David Jeremiah - Stay Compassionate
A woman was flying from Seattle to San Francisco when unexpectedly the plane was diverted to Sacramento along the way. And the flight attendant explained that they would be a delay and if the passengers wanted to get of the aircraft, the plane would reboard in 50 minutes. Everybody got off the plane except one lady who was blind. And the man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell the lady was blind because her seeing eye dog lay quietly under the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight. He could also tell she had flown this very flight many times because the pilot approached her and calling him by name he said, "Kathy, we're going to have to stop in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs"? And the blind lady replied, "No thanks, but I think Buddy would like to stretch his legs".
So picture this, all the people in the gate area come to a complete standstill when they look up and see the pilot walk off the plane with a seeing-eye dog. And he even is wearing sunglasses. And people scattered everywhere. They not only tried to change their flights, they tried to change their whole airline. They didn't want to fly on their airline. So when you do an act of compassion to somebody, it could get you in trouble, too. I just want to warn you ahead of time. Sometimes, interesting things happen when you try to be compassionate towards others.
As I listen and talk to people during this time that we're all experiencing, I sense among some of our people, a growing spirit of cynicism and despair. I hear people facetiously talking about locking every door, pulling up the bridge that crosses the moat and hunkering down for a long difficult season. Make sure you have enough for you and yours and just let everyone else fend for themselves. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? But surely that cannot be the way God would have us to respond to these days. Our lesson comes from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian believers. And verses 11 through 13 in the third chapter, here's what we read, "Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints".
Now, folks remember we're taking our cues in this series from verses of Scripture that tell us Jesus is coming back, and in the same text, tell us what to do while we're waiting for this to happen. So often, people who believe in prophecy just get so focused on the future they forget that the prophetic Word is given to us to help us know how to function today. And many of the passages of the New Testament that tell us the Lord is coming back, also tell us what we should do as we're waiting. Now, if you look down in your Bibles, you'll notice that at the end of verse 13 it talks about the time when, "Our God and Father and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints". That's a reference to the time in the future at the end of the tribulation when God comes back in Christ and all of the saints come within, and he gets victory over the world at the battle of Armageddon. He's coming back.
Now, here's what Paul says to the believers in Thessalonica. In light of the fact that he's coming back, here's what I need you to know. Now, to set the stage for Paul's words, let me take you back into the context of the letter, and when it was written and why. It is evident as you read the book of Thessalonians that one of the things that was really on Paul's heart was, he wanted to go and visit these people. He knew they were facing some difficulty and he personally wanted to go visit them. That was his desire. In fact he says that in the first verse of our text, "Now may our God and Father himself, and the Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you". Paul's saying, "I wish I could come and see you". But we discover that one of the reasons he couldn't go and see them was that he was hindered by the enemy.
Notice, verse 18 of chapter 2. Just look back across the page, "Therefore we wanted to come to you, even I, Paul, time and again, but Satan hindered us". How many of you have ever tried to do anything for God and Satan hinders you. I mean Satan doesn't bother the people that are on his team, so if you're getting handed, that's sort of backdoor compliment, isn't it? But Satan loves to hinder those who are trying to serve the Lord. And even the great Apostle Paul found himself hindered by Satan in his desire to go and see the Thessalonian believers. But you know, as you read the rest of this epistle and all the other things that Paul wrote, you never hear him mention this again. When he couldn't do what he wanted to do, he just gave it up to the Lord and let the Lord figure it out and take over.
And here's what I've discovered, listen to me, if Paul had been able to go to Thessalonica and minister to those people in person, we wouldn't have these letters that he wrote. And Almighty God used Paul's disappointment to provide for us two beautiful letters that tell us about the return of Christ which is what he was going to tell them, and tell us what to do while we're waiting, which again was going to be his message had he been allowed to go and visit them in person. So how many of you know that God's always at work even in our disappointments? He's got it all under control. He's working it out, and it's usually for the betterment of all of us. We just have to leave it to him. And that's what Paul did. He just left it alone and let God do what he did, and then he wrote these letters and we're so blessed to have them.
Now, the reason that Paul wanted to go to Thessalonica was because the people there were going through some difficult times. They were being persecuted for their faith. They were under incredible pressure. Paul knew they needed a word of encouragement and he wanted to go and bring that word to them personally. They were experiencing a time in their culture not too different from the time that we face today. They were under difficult times. And here's what you discover as you begin to study their culture and ours as well, that oftentimes persecuted people become self-centered and demanding. We begin to think about ourselves. If things aren't going our way, we have little pity parties, don't we? "Oh, poor me". Of course, what life does to us depends upon what life finds in us. We can't let any of the circumstances do something to us that's not already there.
I remember when I first came here years ago, guy by the name of Henry Brandt was here. And I only heard him speak four or five times before he went on to something else, but I'll never forget one lesson he taught and that is this: that nobody can make you what you are not. Don't go around telling somebody, "Oh, he makes me angry". "No, no, no", Dr. Brandt would say, "you're already angry. They just bring it out of you". Isn't that true? Nobody can make you what you're not and that's what's going on here. These people can be the right kind of people if they have the right things in them, but Paul's senses they don't, and he wants to encourage them. As he writes to these people, he sends them a prayer. This passage we just read is really a prayer. He says, "May God himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord," and he's praying for these folks.
Now, let me ask this question. If you were Paul, and you knew the stress under which the Thessalonians were living, what kind of prayer would you pray? I'm surprised that we don't read that he prays that they might be protected in the midst of their pressure, or maybe he should pray that God would give them great courage to stand up under the pressure, or maybe I would pray, "Lord God, get them out from that pressure. Put them somewhere. Rescue them Lord". But Paul doesn't pray any of those things. Paul says, "Lord, in the midst of all of this, what I want you to do is teach these people how to be more loving and compassionate toward one another". He prays that they might develop greater hearts of compassion.
How many of you are aware of the fact that sometimes God puts us under pressure to tenderize our hearts and make us aware of the needs that other people have? And if we allow him to do it, we come out of it not bitter but better. Paul's praying for his friends in Thessalonica that they might develop greater hearts of compassion. Now notice, first of all, the essence of compassion. He says, "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love". As the world grows colder and colder, and we're tempted to get harder and harder, the world needs more and more of what we alone can provide as follows of Christ. And while we may not feel hearts of compassion ourselves, Almighty God is a compassionate God.
Psalm 116, verse 5 says, "Our God is full of compassion". And Lamentations chapter 3 tells us, "that his compassions never fail, that they are anew every morning". We have a God who is full of compassion. His compassions never fail, and they show up new every day. The sun rises every morning on all the manner of mercy that we ever need to make it and all the manner we will ever need to help someone else make it. We have a compassionate God. And notice the prayer, "May God make you abound in love toward one another".
How many of you know that sometimes God's the only one who can make you do that? If you're under pressure, if things are going bad, maybe you're being mistreated, mishandled, misrepresented, and you're supposed to have hearts of compassion, only God can do that. And that's what Paul is praying for. He's praying for these people to develop a kind of love that is not driven by the circumstances under which they find themselves. Now, the love he's talking about is a unique kind of love that only the New Testament knows about. It's a word we often hear in today's culture. It's agape love. Agape is a Greek word and it's a word for a kind of love that is known only to God. Agape love, the best I can illustrate it is a kind of love that loves for the sake of love itself and expects nothing in return. It is totally, absolutely, completely selfless love. It's the love that God showed to us.
And we read about it in the most famous verse of the Bible. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". And this kind of love is not available to be discovered unless it is discovered as an action. For instance, in 1 John 4:9, we read these words, "In this the love of God was manifested that He sent His only begotten Son into the world". How was God's love demonstrated? By what he did. Listen to me, friends, listen carefully, agape love and compassion, these are not nouns. These are verbs. These are not describing something. They are action words. Love is an action that we take on the part of others, and compassion is an action that we take out of our own love for God and reach out to others with it.
So Paul is praying for these people that they would develop this greater love in their hearts. Not a love of complacency. This is the love of divine choice. Love that comes from the very heart of God himself. And God's love is not some vaporous feeling that ebbs, and flows based on what's going on around us. God's love is the divine attribute that is as strong as steel, as solid as granite and as deliberate as a marching army. God's love is the love that we have experienced by coming to Christ in faith. And this love is most illustrated in the person of Jesus Christ.
Now, watch carefully, this law flows from God through Christ when we accept Christ, and the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. That love now is in our heart. It may be undeveloped, it may be unmotivated, but we have it. We have God's love flowing through Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in each of our hearts. That love is there. And Paul knows it's in the hearts of these Thessalonian believers and he wants to motivate them to let that love become central to their existence in this time. The natural man does not respond that way.
Have you been listening to the griping that's going on these days? Everybody's complaining. And you know what we're doing? We're finding fault. We love to tell everybody whose fault it is that we're in this mess. And everybody's got their own idea of what's going on, and what's happening, and why it's this, and why it's that and how awful it is. It's greed, it's the Democrats, it's the Republicans. It's whoever, and that none of that conversation makes any difference does it? Interesting, when Paul wrote to the people in Thessalonica, he didn't write out a bunch of unloving people. They already knew how to love. They were loving.
Many of us today, we're sitting here listening to this, saying, "What am I supposed to take away from this, pastor? I have a heart of love". And so did the people in Thessalonica. In fact, back in the first chapter it talks about their labor of love. And over in chapter 4, verse 9, we read, "But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren and in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more". Paul is saying to these brethren, you already have some love, got love in your heart. God's put his love in your heart, and you express it some. But here's his mantra during this whole passage, you need to exercise and increase in your love for others.
The essence of love, the essence of compassion, is a deep-seated concern and care for people who need a touch from God. And everywhere you look today, folks, there are people like that. In the midst of this crisis, we can turn our attention on ourselves or we can look out at a needy world and say, "Lord God, you put me right in the midst of this for such a time as this. Show me how to respond so that I can be your outstretched arms to the people who need some compassion today".
In the midst of the difficult times, we are God's hands and his arms to reach out to this world and wrap them up in the love that they so desperately need. And the words that he uses in this text are interesting. He says, "I want you increase and abound in love". These are almost synonyms but when they put them together, it's simply a very strong thing that says great love in a time of great need. Now that is the expression of compassion, "To one another and to all". Paul says, "I don't want you just to love each other. That's important, but I want you to love everybody". Loving one another was well understood by the believers of that day as it is by our day, as to be a requirement for those who follow Christ.
1 John 4:21 says, "This is a commandment that we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also". We're supposed to love one another. Everybody knows that. That's not news. We're supposed to do that. Not only are we supposed to do it, the Bible says that by doing it, we tell everybody that we're Christians. Did you know that people don't know that we're Christians by what we say? Not because we come to church, not because we carry a big Bible under our arm, not because we have mastered Christianese and we can speak in all that language, you know. People know that we are Christians because we have love for one another.
That's what John 13:35 says, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples because you have love one for another". When people are looking out at the culture and they want to find out who's a Christian, the Bible says they have the right to examine us on the basis of our compassion for each other in the body of Christ. Isn't that interesting? We walk around posturing all the time, don't we? We want everybody to know what Christians we are. Well, most of the time our Christianity is shown on our knees serving somebody, washing feet, helping them with the problems nobody else will touch.
Now, Paul would've been okay with the Thessalonians and probably with a lot of us if he had just stopped at the end of love one another. But he adds a little phrase there that really haunts you when you read it. It says, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all". And for the Thessalonians, "the all" included all those people that were treating them cruelly, all the people in Thessalonica that were making their life miserable. Paul says, "You have to love those folks. You have to abound and increase in love toward them". We have to love the people that we don't like. We have to ask God to help us be filled with his love so that we can reach out. And here's the text, not only to those who are one of us in Christ but to all. To those people where you work who criticize you and make fun of you because of your faith. You need to love them. That's what the Bible says.
C.S. Lewis helps us with this in one of his writings. He says, "That an unbeliever makes his choice. He chooses to be kind to somebody because he wants to be kind to them. But he says a believer has a different secret. A believer understands that the rule is simple, do not waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor just act as if you did. As soon as we do this," he said, "you find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love somebody, you will presently come to love him. And the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is this: the worldly man treats certain people kindly because he likes them. But the Christian trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on, including people he could not have even imagined himself liking at the beginning".
So he said, Christians should have a lot more friends because they treat everybody kindly, and when you start treating everybody kindly, sooner or later, some of them begin to think maybe you're okay, and you develop friendships. That's the difference. The kind of compassion that I'm talking about, friends, does not come naturally. And that's why Paul prays as he does, "Lord God, you make them like this". How many of you know that what we are today is not what we want to be often. It's what God has made us to be. God makes us to be the kind of people that we should be. Sometimes, he does it through a normal process. Sometimes, he puts you in times of suffering so you can begin to experience the kind of suffering God wants you to care about. The Bible says, "that we comfort others with the same comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted when go through tough times".
So God wants to make us all compassionate. Now, we have the essence of it, love one another and increase and abound in love. We have the expression of it, love one another and all. Now, let's notice just briefly the example of it. Paul says something here in this next part of this text that is truly amazing. "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all," now watch this little phrase, "just as we do to you". Paul says, "You want to know how to do this, let me show you how to do it". The way you need to love other people is the way we have loved you. You kind of get the impression that when Paul went to Thessalonica, he wasn't exactly immediately accepted, but he went there, and he loved these people.
And if you take your Bibles now and go back to the first chapter, let me just show you a few things Paul did to express his love to them. In chapter 1 and verse 2, he says, "We give thanks to God always for you". He thanked God for the people in Thessalonica. Notice the next phrase, "And we pray for you in our prayers". You know somebody loves you when they thank God for you and when you pray for you. And he says in chapter 2, verse 2, he says, "But after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much"... What's the next thing he did? He preached the gospel to them.
Did you know, some people don't want the gospel preached to them, did he do that? Paul preached the gospel to them whether they wanted it or not. He thanked God for them, he prayed for them, he preached the gospel to them. We're told he suffered for them. "Your followers as of the Lord having received the Word in much affliction," he says. In verse 7:8 of chapter 2, we're told he was gentle, and kind and compassionate toward them like a nursing mother would cherish her own children. In verse 9, we're told that he sacrificed for them. And that verse says, "For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached the gospel of God".
Do you know what that means? That means Paul was the first vocational preacher. He wouldn't allow the believers in Thessalonica to pay him for his service, so he worked an extra job. He was a tent maker. And he said, "You want to know how it is to show compassion to other folks? Let me tell you, just do like we have done. Pray for them. Thank God for them. Minister to them. Be willing to sacrifice for them. Show them mercy just like we've done, you do".
Folks, I wish I was confident to stand in this pulpit and say, "You want to know how to live the Christian life? Watch me". I'm not going to say that. I'm not Paul. And I have a lot of flaws; I'd be afraid you'd see the flaw and miss all the rest. Somebody somewhere is watching you and saying, "I wonder what Christianity is all about"? And here's what the Bible says, "The way they will find out is by your love for one another and for them". I had a woman ask me this week, "How do I minister to somebody who won't even let me talk about Jesus? I want that person to go to heaven and they're not going to go to heaven. How do I witness to them"? All I could say to her was, "You have to be Jesus to 'em". "But what do you mean"? "You have to love them. Love them when they reject your love. Love them when they cuss you are because of what you do. You don't have to say anything 'cause they're not going to hear words. But they cannot deny your actions. Love them as Jesus would love them".
So the essence of compassion is that the Lord would cause you to increase and abound in love, and the expression of it is to one another and to all. And the example of it is as Paul loved them. And now notice the effect of it, and I just need to say a word about this Verse 13 says, "So that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness". Here's a purpose clause. What is the purpose of doing this? This is so profound. I don't want you to miss this, and I'm not going to say it as well as it should be said, but listen up. The way to become like Christ is to do what Christ did. The way to become holy is not to stand around reciting verses, or learn how to pray in a sepulchral voice. The way to become holy is to do what Christ did. And Christ was the epitome of compassion. And if we want to grow in Christ likeness, we will do what Christ did.
And that's what the passage says, when you love one another and all, and you do what Paul did, the Bible says the results of that will be that you will be established in the holiness. Your life will become more and more like Christ. When you do Christlike things, you become more like Christ. You say, "Well, I don't know if my motive's right". Well, just do it anyway. The Lord will help you with your motive. Just do it. Do it out of obedience and watch what God begins to do in your life.
So we've talk about the essence of compassion, and the expression of it, and the example of it, and the effect of it. Now comes the good part, the exercise of compassion. Did you know that when you show compassion to other people, you are not only living an obedient life, and you're not only learning how to live confidently in a chaotic world, but there is therapy in kindness. And you know what, it's interesting to me, sooner or later, if you just wait long enough, somebody in the secular world will find out that some truth from the Word of God that we've known about for years is true. They do research on it and they discover that, but we've already known is true and they can't deny it.
Some guy by the name of Alan Luks, wrote a book called, "The Healing Power of Doing Good". And in this book, he tells about a study he did with 3000 volunteers of all ages throughout the country. Using a questionnaire, he asked him some questions. And when he got these questions back and computerized them, he saw a clear cause and effect relationship between helping and good health. In a nutshell, he concluded, helping contributes to the maintenance of good health and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders that are both serious and minor, psychological and physical. Helping others get your attention off of yourself and causes you to begin to open up and be the person God wants it to be. Now, I want to tell you something, I thought a lot about this this week. You'll know this to be true. But I want to help you practice it just if it's just for one week, okay?
Now, let me tell you about a little act of kindness I did some years ago. And some of you have heard the story, but it's my favorite act of kindness story. I was going to McDonald's on a given day and thinking about something else, and apparently when I pulled into McDonald's, I cut a lady off who was trying to pull in, coming the other way. And to say that she was angry is the understatement of the world. And I rather assumed, at least I hoped she wasn't a member of Shadow Mountain because the language that came out of her mouth, I mean it was blue and it penetrated the car.
And I got in line to get my order and she pulled in behind me and I looked in the mirror and she was still jabbering. She was cussing, she was just, you know, the veins popped out on her neck. And I felt bad. I didn't know that I had done anything, but I assumed I had done something. So when I got up to the window, I said to the guy, "Hey, you know the car that's behind me, do you know how much their bill is"? He said, "Oh yeah. It's right here". I said, "I want to pay for it". He says, "What"? "Yeah, I want to pay for their food". He says, "Are they fam"? I said, "I never saw them before in my life. I just want to pay for their food".
So I pay for the food, and then I kind of pulled out slowly, and pulled up there and sat there and watched. It was so interesting how it confounded this woman. She did not know what to do. And I never did hear from her. I don't if she... she might be in church this morning. You never know. But you know what happened when I did that? It obviously took the edge off of her anger and it made me feel better. I was just glad.
Now, I told the guys this story and staff this weekend, as I said, "Let me just give you a little counsel, before you pull that one, make sure you look in the rearview mirror and discover whether there's 10 or 12 people in the car behind you, because this might be out of your budget, this little trick right here". But listen to me, what I want you to do this week is to think about what we said this morning, and whether it's to a Christian, or to somebody you don't know, or somebody you do know who's not a Christian, I want you to figure out some way to do something kind for them that they would never expect, that you don't have any reason to get anything back from it. Just do it. A random act of kindness.
And here's the verse for this week, 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear". If you're going through a fearful time, let me tell you how to deal with it, love somebody. Show that love to somebody. Express your love and it will give you a feeling of confidence like you never could believe and you will live to tell others what God did for you in a time when you learned how to be more compassionate to others.