One of the most amazing verses in the whole Bible is 2 Corinthians 8:2! Paul, writing to the Christians living in southern Greece, discusses the offering being collected by the Christians in northern Greece for those suffering terrible hardship in Jerusalem. “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
Oh, my, that is so radical! Extreme poverty giving generously? Those early Christians are an amazing example to all believers, including you and me, of the dynamic difference that God’s grace can make in the mindset of His people when it comes to provision. Gratefully receiving and generously giving comes from the overflowing joy of knowing Jesus Christ and what He’s doing in our lives. Whether you are the receiver or the giver, how you do both should be different than what the world does. Genuine compassion is a reflection of that overflowing joy. And the key principle is this: God’s riches to us are supplied through us to meet another’s needs.
Here are some things we need to know about compassion:
1. Compassion is not feeling; it’s doing
It’s not just feeling empathy for someone who is hurting; it’s doing something to ease her pain. Whether it’s for this week or longer compassion remembers that most times of need last longer than a day. God’s plan for the needy in Israel was that perfectly good food was purposely left in the fields for the poor to have. It was proactive, thinking ahead. Compassion requires considering the needy as you go about your business.
2. Compassion requires trusting God, not having plenty
This is totally opposite of the world’s thinking, isn’t it? There is a fine line between good stewardship of the provisions God’s given today (staying within a budget) and not trusting God enough to be able to share it (can lead to stinginess). Those Macedonian believers were begging to give more to the needs of others not because it was expected but because they were aligned with the purposes of God — growing the Church of God.
To R. G. LeTourneau, the man who created the first massive “caterpillar” earth-moving machines, God owned everything he had. He often recited this poem: “It is not what you'd do with a million, if riches should e'er be your lot. But what you are doing at present with the dollar and a quarter you've got." Isn’t that true?
I’ve dreamed of winning a lottery so I can give to God’s kingdom purposes. Or, I’ve said, “God if you make us rich somehow, I’ll show how to use it for kingdom purposes. Well, after we fix up the house, pay off all our debts, and get new cars. After that, what’s left is yours!” If I don’t consider what He’s already given me to be for kingdom purposes, it’s not going to happen with more, is it?!
3. Compassion gives off the top, not leftovers
The usual procedure for helping the needy is to have your garage sale then call Goodwill to pick up the leftovers. Sounds like you’re doing a good work, doesn’t it? But, not in God’s economy. That’s worldly thinking. That’s not overflowing joy welling up in rich generosity.
Our family has had times of plenty and times of need off and on over the years. On several occasions, we received bags of groceries. Most of it was terrific, usable stuff. But, there was one bag. A box mix full of weevils. Rusted cans. Someone had just disposed of food that had been sitting on her shelf for years. We’ve also gratefully received bags of clothes. I remember one bag of very nice things, some with tags still on them; we were able to use most of that gift. But, someone else’s “gift” was garage sale leftovers, things no one else wanted. Torn, stained, zippers broken. That increases the pain of someone needy. It’s not compassion.
I hurt for the givers of the junk. “Lord, have they never known Your Goodness? How could they if that’s what welled out of their hearts.” I am not trying to be critical. We deserved nothing.
So, give good stuff. Before having a garage sale. Unless you are desperate for the money yourself. If possible, give your proceeds to the needy family. Throw out the stained and worn things from your donations. When you clean out your closets or change furniture, think about giving it to someone who can't go shopping for those things. Give the best you have to give. Make it easy for her to use it.
4. Compassion is personal
It’s easy to write a check and send to some organization. That’s a good thing to do. It’s harder to deliberately and delightfully meet the specific needs of a person with a name and a face you know. We in America think that the government helps the needy. Or, church benevolence will take care of it. Yet, we lose the personal touch and blessing that comes from that overflowing joy welling up in rich generosity to a specific person. Compassion is personal.
About 15 years ago, in the midst of a lean time, a van drove into my driveway the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I kept wondering how I would buy the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner for my family of 5. God had called upon one His ravens (see 1 Kings 17:6). When she shopped that day, she had 2 baskets—one for her family, one for the Newton family. Everything she bought for her family for Thanksgiving, she bought for us, including all the staples to make everything we’d need. I was floored. I’ll never forget that. It was so personal!
5. Compassion is proactive about living without so you can give more
Those Macedonian Christians were willing to live on less so the Church would strengthen and grow. Here’s the challenge to all of us, including me. Ready? Like those Macedonian Christians, let’s ask God to help us determine something we can live without for a period of time. Your choice. No one’s looking. Take the money we would have spent on that and look for ways to give it.
God’s provision is meant to be shared. Give it compassionately.
This blog post came out of my study of the Widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 and the Prophet's Widow in 2 Kings 4. Those two women both learned God's compassionate provision for them but in different ways.