Biblical Compassion

What is a Christ-follower’s responsibility regarding compassion? What does the Bible say about it?
Lately it seems that there are about a million good causes that a Christ-follower could get involved with. They offer an entire range of opportunities from the obvious soup kitchens and food drives and global poverty initiatives, to the more personally time-consuming tutoring or hospital & prison visitation, to the more obscure projects like christian animal rescue or outreach to sex-industry workers or helping scattered Jews return to Israel.

If you’re anything like me, it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do I start? There are so many worthy causes! For myself, personally, I thought the best place for me to start was to open up the Bible and review what was there. After all, if I am going to give my time, talents, and resources to compassion ministries I want to be sure that I am at least fulfilling my Biblical responsibilities. So I’ve been researching a little while.


What I Found
One of the first things I noticed was that God’s heart on the matter has not changed. You can find scriptural references to helping and caring for the disadvantaged in every section of the Bible – Law, Prophets, Poetry, Gospels and Letters – they all have something to say on the subject. This means God has consistently been trying to teach humanity to be givers and to have compassion for people since the beginning. There are no lame excuses allowable (ie: “well that part of the Bible only applies to the Jews”, etc.)

One thing is for certain – God is on the side of the poor. Big Time. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Proverbs 29:7. See also Isaiah 41:17.

Another thing I noticed was that it is clear that the early church, as described in Acts and Paul’s letters acted as sort of a social services agency – caring for those who had no one else to care for them. The church pooled their resources in order to care for the needs of not only the church members, but also others whom society had neglected.
[*see footnote]

So who are we talking about? Whom does the Bible say we are to care for?

The Poor. There are a TON of verses about caring for the poor. I like this verse in Luke 3 because I think it captures the proper, balanced spiritual perspective all in one verse. By that I mean that it is clear that our giving is to come from our surplus (we should take care of our immediate family needs first, and then give of our abundance.) “John [the Baptist] answered, ‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.'” Luke 3:11

Widows. The Bible is clear that we are to care for widows and the elderly who cannot take care of themselves. It says that the first responsibility is that an adult child should care for their own Father and Mother. (1 Timothy 5:4, 1 Timothy 5:8, Ephesians 6:2, Proverbs 23:22) If that responsibility is in neglect, then it is up to the Church to take on that responsibility. (James 1:27, 1 Timothy 5:3). In my opinion, we should also include single moms who struggle financially as widows. Certainly single moms who do not receive proper child support and help with the kids would qualify! If a man leaves his family and does not step up to his financial and parental responsibility then he may as well be dead.

Orphans. The Bible mentions orphans and the “fatherless” more times than I can count. The problem with this one is that society has changed. In Biblical times, if a child’s parents were killed and there were no grandparents or extended family to take them in, it was highly likely that the children would live on the street. There were no orphanges or foster homes then. So the church had a very real, specific need to fill there. In today’s society, the State cares for “true orphans”. So does that mean we are released from this obligation? I think we’d have a tough time just throwing these scriptures out the window. So what does a 21st century orphan look like and how would we care for them? That question leaves us with several possible answers:

  1. Children of single parents often have needs that go unmet, especially when family income may be at or below the poverty level. How could you help these kids?
  2. Maybe you could partner with an organization that cares for children of drug addicts, who are physically and emotionally unable to care for their children.
  3. Perhaps you could give money to support organizations that care for AIDS orphans in Africa.
  4. Perhaps God would lead you to be a foster family.
  5. Perhaps God would lead you to adopt from China, where girls are aborted by the millions. Or from Russia or other countries where life expectancy is very low.

The Sick and Disabled. Jesus says we should invite the lame, blind, etc. to feast with us. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan to show that tending to the sick and disabled should cross any kind of social barrier. And he says that anytime you help “one of these” it is the exact same as if you were doing it to him. This is a no-brainer. All Christ-followers should care for the sick and reach out to the disabled.

Prisoners. The Bible explicity says that believers should care about, remember, and visit those in prison. (Hebrews 13:3, Matthew 25:36, 2 Timothy 1:16-18)

The Opressed. Social Injustice offends God (numerous Biblical examples). Therefore, it ought to offend us. It should give us a holy discontent when people are abused, taken advantage of, ripped off, silenced, persecuted, tortured, or neglected. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8


I don’t know about you, but God is stirring me up about this stuff. I feel convicted for not doing anything significant about compassion initiatives. I feel that God is trying to teach me something about his character that I should do a better job modeling. I tend to just get caught up in my own life and my own cares and responsibilities and to just neglect my Biblical compassion responsibilities. What about you? Where are you with this stuff?


[* footnote: It is no secret that I am of the conservative political persuasion. Just check out some of the other articles on this blog site for confirmation of that. So people ask me all the time, “How can you be a strong conservative – believing in free market capitalism and no redistribution of wealth – yet also defend the obvious socialist model of the Acts church? How do you reconcile the two?” Well, the big difference is that we are talking about two completely different kinds of entities – Government and the Church. I believe in both – but I believe they shouln’t try to do each other’s jobs! Government should do what is best at – maintaining an army, establishing a currency, building roads and bridges, uhhhhhh remind me…what else do they do well??? <grin> But the CHURCH – well, that is an awesome socialist organization! (The difference being that participation is voluntary, not mandated by law). I have absolutely no problem with voluntarily pooling my resources into the church, who will then use that money to aid the poor, etc. My problem comes when my government takes money out of my pocket – by force – to give to my neighbor. Charity should be voluntary, otherwise it’s not charity – it’s a punishment for succeeding.]

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17 Comments on “Biblical Compassion”

  1. samburke Says:

    I loved this post. great job building a solid theology for compassion. one of my favorite passages when it comes to compassion is galatians 2:8-10. Paul is reminding all who read this letter what the foundation of the church to both the gentiles and jews was: grace. here are those verses in NIV: 8For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

  2. jermtech Says:

    Great word, Sam. We are to be a model of God’s grace to the world. God’s love and compassion extends to everyone – and so should ours.

  3. Eric H Says:

    Since my attention was called to the footnote and I haven’t had a chance to read the rest of the post yet, I will simply comment, for now, on the footnote.

    You definitely hit the nail on the head. It has come to my attention on several occasions that some of the teachings of Christ approach what can be referred to as consumer communism — that is, redistribution of consumption goods as an ethical imperative (as opposed to societal ownership of the means of production — socialism).

    However, I believe it is consistent with the spirit of the gospels to say that the act of giving is actually more important than the distribution, or the end result (sorry, no time for collecting evidence on this and no passages come to mind). All this is to reiterate exactly what jermtech has said, that it is important to make the distinction between what must be done by the individuals (including acting collectively through the church) and by the government. By the way, the sole difference between these institutions as collective entities revolves around the fact that the State is coercive, and the Church is voluntary — a distinction that has not always held true throughout history.

    When the government acts as an intermediary in matters of compassion, it creates expectations and encourages entitlement mentalities on the receiving side. But more importantly, it creates complacency and lack of responsibility on the giving side. Both groups get the idea that the government will just take care of whatever needs done; I pay taxes, so I do my part.

    The voluntarism is a crucial factor in the formula, and few capitalists (only the more misguided Objectivists / Randians) have ever argued that altruism and voluntary redistribution of goods is not valuable to the capitalist society. Thus, these views are entirely consistent. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they are exclusively complementary.

    Now, where I will take exception with jermtech’s statement…

    Government is good at war, I’ll give you that, but defense? That’s debatable. Currency? Please!! Read Rothbard. Roads? Okay, but can the market do it better? Maybe. I’ve heard good arguments in the affirmative. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing the government MIGHT do better than the market is providing a monopoly on violence — law enforcement — and maintaining a means of enforcing rights — courts. On those they do a relatively decent job, and I’d be willing to entertain that they MAY provide those services more efficiently than the market, assuming the society doesn’t have adequate informal institutions to handle the same things (for example, the Quakers of early Pennsylvania, who lived in a virtual state of anarchy for years).

    Sorry for the long comment; I got carried away as this was something I had meant to write up on my blog for a long while, but never did.

  4. Eric H Says:

    A better (also more extreme — typical of Walter Block) link on “road socialism”.

    [audio src="" /]

  5. Eric H Says:

    Okay, now for my comment on the main post. Well said. God is constantly challenging me on this front as well.

  6. jermtech Says:

    What is your guys’ take on the orphans? What is your cotemporary application of these commands? I think the AIDS orphans in Africa are obvious. That is a no brainer. We should be on that battlefront – either collectively or individually. But beyond that – what do you think?

  7. Eric H Says:

    That’s why I like efforts like this — — choose your battlefield!

    Of course, money is relatively easy (and I don’t even do that as well as I should). Getting personally involved – now that is challenging! And that’s where a lot of your list hits home. Francis Chan got it right I think when he talked about people who say they don’t feel called to serve in certain ways and if they acted it would only be out of obedience (full disclosure: this includes me). His response…”So?”

  8. jermtech Says:

    I’ve been marinating some more on the “oppression” aspect. That could take in a whole range of things. The Domestic Violence shelter here in town would be a great cause. The oppression caused by political corruption and poverty in Haiti and Africa come to mind. Sexual slavery (human trafficking) should also be at the top of the list of injustices. How about the treatment of women in the Middle East? That’s oppression.

  9. Rebecca Says:

    As a progressive Christian, I agree! And I think it’s always encouraging to remind ourselves, over and over, that this is common ground that we share, regardless of what *kind* of Christian we are – mainline, evangelical, fundamentalist, off-the-map, emergent, whatever. Our political affiliations aside, no matter who’s in the White House or in control of Congress, this is what Christians are called to do and be.

    However, I also believe we are called to do these things not only individually and in groups/churches/faith-based orgs, but when possible, through other systems. No, we should not *expect* the govt to do them for us – absolutely not. But we also should not ignore the opportunity for systems including govt systems to be a mechanism through which God’s work is accomplished. And when elected leaders profess to be people of faith, then we (ppl of faith) should hold them to the specific principles of that faith they profess, understanding at the same time that they must serve the wider public.

    The church ought not be the handmaiden of the state, relying on the government for funding to do its work to the extent that the church loses its ability to critique the government when it’s unjust. But it also ought not bypass opportunities to find common ground and work together or demonize the government. God can work through all human systems and situations (that’s not the same as saying they are pre-ordained to power by God — I don’t believe that.)

    I also am concerned that the church might play an ‘enabler’ role — out of compassion, but it’s enabling just the same — to bad government. A friend from India was highly critical of what he calls “trash bag ministry” there – caring for the poor and oppressed, while failing to ALSO ‘speak truth to power’ when it comes to the government and other power structures.

    I’ve read the same kind of thing, recently, about the Darfur situation – some are critical of humanitarian groups in Darfur for not doing enough to call for change…others say the human rights groups that got Bashir arrested did this at the expense of the humanitarian effort, and the hundreds of thousands (millions?) in refugee camps.

    I’m wondering if we agree on this (that Christians need to be both compassionate, and willing to confront injustice, not just help its victims)?

    Now [you’ll find this ironic] I have to go do my taxes [grumbling]

  10. jermtech Says:

    Wow…a very well thought out response, Rebecca. Thanks for visiting Jermination!

  11. This blog posting is spot on.

    Regarding orphans in today’s American society, Focus On The Family has begun a ministry to care for those in foster care. An anecdote to illustrate the issue: A guy had some major event in his life–was he going off to Iraq?–and the only one he had to tell was his social worker. In the foster care system, he was transferred around so much that he didn’t really belong to anyone. Focus On The Family is encouraging churches to “adopt” some foster care children and give them a permanent care that goes beyond all the families these kids get transferred around to.

  12. jermtech Says:

    Thanks for the info on FOF, J, and thanks for visiting. I am still wrestling with the topic. I am also reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and it is messing with me, too.

  13. deb hearn Says:

    Wow! Excellent posts from all and really enjoying your writings Jeremy as we share extremely close views on church and government. I do appreciate the thoughts in the posts of Eric H, Rebecca and JLee Harshbarger. I am a huge fan of FOF. Do all these folks have blogs as well? Would love to take a look at them too. Thanks for your willingness to stick your necks out and sharing your personal thoughts with the rest of America and the world!

    • Eric H Says:

      Took my blog down…hoping to start over at some point when I might actually have time to maintain it.

    • jermtech Says:

      If you click on Rebecca and J Harshbarger’s names (and yours, for that matter)from this page, you will be taken to their websites.

  14. reuel Says:

    thanks alot really helped me especially explaining to children

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