Developing Godly Compassion

Steve Viars May 22, 2016 Jonah 4:5-11

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 “The book of Jonah may be summarized in one word: compassion.  The centrality of compassion does not become explicit until this last chapter.  But that is the way a good story often unfolds...Often the best teaching is done by contrast.  You appreciate the speed of an Olympic runner when you see him or her leave the pack behind.  You see the greatness of God’s compassion to the Ninevites when you set it beside Jonah’s reaction.” Jonah, O. Palmer Robertson

5 principles from the striking contrast between God and His errant servant

I. Jonah’s Emotions Revealed the Shallowness of His Heart

A. Rich theology did not move him

Jonah 4:2 - ...I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness; one who relents from doing harm.

B. God’s counsel did not move him

C. Temporary pleasure made him deliriously happy

“See the goodness of God!  He gives concrete evidence to Jonah that he still regards him with the tenderest love.  Even though he intends to show mercy to the Ninevites, his love still has plenty of room for Jonah and the Israelites as well.” Jonah, O. Palmer Robertson

D. Discouragement came easily

Jonah 4:8 - And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

II. Jonah’s Emotions Revealed the Thinking of His Heart

Proverbs 23:7 - “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he...”

A. It is acceptable to be spiritually indifferent to other people groups

B. It is acceptable to manipulate with pity parties

C. It is acceptable to prefer your plan to God’s

D. My emotions are the byproduct of the choices/actions of others

E. If you believe it, it must be true

Jonah 4:9 - Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

III. Ministry Effectiveness Requires Developing Biblical Compassion

A. Understanding this term

Hebrew word “hus”– “to look with pity”

“the feeling which goes out toward one who is in trouble” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

“a positive attitude toward the object with the intention of performing a helping act” (Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis)

“Sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity” (Webster’s New World Dictionary)

B. With special emphasis on the eye

Ezekiel 16:5 - No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.

Ezekiel 20:17 - Nevertheless My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness.

C. Illustrative passages

1. With reference to the poor

Psalm 72:13 - He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy.

2. With reference to God’s forgiveness

Psalm 78:38 - But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath…

3. With reference to our treatment of others

Zechariah 7:9 - Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.”

4. With reference to the way Jesus viewed people

Matthew 9:36 - But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.

5. With reference to our forgiveness of others

Matthew 18:33 - Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

6. With reference to relationships in the church

1 Peter 3:8 - Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous…

Real vision, of course, is seeing what God clearly wants us to be.  And through the grid of a New Testament blueprint, the idea of being or remaining a “church club” or a “church success story” becomes noxious.  In seeking to become a church of irresistible influence, church leaders must again, in practical terms, envision for their people the church as profiled by Jesus and the apostles within the pages of the New Testament:

  • A church passionately committed to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel.
  • A church of winsome lifestyles punctuated by high moral standards.
  • A church of radical love and selfless good deeds that amazes the world around it.

IV. Too Often God’s People are Passionate about the Wrong Things

A. Wrong because you were not responsible for them in the first place

B. Wrong because you cannot control them

C. Wrong because they have little/no eternal value

V. Godly Compassion is Focused on People in Need

A. Nineveh was a great city because of the significant number of souls that lived there

B. Nineveh was filled with people who needed truth

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Can you think of occasions where one statement just stops you in your tracks or shed a whole new light on a situation? Maybe it even made you wish you had not said what you just said or you wish you hadn’t done what you had done after that person said that?

When I was growing up, I was blessed to live in a two-parent family where my mom, for the most part, did not work outside the home and just did a wonderful job of caring for my two sisters and me. I don’t think I’d say we were spoiled, of course not, but we were well cared for. Even down to the lunches that mom would pack for us every day, they were packed with love. You know what I mean? Packed with love. Of course as kids, you always compared at the lunch table what you had and what other persons had for the purposes of trading. That was a public affair for sure.

One lunch hour, I was probably in first grade, maybe second, I was sitting next to a boy in my class, who pulled out something I had never seen before. Never seen one of these before ... a fried egg sandwich for lunch. It was nasty looking. The bread was stale looking. One piece of bread was actually the heel. I didn’t know anybody actually ate those things, the heel of the loaf. All it had on it was this dried fried egg and maybe a little bit of mayonnaise or something. I started making fun of the kid right there at the lunch table, telling him how terrible it looked, how my dog wouldn’t even eat that sandwich. We didn’t even have a dog but I felt the need to share that.

Of course everybody at the table is now laughing, which encourages me just to tell more jokes and all the rest. I’ll never forget when the laughter died down, the boy said, not in pity, but just pretty matter-of-factly, as I recall, “Well my mom died and my dad has to pack my lunch before he goes to work and that was all that we had today.” That happened about 50 years ago and I’m still embarrassed to think about what I said. In fact, you might say, “I feel like pummeling you right now.” Feel free just to storm the pulpit and beat me upside the head for sure or boo or whatever you think you need to do.

It was one of those statements by him that completely changed the view of the situation. Where now everything came into much clearer focus with the facts on the table. I’ll tell you, I was ashamed. I was incredibly ashamed. The reason that I raised that this morning is because that is the way the book of the Bible that we have been studying the last couple of months together actually ends.

In Jonah’s, in the middle of what you could probably best describe as a ministerial hissy fit. It actually gets worse in the latter verses in the chapter. Then God speaks, God speaks. He doesn’t say much but His words bring incredible clarity into that subject of how much he and Jonah were different.

With that in mind, please open your Bible now to Jonah chapter 4. Jonah chapter 4, that’s on page 658 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you, if you need that this morning. Jonah chapter 4, or page 658 of the front section of the bible under the chair in front of you. Our theme all year is loving our world. That’s what we’re talking about, especially this year, although we talk about it every year. The last couple of months we’ve been doing a verse by verse study of an Old Testament prophet named Jonah. This is one of those lessons by contrast. In other words, chapter after chapter, the lesson is, “Don’t be like this guy,” a study of contrast, because he was a loveless prophet.

By God’s grace, we don’t have to be that way, because Jesus Christ died on the cross, making it possible to repent and believe in him and then be transformed from the inside out to think about life and ministry differently. We can be anti-Jonah’s. That has been the point of this series. We don’t want to be like this loveless prophet.

Here’s the short version of Jonah’s story thus far. At the very beginning of the book, God comes to him and says, “Arise, go to Ninevah,” which was a principle city of the nation of Assyria and therefore enemies of the nation of Israel. Still, the Lord wanted them, these Assyrians, to know about their need for repentance and the possibility of being forgiven and brought in right relationship with Jehovah with the God of heaven and earth. See that was one of the central aspects of the mission that God had given His chosen nation Israel, to enjoy the blessings of knowing and serving God. Not in and of itself but then in turn modeling and proclaiming that message so other nations, through them, could be blessed. That was a central portion, even of the Abraham covenant at the early chapters of the book of Genesis.

“Arise, go to Nineveh.” Jonah just flat out disobeyed God and headed the other way. Can you imagine a person doing that? The Lord had to judge Jonah. The way of the transgressor is hard, some. The Lord had to judge Jonah because He loved him. Then thankfully Jonah repented. He asked God’s forgiveness and he was even reassigned to the original ministry task. Now get to Ninevah. He went and got blessed and amazingly the entire city, even the cows, the entire city repented. I’m not saying the cows repented, by the way, but they did put sackcloth on the cows, on the beasts, just to be sure that everybody knew that we’re all repenting and placing our belief in God.

Just when you think this is going to be a happy ending to this book, huh? You come to chapter 4 and at times you just want to scream at Jonah but that seems just a little bit hypocritical because it’s pretty easy to recognize ourselves in these verses. Is it okay for me to say that? That there is a little bit of Jonah in each one of us. We have been trying to scour the story, just wring out everything that we can from these verses to find out how can we not be like that.

Today we’re at the end of chapter 4. We’re talking about developing godly compassion. You want to do that don’t you? Can you think of anything more important for us to talk about than that? What does it mean to develop godly compassion, to be anti-Jonah’s in the power of Christ? That’s what we’re talking about now. Let’s start in chapter 4:1, “But it,” it meaning the repentance of the Ninevites and God’s choice to forgive them, “It greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country therefore in order to forestall this … Again, their repentance and your forgiveness, I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and One who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, oh, Lord please take my life from me.’” Seriously? “For death is better to me than life.”

The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Fascinating question. No indication in the text that Jonah ever answers. Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. In other words, maybe they didn’t fully repent. Maybe God’s not going to fully relent. Maybe they’ll burn anyway, was the whole point of that.

Verse 6, “So the Lord God appointed,” and look for this word. It’s going to be used repeatedly. “The Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort.” Jonah was extremely happy, deliriously happy about the plant, but God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day. It attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up, God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die saying, “Death is better to me than life.”

Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” There you hear that question again. He said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” You can decide what voice you want to insert in that response. Was it the defiant voice? Was it the angry voice? Was it the whiney voice? Whatever voice you put in there, it’s bad. Don’t ever say that to God if it’s not true. Then here’s the lunchroom punch in the gut statement. Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work.” Follow the logic. “In which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Ninevah? The great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who did not know the difference between their right and their left hand as well as many animals.”

A commentator O Palmar Robertson, if you’re looking for a book to buy just to help you in the future as you would study this book again, this is one of my favorites. He said, “The book of Jonah may be summarized in one word, compassion. The centrality of compassion does not become explicit until its last chapter but that’s the way a good story often unfolds.”

Often the best teaching is done by contrast. Do you appreciate the speed of an Olympic runner when you see him or her leave the pack behind? You see the greatness of God’s compassion for the Ninevites when you set it beside Jonah’s reaction. That really is a good summary of these verses. With the time we have remaining, I’d like us to study this text and find five principles from the striking contrast between God and his errant servant. I would encourage you, even now, to be praying in asking the Lord, “Are there any ways that I am like Jonah? If so, I want to do business with that through the power of Your word, for the glory of Your Son, right here, right now.”

Five principles from the striking contrast between God and His errant servant. One is Jonah’s emotions revealed the shallowness of his heart.

I. Jonah’s Emotions Revealed the Shallowness of His Heart

You notice several times in this passage God asked Jonah to evaluate the validity of what was occurring emotionally. We’ll walk down specifically about that in a moment, but at this point, think about this. Sometimes persons make the mistake of believing, “Well if I am feeling it, it must be right. If I am feeling it, then my position is validated.” If I am angry, I have a right to be angry. If I’m happy, it’s appropriate for me to be happy.

In other words, my emotions are always valid and my emotions comprise the sum of who I am or at least the most important aspect of who I am. What we’re seeing here is no, instead of just assuming that your emotions are justified or that your emotions are unchangeable, instead ask, “What are my emotions right now revealing about the condition of my heart?” Let’s just push the pause button on that for a moment.

Think back this past week to times when you were especially emotional. Who called you? Nobody called me. Just think back to times when you, this past week, were either positively or negatively … something really made you angry. Something really made you worried. Something really made you sad or really made you happy or really made you excited. I would encourage you, lock onto that event right now. Just analyze this. What does that emotional experience reveal about the condition of your heart?

Now back to Jonah. Would it fair to say that Jonah had cultivated an incredibly shallow heart? Let’s break that down a bit. Rich theology didn’t move him. Verse 2 of chapter 4 is a robust description of the character of God based on a marvelous passage in the Old Testament, Exodus chapter 34. Jonah says, “I know that you’re a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, one who relents from doing harm.” That is a great description of the character of God, huh? Until you realize Jonah is actually speaking these words as part of a complaint. “You’re gracious and merciful and I don’t like it.” You’re slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and that ticks me off, at least when you extend these characteristics to people I don’t like.

To speak the words recorded in verse 2 as anything other than heartfelt praise of the God who possesses these attributes shows the shallowness of his heart. Rich theology doesn’t move him. It doesn’t move him. God’s counsel didn’t move him. One observation we need to make about this text is that Jonah never answered God’s question in verse 4. The Lord is gracious enough to counsel him. If you were God, wouldn’t you have had about your fill of Jonah by now? God continues to counsel him. Do you have a right to be angry, yet Jonah doesn’t answer, at least as far as we know.

That goes along with what we were seeing a moment ago. Jonah, instead of just assuming that your emotions are the most important thing about you, or that they’ll always be valid, they’re always justified, take the time to consider what your emotional state right now reveals about the condition of your heart. On the other hand, temporary pleasure made him deliriously happy.

We haven’t really talked about all of the storyline here. Here’s the short version. Verse 5 tells us that Jonah goes to the outskirts of the city. After they repented, after God relented from the calamity that would have fallen on them because of their wickedness, now they’ve been forgiven. Jonah goes to the outskirts of the city where he can still see the city in the distance and the logical explanation for that is he hopes Ninevah is going to be judged anyway, either because they hadn’t fully repented or maybe God wouldn’t keep His word. You might say, “Well that doesn’t make any sense.”

Listen, it doesn’t have to make sense. When you’re running from God, your thoughts get all twisted up and irrational anyway. True that? Um-hmm (affirmative), yeah. He’s setting up this little camp in hope that the Ninevites are about to … He’s going to watch them burn. That’s the point. Burn baby burn. Well speaking of burning, it’s hot. It’s hot out. The text says that God causes a plant to grow up to shade Jonah from the heat.

Robertson observes, “See the goodness of God. He gives concrete evidence to Jonah that He still regards him with the tenderest love, even now. Even though he intends to show mercy to the Ninevites, His love still has plenty of room for Jonah and the Israelites as well. Verse 6 makes it clear that this gourd, or whatever it was, makes Jonah, the text says, “Deliriously happy.” Think about that. He couldn’t care a lick about the fact that the Ninevites had repented or that now they’re not going to face judgment. He wasn’t happy about that at all. He wasn’t guilty about the fact that he was now running from God again. Those appropriate emotional responses of the facts of what were occurring, that wasn’t going on at all. Instead, he’s wrapped up in this gourd. “I’m happy about a gourd. Deliriously happy about a gourd.”

In other words, this temporary relief from today’s inconvenience. One other upshot of a shallow heart was that discouragement came easily. I want to be very careful here. I understand this is tender ground. I recognize there is plenty of people in our church family who are going through extremely deep water. Nobody is saying that such persons ought to be giddy and happy in some sort of a trite, superficial way. I’m not talking about that. The fact of the matter is Jonah is quitting. He said he wished death for himself and said, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”

What that teaches us is the way we respond to trials and difficulties reveals the condition of our hearts. What else can we observe from these verses? Jonah’s emotion revealed the thinking of his heart.

II. Jonah’s Emotions Revealed the Thinking of His Heart

Thinking of the heart … how does that fit together? It’s very important that in this message, and frankly anytime that we would use the word heart at our church, we’re going to be using it in a way that is consistent with scripture, which is different than the way our world often uses it. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m just saying we try to be biblically accurate here in our terminology.

That’s why, if you’re a guy here, you may remember a number of years ago in our men of faith program, we actually worked expositionally through all 700 plus uses of the word heart in the Bible because it’s a central word. It’s much more than the seat of the emotions. You’ve heard people talk about how, “Well I feel with my heart but I think with my head.” That’s completely unbiblical. In scripture the word heart is the most comprehensive term to describe your inner person. It includes your soul. It includes your spirit. It includes your mind, the way you think. It includes your desires, what you want, and includes you will, what you choose. All of that is encapsulated in this word heart.

A good working definition of the term would be your control center. That’s why we would read a verse like Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart,” see it’s not head/heart distinction. “As he thinks in his …” That’s why, by the way. Scripture also tells us guard your heart. Guard what you think. Guard what you want. Guard what you choose. Guard how you feel. Guard your heart for out of it are the issues of life.

Now I’m talking to you about how, what was happening emotionally in this text. It reveals that the patterns of thinking in Jonah’s heart … Another way of saying that is we’re talking about your core beliefs. You have them, I have them, Jonah had them. In other words, the interpretive grid that you bring to any situation. It’s like the glasses through which you view the facts.

You may have noticed that I’ve got glasses. You notice that? They are driving me crazy. I’m just going to tell you right now, they are. You might say, “You were crazy already.” I know. I know. I had no more bandwidth for additional cra-cra but here we are with these glasses. Don’t be tweeting that. Anyway but I’ll tell you this, it is amazing. I can now see my notes. It’s amazing. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stay on them but I can see what I am departing from. I can see you a whole lot better. I just want to announce publicly you look so much more beautiful than I ever recognized before. I would have been more thankful for you had I know how marvelously gorgeous you were.

Anyway so now I got this, the lens through which I view my life … You have core beliefs. What you absolutely think at the depth of your heart that you believe is true. That becomes the interpretive grid through which you view the actions of your spouse, the actions of your kids, what your boss does, etc. Understanding what are my core beliefs, that’s crucial. What were some of Jonah’s core beliefs and is it possible that you could have the same core belief, which is taking you the wrong direction.

What do we see in this text? One Jonah believed it’s acceptable to be spiritually indifferent to other people groups. I’ve said all along Jonah was a racist. That’s what this book is about. Jonah did not want God’s grace extended to those Ninevites. He had written off an entire people group because of their ethnicity.

Is it possible for a person like you or me to not do what we were singing about earlier today, to be a person of compassion because we have a core belief that it’s okay to not like certain people groups? I don’t like those black people. I don’t like those white people. I don’t like those Asians. I don’t like those Hispanics. I don’t like those poor people. I don’t like those rich people. I don’t like those … right?

If that’s part of your core belief and you have come to the position that that’s acceptable, here’s what today ought to be for you, a funeral. Say what do you mean a funeral? That needs to be put to death, and today would be a really good day, and now would be a really good time. I realize you might say, “I just came to the church house to get a little entertainment before I went over to lunch.”

Apparently God wanted you to have a little bit more than that and now it’s time for you to decide what you’re going to do with it. There is absolutely no place in the heart of a follower of Jesus Christ to ever think that it’s acceptable to be spiritually indifferent to other people groups. For Jonah it was those Ninevites. I would just ask you, is there anybody in that category for you?

Also this, the belief, the core belief that it’s acceptable to manipulate with pity parties. I mean how many times have we seen Jonah run to the, “Just take my life,” statement? There’s nothing wrong … here’s the contrast. There’s nothing wrong with respectfully voicing your concerns to God. I’m not talking about that. In fact, we see that often in the book of Psalms. I’m not talking about that, but that’s not what this is. This is manipulation. This is threats. This is game playing. Listen, for some people who will hear this message today, that is their default button.

It’s amazing how frequently they just default into manipulating. There’s all sorts of variations on the theme. There’s anger, there’s yelling, there’ stomping, there’s crying, there’s slamming, there’s pouting, there’s threatening, there’s screeching, there’s squealing, etc., etc., etc. That kind of foolish behavior reveals the foolish thinking in a person’s heart. We’re not here to say, “Man what a goof Jonah was.” We’re here to ask, “Is there any of that in me?”

If that is hindering my ability from loving the world in which God has placed me, I need to do business with that right now or this, it’s acceptable to prefer your plan to God’s. I know in some situations we would say, “I wasn’t really sure what God was up to.” I get that. You couldn’t say that about Jonah. Jonah clearly was told by God up front what he was to do and Jonah didn’t like it.

Apparently he thought a perfectly acceptable option was him saying, “I don’t care what God wants me to do. I prefer my plan over His. Thank you very much.” You realize we’ll have people who will hear this sermon today and that’s exactly the path they’re on right now. They know what the word of God says and they are heading the other … I’ll tell you, what are you doing as a pastor? I’m doing everything I possibly can to grab that person and get them back on the right track and here’s why. The way of the transgressor is hard.

You might think you’re smarter than God. Here’s today’s news flash, you’re not. The day will come when that will be proven, and wise is the person who has a funeral for that habit of thought, if it exists, really, really quickly. Here’s another one. My emotions are the byproduct of the choices or actions … I realize … I can read the emails already. For those who will say, “Well I have to feel this way because of what so and so has done, or what so and so has not done.” Friend, now I love you, I love you. Are you feeling it? That is a very fatalistic way to live. That’s a very incorrect way to live.

We use this illustration around here from time to time, but if I knock this glass of water like this, eventually there’s going to be some water on the floor, right? There it is right now. Why is there water on the floor? You can say, “There’s water on the floor because you knocked it.”

An equally compelling answer to that question is there is water on the floor because there was water in the cup. Had there been coffee in the cup, which would have been my preference, by the way … Had there been coffee in the cup, there would not be coffee on the floor. We want to blame our life on all of the extra, “He didn’t do this. She didn’t do that. Blah, blah, blah.” When the fact of the matter is, those external forces simply reveal the content of our own heart.

I can never say I had to feel in that particular fashion and then there’s this, “If you believe it, it must be true.” You sure about that? Here’s the great text that disproves that. Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? What was the anticipated answer to that question? No, it’s not, and I ought to repent right away. But what does Jonah say? Again you have to decide the voice, but whatever inflection you use is bad. It’s right for me to be angry even to death. What a great example of how it’s possible to sincerely, I mean way sincerely believe something and be sincerely wrong, wrong. How do we apply this?

Let’s start moving into some applicational perspectives. Ministry effectiveness requires developing biblical compassion.

III. Ministry Effectiveness Requires Developing Biblical Compassion

I realize you could say, “Well that didn’t happen in this text. God overrode what Jonah had done.” I understand that. Here’s the bottom line. God will accomplish His will one way or the other, with you or without you. Do you understand that?

It’s not like what we’re trying to do at the Hartford Hub is dependent on you. God will get His work done there one way or the other. You understand, God will work His will either by blessing your obedience, because it is blessed to follow God. Do you believe that? He’ll either bless you for your obedience or He’ll judge you for your disobedience but He will receive glory from your life.

When I talk about this in this particular way, I’m talking about ministerial effectiveness from the perspective of you and me being the compassionate people that Christ stands ready to help us be, so that we can be right in the center of accomplishing all that God wants us to accomplish with our lives. Ministry effectiveness requires developing biblical compassion.

I think Robertson is right when he says that this is the one word summary of this book, compassion. Of course the questions all of us then have to face would be, “Well do I understand biblical compassion? Do I even know what that is?” You could also branch it out. Is this church known in part for being a compassionate church? Am I like God or am I like Jonah?

You might say, “Well I need some more information.” Okay let’s talk about the term for a minute, compassion. It’s the Hebrew word “hus” and it literally means it’s very important. It means to look with pity. One theological word book defines the word like this, “The feeling which goes out to warn one who is in trouble.” That’s a good starting place.

Then you have this definition, which I think helps us even more, “A positive attitude toward the object with the intention of performing a helping act.” It’s not like television. I watch it. I get all wound up emotionally and I go away and do nothing. The "hus" includes action. Even this just English definition might help, “Sorry for the sufferings or troubles of another or others accompanied by an urge to help. Deep sympathy or pity.” That’s a very important definition. It gets us pretty far down the road.

Here’s one more piece of information that might help. This word “hus” is used multiple times in the Old Testament, in a surprising number of times. Lock onto this. The subject of the verb is eye. E-Y-E. Special emphasis on the eye. We would have verses like this, Ezekiel 16:5, “No eye pitied you to do any of these things for you to have compassion on you,” or Ezekiel 20:17, “Nevertheless my eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness.

What would be the relationship between showing compassion and your eyes? Well the answer is the way you view something or someone is going to have a dramatic impact on your ability and your willingness to show compassion. God looked at the Ninevites and he saw one thing. Jonah looked at the same group of people, same group of people and saw something entirely different.

When you broaden this out to the English word compassion in our bibles, we find it used in all sorts of marvelous ways. For example, with reference to those who are poor, “He will spare the poor and needy and will save the souls of the needy.” The word spare in that particular text is our Hebrew word “hus”. “He will spare the poor and the needy with reference to God’s forgiveness. He, being full of compassion forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them, had compassion on them, or reference to our treatment of others.”

Think about this and think about all the interactions you’ve had all week long with all sorts of people. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Execute true justice. Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.” How do you stand up on that one with reference to the way Jesus viewed people, but when he saw them,” there is it is, “… saw the multitudes, he was moved with …” That happened to Christ. “Moved with compassion because they were weary.” Do you care about that? Scattered like sheep having no shepherd.

It’s interesting how often this comes up regarding forgiveness. “Should you not have had compassion on your fellow servant?” the kind said. “Just as I had pity on you.” Here’s an interesting text. I just heard a sad story about a church in a different state that just blew up in some sort of a silly argument that resulted in a nasty split in the church, and now, by the way, with social media, it can even get worse. Now you have all these goofs who take their sinful words to social media so now everybody in the town is watching the church split unfold on Twitter. Are you kidding me? Let me post that on Facebook.

How about this, “Finally all of you be of one mind.” There’s an idea. Major on the majors. Be of one mind, having what? Having compassion for one another. Even if I disagree on some trite matter, having compassion for one another. Love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous. What’s the big picture? One of the great distinctions between God and Jonah was that not only did God possess the right kind of compassion, biblical compassion, sorrow for the condition of others accompanied by an urge to help and His prophet Jonah did not.

I hope you’re letting the word of God … Please tell me you’re not planning your activities this afternoon, unless you’re planning them through the lens of this text. Who all do I need to go show compassion to? You can do that. If you’re thinking about hot dogs right now, I’m going to try to have compassion on you anyway. I hope you’re asking this question, “Are you a person of biblical compassion?” Is this church known in part for its compassion?

If you’ve been around here for any period of time, you’ve probably heard me mention this book, The Church of Irresistible Influence. It’s written by a pastor in Little Rock who when I first read this book and learned about what they were seeking to do with their church in their community … I read it about a decade ago. I thought, “This guy has been reading our mail.” It’s amazing how much what they’re trying to accomplish in their church mirrors what we’re trying to do here.

In fact, if I had my way, everybody in our church would read this book. I know a lot of you have but some of you haven’t. Here’s a little homework assignment. I just have to say it. You know that romance novel you were going to read on the beach on vacation? You know what you need to do with that? You need to put it in the shredder. That’s why God invented shredders. You need to put that hot mess in the shredder and you need to get a good book like this.

You say, “You’re telling me you want me to read a theology book about ecclesiology on the beach on my vacation?” Yes, yes, that’s exactly it. This is a great, great book, very, very helpful in all sort of ways. Here’s what Lewis said. He said, a real vision of course, interesting vision is seeing what God clearly wants us to be. Through the grid of the New Testament blueprint, the idea of being or remaining a church club or a church success story becomes noxious. Do you agree with that? Who wants to be a country club? Who wants that?

In seeking to become a church of irresistible influence, church leaders must again, in practical terms and vision for their people, the church as profiled by Jesus and the apostles with the pages of the New Testament, which would include these three things. A church passionately committed to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of gospel. Would we all agree with that? Absolutely. A church of win some lifestyles punctuated by high moral standards. Would we agree with that? Yeah.

Then thirdly a church of radical love and selfless good deeds that amazes the world around it. See that’s where biblical compassion leads. There’s no reason why that can’t happen in our community. There’s no reason that can’t happen in any community because biblical compassion is a powerful thing. Do you believe that? Biblical compassion is a powerful thing. Let’s go back to our contrast. What does the Lord’s final recorded conversation with Jonah teach us?

Too often God’s people are passionate. Yeah they’re passionate, about the wrong things, about the wrong things.

IV. Too Often God’s People are Passionate about the Wrong Things

The Lord is trying to get Jonah to see, “You had compassion but it was on a plant.” That brings us to a very important point logically. On the one hand some of God’s people don’t seem to have much passion about anything. You know those kind of people? Bland, vanilla, boring. Their life is passionless. That kind of apathy surely does not please the Lord.

On the other hand, it’s the person who has plenty of passion, just not for things that matter. That’s why this description in verse 10 is so important expositionally. “Then the Lord said, ‘You had compassion on the plant for which you didn’t work, which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.’”

Think about some of your passions and judge them through the lens of that verse. Some of our passions are wrong because we weren’t responsible for them in the first place. Let me just pick an example. Let’s say that somebody does not give you the credit or the respect you think you deserve so all the sudden you’re up in arms about that. You’re throwing a fit. You’re demanding this. You’re demanding that. You’re passionate about it.

Well wait a minute. Who gave you those abilities to begin with? Is that your intellect or the intellect that God gave you? Are those your abilities or the abilities that God gave you? It’s amazing how many things we get passionate about promoting or protecting that we didn’t have anything to do with in the first place, or wrong because you can’t control them. Jonah, after I gave you the gourd, you had absolutely nothing to do with it growing, yet you’re passionate about something over which you had absolutely no control.

That brings us to a very important theological point in this book. We have seen it all the way through but especially in the verses we’re studying this morning, that repeated use of the phrase, “And God appointed.” God appointed. In other words, an emphasis throughout the book on the sovereignty of God. He controls all aspects of His creation in a dramatic fashion. What impact is that supposed to have on us? A liberating one. We don’t have to waste our passion on that. God has that covered.

Why would we siphon off any of our passion on worry? Why would we siphon off any of our passion on anxiety or fretting? You undoubtedly saw this terrible tragedy with the air liner from Egypt. Guess what I’m getting ready to step on tomorrow morning? Yet another air liner going through beautiful Newark up to [inaudible 39:15] Lake where I have the privilege of teaching this week. You see all these planes go down and that can play havoc with your brain if you allow it to.

All the sudden you’re all passionate about worrying and all passionate about fretting and all passionate about this and this and this, wasting time and attention from what God really has for you today. Frankly I was just making my list yesterday of everything I’ve got to get done at Word of Life next week, including on the plane. If I’m on a plane, I am working. There’s books flying all over the place, there’s pens flying. The guy sitting next to me hates sitting next … I’m asking him, “Could you hold my markers?” I have a lot to do tomorrow. That means I don’t have any reserved passion for worrying. I don’t have any reserved passion for fretting. Who is in charge of getting me safely to my destination or getting me to heaven tomorrow? The sovereign God of heaven and earth and I don’t want to waste passion and miss the opportunities that God has for me tomorrow.

In fact, my most important job, because here’s the other side of it … My most important job tomorrow may be something that’s not on my to-do list today. It may be talking to the person sitting right next to me on that air liner. If I’m all worried, fretting and wasting my passion on things that are not my business anyway, I very well may miss the important ministry opportunity that is right before these eyes.

Also wrong because they have little or no eternal value. If this story seems a little bit bizarre, it’s purposely so. You understand that? This thing comes up overnight, it perishes overnight, and Jonah, you’re all wound up about a gourd? It’s a gourd for crying out loud. You don’t care about the eternal destiny of an entire city. That’s the emphasis on eternal issues. You’re passionate about a gourd that’s just going to be a heap of mush 24 hours later.

Why do you think that would be in the Bible friends? Does any of that sound familiar? Passion. Oh yeah, passion, on the right things like God. Not nearly as often as we should. Where does that take us? Verse 11, end of the book. “Should I not have compassion on Ninevah, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who don’t know the difference between their right and their left hand as well as many animals?

Godly compassion is focused on people in need.

V. Godly Compassion is Focused on People in Need

Several times in this book God has referred to the city of Ninevah as a great city. You might say, “Why would you call it a great … it’s wicked.” In fact, at the very beginning of the book, God makes it clear it’s wicked. Everything we know about it from secular history would confirm that notion. They certainly weren’t morally great. Well then why are they great, Lord?

That question was just answered in that verse. Ninevah was a great city because of the significant number of souls that lived there. Think about what we learned a moment ago regarding compassion. Jonah’s compassion on this plant had to do with regretting its loss. Could it be that God’s compassion on people is focused on the eternal destiny of their souls?

You understand the Bible, many times, when it’s just giving a number of how many people were there, it doesn’t say 120,000 men or women. It says many times 120,000 souls. You see that throughout the Bible. I think we would be very wise to consider people. Not, “Well that’s a person that I’m going to get something from. That’s a person that I could misuse.” No that’s a person who is a soul. That’s a person whose soul is going to spend eternity somewhere. Do I really care about that? Do I have pity about that that is going to move me to action?

I think that ought to encourage us to ask some questions that go right along with our theme this year. Loving our world. How concerned are you? Not how you would answer it on your theology exam but think about actions. How concerned are you for the eternal destiny of those who live and work around you? Does that concern produce an obvious and practice compassion?

I realize you may say, “Well Pastor Viars, I’ll tell you you’re problem. You’ve not been to my office.” There’s no way to be compassionate to that hot mess. You’ve not been to my neighborhood. You’ve never met my mother-in-law. God even addresses that doesn’t he? Ninevah was filled with people who needed the truth. The text says they don’t even know the difference between their right hand or their left.

By the way, if you do know the difference between your right hand or your left morally, why is that? Why is that? Is that because you have superior intellect? Is that because you possess greater inherent worth or is it because God sovereignty brought someone across your path to teach you about Christ and teach you right from wrong?

These churches in Little Rock back around the year 2000 actually got together … getting a group of churches together. Can you imagine that? They published to their community a confession. Together they said, “Realizing Christ’s prayer is for all of his children to walk in unity with Him and each other, we humbly confess our jealousy and envy, which has led to competition instead of cooperation. Our prejudice, which has perverted the true picture of Christ’s perfect love and acceptance. Our pride, which has led us to exalt ourselves and judge others. Our apathy, which has hindered us from pursuing relationships with others. Our disunity …” They published this to the community. “On behalf of the churches our disunity, which has slowed the work of Christ through his church and caused his good news to be stifled.”

They went on to say, “And realizing that Christ weeps over the cities and came not to be served but to serve. We humbly confess our unconcern, manifested by our failure to discover the real needs of our community, our prayerlessness for the needs of those around us, our self-centeredness that has caused us to care more for ourselves than others, our selfishness in not giving the time, resources and service we ought to, to the people of central Arkansas.”

Then they said this, here’s our commitment, “By the grace of God and for His glory and the good of others, we commit this day on the eve of a new millennium to actively promote unity and fellowship among all true believers.” This isn’t some kind of mushy ecumenicalism that has no concern for truth. “All true believers in Christ that vigorously stand against anything that fosters prejudice or divisiveness, to consistently pray for the people of central Arkansas and their leaders and to lovingly serve the people of these cities through our individual lives, our churches and our cooperative efforts.” That’s Christ-like compassion that glorifies our Lord. You know, just like Jonah went outside the city hoping that he could see it burn, Jesus Christ went outside the city with a cross to burn on our behalf, to make it possible for us to be anti-Jonah’s.

What I would encourage you to do as we land the plane on this series is just take out the compassion thermometer, would you? Pop that thing in your arm and just ask yourself, “How am I doing on the issue of compassion?” On a scale of 1 to 10, unless it comes out a perfect 10, and it won’t, or I’m going to have to issue the lying thermometer … Ask yourself what practical steps can I and our family take this summer to become less like Jonah and more like our compassionate God? Would you stand with me for prayer?

Father in heaven, thank You for the opportunity to consider these matters. Thank You for this marvelous book. Father, I pray for those who don’t know Christ. I pray that today they would repent and believe so that they could have the transformation of heart that is so necessary to be what you want us to be. Lord, when we think about what we get passionate about so often, it just looks foolish. We pray that You would convict us and set us on a course of change. Lord, I pray that You would give us opportunities even this week to demonstrate godly compassion. Help us to see like You see. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video