spoke, it was concerning Godly Anger Management. We examined a number of scriptural examples of individuals whose lack of control of anger brought dire consequences on themselves. We also saw how keeping God and his plan in focus and forefront in the mind controlled how others reacted more positively to situations of stress that actually saved other people from sinning. Godís word is full of admonitions about the positive aspects of the righteous administration of anger at the right time and in the right place.
Today, weíll go beyond the mere subject of anger and the proper temperance of anger to see Godís motivation and advice about emotions that contribute to influencing so much of our lives.
If you were to listen to most Protestant or even Catholic preachers describing the nature and attitude of Jesus in the New Testament, you would certainly come away with a very positive impression. It is almost universally proclaimed among the various "Christian" priests and ministers that Jesus was all about love and forgiveness. They routinely cite New Testament passages like forgiving a brother "seventy times seven" and "whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." While itís true that Jesus did emphasize forgiveness in his teachings, Christ didnít teach outright forgiveness without responsibility in the same way youíd likely hear it from preachers today.
On the other hand, if you were to listen to most of those same preachers talk about the God of the Old Testament, youíd probably hear a much different story. It would be a tale about a harsh and unforgiving God who was bent on death and destruction. The God of the Old Testament was an exacting God who repaid false steps with speedy retribution and harsh penalties. They would probably cite instances such as the "eye for an eye" statutes of the law of Moses or even the harshness of the Ten Commandments of Exodus.
What is the truth, though? It seems very confusing because it sounds like two opposing views. Is God schizophrenic? Does he have split personalities? Is there one type of God for the Old Testament and another, dramatically different type of God, for the New Testament?
The answer is really simple. You see, in the hundreds of years between the Old and New Testaments, God just changed his mind. Well, is that right? You know our ultimate destiny and salvation rest on the promises of God. If God is one way at one time and a different way at another time, how can we depend upon him? How can his word be good and his promises sure if he changes? Letís see what the Old Testement God has to say about that in Malachi 3.
So, the Old Testament God emphatically states in verse six that he does not change but what about the New Testament God? Does he change? The apostle James says "no" in James 1:17, this time from the New International Version.
With two such declarative statements, does it make sense to you that preachers should teach two such opposing pictures of God? The writer of the book of Hebrews certainly didnít think so. He linked the sureness of the promises of God with Godís steadfast reliability in Hebrews 6:13.
Did you catch that? We said just a moment ago that our destiny and salvation rest on the promises of God but our reliance has to be based on surety. We have to know those promises are sure. The sureness of those promises, in turn, rests on the reliability of God and his word and the unchangeableness of Godís very purpose. In verse eighteen, we just read that we have strong encouragement. Why? We have encouragement because he backed up those promises by two unchangeable things: first, it was with an oath (which, in the world of men, is an end to every dispute) and secondly, it was by his very nature in which it is an impossibility for God to lie. So, it would seem there is surety in the promises of God; but how do we resolve what looks like a conflict in the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament?
Old Testament versus New Testament
Letís appeal to the apostle Paul for insight. He certainly was qualified to bridge any gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He was a learned scholar in the Old Testament but knew how to apply that understanding to New Testament issues involving both Jews and Gentiles. In Romans 3:3, Paul was addressing the Gentile converts in Rome about how even the uncircumcised who lived according to the righteous standards of God would be counted as being circumcised through the faithfulness of God.
So we, too, should depend upon the faithfulness of God and his word for our understanding rather than the teachings of man. We know, and Paul just stated, that God will judge the world in righteousness when he executes his wrath. We saw last time that there is a proper time and place for anger or wrath. If controlled and channeled properly, it can be dispensed for good. That good can be for the enhancement of others, as we saw in the example of Abigail preventing David from sinning though he was duly provoked. Abigail had the big picture in mind and saw the world through the lenses framed by the righteousness of God in executing the plan of God for mankind.
David wrote in the Psalms about righteousness setting the bounds for Godís judgment of the world. In Psalms 9:7, we see that Godís judgment will be for the benefit of all people.
Again in Psalms 96, equity, righteousness, and faithfulness are the parameters by which God will execute judgment.
Even the apostle Paul spoke to the men of Athens about the coming day of Godís judgment over the whole world and how that judgment would be executed by his agent, Jesus the Messiah.
In Romans 2:4, when Paul was writing to the converts in Rome, he spoke again of the coming judgment of God and how wrath and indignation would be poured out on those who do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness instead.
God will bring every individual into judgment to account for his deeds. So too, will God bring the nations into judgment for their treatment of his nation, Israel. We can see that in Joel 3:2.
The King James Version says that the nations have "parted my land." The Hebrew word is Strongís number 2505 chalaq and it means to apportion or separate. The New American Standard Dictionary defines chalaq as to divide or share. That land is Godís land and he chose to give it to Israel forever. Of course God will bring the nations into judgment for messing with land that is not theirs.
So, God has cause to be angry but, as weíve seen, even in dispensing his wrath as punishment against both individuals and nations, itís clear that Godís anger is bounded by his standards of righteousness. Last time, we read in Habakuk 3:2, the plea of the prophet that Godís wrath be tempered.
If God is to remember mercy in dispensing his wrath, what can we learn of that mercy? In a previous sermon about Mercy and Grace, we learned that those two sister traits are continually linked in scripture and hardly ever found apart from one another; but letís take another look, specifically at Mercy.
The Hebrew word used by Habakuk was racham. It is Strongís# 7355, racham, and it means "to love, especially to be compassionate." If God is to remember compassion while dispensing his wrath, so should we.
Keep in mind the overriding principle taught by Paul in Romans 15:4.
Mercy and Grace
Our goal should be to glorify our Father and we are to do that through the perseverance and encouragement of the scriptures. Think about that for a moment. Look at verse four again. It plainly says that perseverance and encouragement come through the scriptures and that from those scriptures we might have hope. Verse five also plainly says that God is the one who gives perseverance and encouragement. What simplicity! Remember your basic algebra lessons: if a equals b and b equals c, then a equals c. If God is the source of perseverance and encouragement and if both perseverance and encouragement come through the scriptures and the accounts written in them for our instruction, then the hope, the perseverance, and the encouragement we may obtain through the scriptures are given to us directly by God. It is God teaching us directly.
We may please God and glorify God by studying and being directly instructed by God via the ancient accounts written for us in the scriptures. Through that process, we are told that we will obtain hope. What a wonderful promise. Do you want more hope, more encouragement, and more perseverance? The answer is to learn by the examples written for us in scripture. Part of that encouragement is what we just read in Habakuk: "in wrath, remember mercy (which is compassion)."
If thatís a desirable trait for God to have and one we want to emulate, is there more we can learn of Godís mercy and compassion? Letís first take another look at mercy and grace.
As we saw earlier, one of the Hebrew words in the Old Testament translated "mercy" is racham. Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon further defines racham as: to love, to love deeply, to have mercy, to be compassionate, to have tender affection, to have compassion.
Another Hebrew word translated as "mercy" is Strong's #2603 chanan and is defined by Strong's Hebrew Dictionary as: to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow; or to implore (that is, to move to favor by petition). It is defined by the New American Standard Dictionary as: to show favor or to be gracious.
Another Hebrew word sometimes translated "mercy" but more often "lovingkindness" is Strong's #2617: chesed, which is defined as goodness or kindness.
What do you see as a common denominator between the definitions of all these words? It is the concept of compassion and kindness. What further link can we find between the Hebrew definitions of mercy used in the Old Testament and the Greek definitions used in the New Testament?
Letís examine an Old Testament direct quotation used in the New Testament. In Exodus 33:19, we find the original Hebrew quotation used later by Paul in the book of Romans. This time, weíll read from the King James Version.
Look at the two key words used by God. Gracious is translated from the Hebrew word, chanan, "to show favor." The Hebrew word for mercy is, once again, racham, "to be compassionate."
Now, letís look at how the same word is quoted by Paul in Greek in the New Testament in Romans 9:15.
We see the very words of God in Exodus stated as "gracious to whom I will be gracious andÖ mercy to whom I will show mercy" are quoted by Paul as "mercy on whom I will have mercy and Ö compassion on whom I will have compassion." So, the equivalent for graciousness is mercy and the equivalent for mercy is compassion. Weíve already examined Mercy and Grace in a previous sermon but letís examine compassion and its companion, kindness.
Compassion and Kindness
Websterís Dictionary defines compassion as, "sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; it is deep sympathy or pity." We can see by that definition that compassion is both an inward feeling and an outward expression toward others. What does God have to say about compassion?
David tells us a lot about the traits of God in the Psalms We already know that God is full of mercy and grace but what does David say about Godís capacity for compassion? Psalms 86:15 recounts many of Godís traits. Notice what is at the head of the list.
Notice, not only is compassion at the head of the list, David doesnít say God just has a little bit of it. He says God is full of compassion. Again in Psalms 111.4, David links grace and compassion.
David also shows in Psalm 25:6 that compassion is not something new for God. He didnít just stumble upon it last month. God is well experienced with compassion.
Focus on the end of verse six. God has possessed compassion and lovingkindness from of old. When was that? Well, it wasnít just during the time of your parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents. The Hebrew word translated old is one weíve talked about a lot in previous sermons. Itís olam. Olam is Strongís number 5769 and it means concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; time out of mind (past or future), eternity; always. So, God has possessed compassion and lovingkindness since eternity. They are a very part of God.
Psalm 78 recounts the numerous instances of Israelís rebellion and betrayal of God in the wilderness even though it was God who sustained them.
Look at verse 38 again. It was in forgiving their iniquity and not destroying them that God displayed his real compassion to Israel. So, as weíve seen in previous sermons on Righteousness by Faith and Righteousness by Works, it was by actions (by his works) that God displayed his compassion for his people.
In the last days of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, it was through the action of sending messengers of warning that God displayed compassion both for his people and for his special place.
At the same time as he displayed compassion by warning his people, so God promised to display more compassion by returning his scattered people to their homeland.
In Isaiah 54, God shows that his gathering of Israel will be another outward sign of his compassion.
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah again told of Godís great compassion.
Just think of that for a moment. God is rock-solid and reliable. One of those reliable traits on which we can count is compassion. Jeremiah said, "his compassions never fail. They are new every morning." If God were to grow weary of compassion (which he doesnít), we can still count on the fact that God has new compassions every morning. What a promise! God is a reliable fountain of compassions, renewed every morning.
We have sung page 109 from our Hymnal many times. It is O Lord, Thou Art My God And King. It expounds the many marvelous traits of God Most High that show he is both our God and our King. The text is from Psalms 145. Letís take a closer look at the words of Psalms 145. Verses five and six speak of Godís great majesty and grandeur as our regal king. Verse 13 speaks of the everlasting nature of his kingdom and his dominion or rule. Verses seven through ten, however, speak of his finer points as our God. This time weíll read from the King James Version.
Look again at verse eight: "The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy." The Hebrew word used here for grace is the same as one of the words we earlier discussed for mercy. It is channuwn, derived from chanan, Strongís number 2603, "to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, to implore." David goes on to say that God is full of compassion and itís shown by Godís slowness to anger and his great mercy. Once again, whatís translated mercy, isnít what it seems. The Hebrew word is Strongís number 2617, chesed, and it means goodness and kindness. So, God is full of compassion shown in his slowness to anger and his great kindness.
Well, thatís quite a different angle. So, compassion and kindness are often linked. What do you know about kindness? Websterís Dictionary defines kindness as the state of being kind but goes on to define kind as: 1) affectionate: loving; 2) of a sympathetic nature: friendly; of a forbearing nature: gentleÖ 3) of a pleasant nature: agreeable.
Think of those definitions for a moment. Thatís exactly what God demonstrated to Israel throughout their history: loving gentleness and agreeable friendliness. Remember how weíve read many times that Abraham was the friend of God? Well, that also means God was the friend of Abraham. God showed himself with gentle friendliness, compassion and kindness to Abraham.
2 Kings 13:23 shows that Godís compassion toward the northern kingdom of Israel was still strong and active even in the days after Elisha. Notice, however, that the compassion God continued to show Israel had its origins in the covenant he established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob many centuries before.
Much later after the return of some of the Jews from exile in Babylon, Nehemiah also knew of Godís great kindness to his people Israel throughout their history. In Nehemiah 9:15, he recounted how God endured Israelís rebellion throughout all their wanderings in the wilderness.
Not only is kindness expressed by God through his endurance of Israelís hardness, it is bound together with Godís love and patience. In fact, the same passage is even translated that way in the New American Standard Version where it says, "Thou art a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness;" Itís the same Hebrew word, chesed.
We well know the bedrock of Godís relationship with the patriarchs was the law of God. Weíve read many times in Genesis 25:5 how Abraham "obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." We know that Abraham taught his household, his son, and his grandsons to live by Godís commandments. We can even see that, when Godís laws were reiterated to all Israel at Mount Sinai in Deuteronomy 5:8, compassion was even embedded in the second commandment.
The New Revised Standard Version renders verse ten as, "but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments." The Literal Version of the Bible by Jay P. Green, Sr, renders verse ten as, "and doing kindness to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments."
Notice, however, that Godís abundant compassion was not just promised to all. It was conditional. While God is well pleased to show compassion to "thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments", it is not to be given to those who hate God. How is that hatred of God displayed? It is by deeds or actions. Those who do not "love Me and keep my commandments" are daily displaying their hatred of God by their actions.
Are such demands, however, describing a different God than the one portrayed in the New Testament? Letís check to see.
Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word most often translated as "kindness" is chraystotays. It is Strongís number 5544, chraystotays, and itís defined in the New American Standard Dictionary as goodness, excellence, uprightness. Once again, we see goodness and kindness linked together as we saw earlier in the Hebrew word, chesed. In Titus 3:4, we can see the kindness of God linked with his love and extended to us.
Our very salvation was extended to us through the kindness of God and according to his mercy; but just what is his mercy? The Greek word translated mercy in verse five is Strongís number 1656, eleos, and it means mercy, pity, compassion. Well, there we see it again: mercy linked with compassion linked in verse four with kindness and goodness.
So, clearly the God possessing these interconnect traits in the New Testament is the same God possessing the same traits in the Old Testament. There is not one loving, compassionate, kind, and forgiving God in the New Testament and a different, harsh, hateful, unforgiving God in the Old Testament. Weíve seen that God has had these traits as a very part of his nature for eternity and he can be relied upon to carry forward the same into the distant reaches of eternity to come; but what about us?
If God is so great as being the very source of compassion and kindness, where do we stand in comparison? Can we ever hope to achieve any of his goodness? Well, not only can we hope for them, we are commanded to strive for them. Colossians 3 tells us to do away with our former evil manner of life, adopt a new manner of life, and strive continually for the traits of God.
In the book of Jude, we are commanded the same.
Notice this time, however, something out of the ordinary about compassion: it makes a difference. The Greek word for "difference" is Strongís number 1252, diakrino, and it means to separate thoroughly, that is, to distinguish or to judge. We well know from previous sermons on Godly Judgment that proper, godly judgment is the process of making decisions based on Godís righteous standards. So, we see here in Jude that our very act of dispensing compassion toward others makes a difference or makes a distinction and can assist others in making proper, godly judgments. What power to influence others by our very behavior!
Paul kept the same theme in Philippians 2:1.
How, though, can we put compassion and kindness into practice in our daily lives? Are there scriptural examples? Yes, we all know the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. After being ignored and avoided by the priest and the Levite, the beaten and injured man destitute by the side of the road was cared for by the Samaritan. Beyond the traits the previous supposedly "holy" men possessed, notice in verse 33 the character the Samaritan displayed and how he put that character into action through his deeds.
Ah, this one is different. The Samaritan didnít just have chraystotays or even eleos. He had splagchnizomai. Whatís so special about splagchnizomai? Itís not just ordinary compassion or mercy. It goes beyond the ordinary. Itís Strongís number 4697, splagchnizomai. The New American Standard Dictionary defines it as: to be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion. Strongís Dictionary terms it as: to have the bowels yearn. So, the Samaritan had deep feelings and yearning. He didnít just pass by the injured stranger at the side of the road as others had done. When he did notice the stranger, he didnít just offer him a "Band-Aid" for his injuries. He was moved with yearnings of compassion toward the injured stranger and he acted on those yearnings. He "bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." The Samaritan not only took care of his immediate needs at the side of the road, he went beyond to make sure he was attended until the stranger fully recuperated. The Samaritan put his yearnings into actions and deeds.
So must we. We often discuss among ourselves the difficulty of putting into practice the unprofitable servant scripture found in Luke 17.10. It is certainly hard enough merely to do the things which God commands us to do but to go beyond is very difficult.
Christ shows us that we are not only to do the things which are our duty to do. We are to go beyond our mere duty. Well, here is a perfect example in the Good Samaritan. He yearned with compassion toward a mere stranger. He didnít just help him by the side of the road. He went beyond mere duty. He saw to it that the stranger was fully attended and that he was cared for until he recovered. He even went out of his way to take on himself the obligation of payment for that attending.
Just roll that around in your mind for a while. Think of the implications of how you can put the example of the Good Samaritanís behavior into practice in your life. Think of instances where you can go above and beyond mere duty to show compassion and kindness by having the attitude of a servant in your daily life. Put your compassion into action through outward deeds of kindness and concern toward others. Ask God to give you more compassion so you can be of more service to others.
The Apostle John hones in on our need to show compassion and kindness. We can add to or subtract from our standing with God by either our actions or our inactions.
Thatís a key observation. We all have the capacity for kindness and compassion but the real test is what we will do with that capacity when the opportunity arises.
Always remember the admonition given us in 1 Pet 3:8.
Lastly, donít forget Godís direct command given to the exiles in Babylon by the prophet Zechariah in Zech 7:9.
So, go forth and put compassion and kindness into practice in every area of your life.
Sermon given by Philip Edwards
June 30, 2007
Copyright 2007, Philip Edwards