Thursday, May 10, 2007

Compassion for Sinners

Today as I read Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew I was reminded of pondering I wrote just over a year ago. Here are a few thoughts about being compassionate to “sinners”.

One of the things I find interesting about Jesus is that he didn’t get angry with people who struggled with sin. In the Gospels we see that Jesus became angry with the "religious leaders." Obviously He was opposite with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes because they burden people with law but did little to help them all the while opposing Jesus. Jesus also became angry with the Twelve when they prevented people from Him because they wanted to protect Jesus from the crowds. Rather than getting angry with people struggling with sin Jesus showed compassion and offered them an invitation to follow Him.

An example of this is the Samaritan women Jesus met at the well near the village of Sychar. You can read about this encounter in John 4. Jesus has stopped to rest near this village next to the well and the disciples have gone into town to buy food. While resting at the well a woman comes to draw water. Of course this is unusual because the women came to the well to draw water in the morning and evening, not midday as it was. The well was also the gossip place; it was where the women gathered to talk about everything that was going on. It can be assumed that since the woman came alone at midday that she was not accepted by the other people of the village.

Jesus strikes up a conversation with the woman, which would have been an unheard of event in that culture, and they talk about water. In the course of the conversation Jesus reveals that He knows the woman has been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. No condemnation comes from Jesus’ lips, just the invitation to drink the water He is offering.

The way Jesus related to people struggling with sin has gotten me to think about how we should relate to them. One school of thought is that we need to convict these people of their sin, so we need to open up God’s Law and show them that they are liars, cheaters, thieves, and adulterers. They need to understand their sin before they can repent of it.

I suppose that is one way to handle the situation, but it doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ way. Could it be that people who are entangled with sin understand fully that things are not the way they should be? I would suggest that a person struggling with sin is already experiencing the consequences of sin. He or she doesn’t need to be told that things need to be changed or what they are doing is wrong, their lives are evidence of that fact. What they need to hear is that there is hope and that there are people willing to help them change no matter who they are or what they have done.

Sure there is a place for telling the world of God’s law, but more often then not what people need is mercy and compassion. People struggling with sin don’t need lectures on sin or be told that they are sinners, but they need to know that there is hope for their lives and that things can be different. They need to know that they are loved regardless of the circumstances in their lives.
21 Live in such a way that God's love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. 22 Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren't contaminated by their sins.~ Jude 1:21-23; NLT

Perhaps we need to quit being so vocal about the sins of the world and being more compassionate about their circumstances. When we help people rather than judge them we better communicate God’s love. That is what people really need.

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