Sermon Starters: Acts of Compassion
- Leviticus 19:9-18
- Deuteronomy 24:17-22
- Isaiah 58:6-12
- Matthew 7:1-28; 9:1-8; 14:13-21; 18:15-22; 22:34-40; 25:31-46
- John 4:1-30; 5:1-9; 6:1-14; 9:1-41; 13:1-20, 31-35
- Acts 2:42-47; 3:1-10; 4:32-37; 8:26-39; 9:32-43; 10:34-48
- Colossians 3:12-17
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
- Hebrews 10:19-25
- 1 John 3:11-24
Acts of compassion are the personal works of mercy of the General Rule of Discipleship. They are acts of kindness you can do with a person who needs help. “Compassion” means to “suffer with.” Acts of compassion are what Christians do when they meet anyone who is hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, mourning, sick, or a prisoner. John Wesley describes acts of compassion in the second General Rule:
“It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, secondly:
“By doing good; by being in every way merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all people: To their bodies, and of the ability which God gives, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison. To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with.
“By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only. By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel by not blamed.
“By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake.”
Acts of compassion are how Christians obey Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Put another way, Jesus commands his followers to love who God loves, the way God loves them. It follows that if we say we love God with our heart, soul, and mind, then we must love who and what God loves.
Acts of compassion help us see what loving God’s way looks like. It involves your whole body. It is putting into action what you say you feel and believe about God. Acts of compassion reveal that loving the way God loves is more about what we do than how we feel.
Jesus challenges our conventional notion of love as being feelings of deep affection for people who love us in return in Matthew 5:43-48
“‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
All of us are sinners in need of forgiveness. This means all of us our God’s enemies. But “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). When God chose to love us in the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son, he loved his enemies. Jesus tells his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Love, therefore, is much more about what you do, and don’t do, than it is how you feel. In other words, you don’t have to like someone to love them the Jesus way. When you participate in acts of compassion with people who may not be able to thank you, or acknowledge what you are doing, then you are loving the Jesus way.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus identifies himself with people who are poor, sick, and prisoners. What this means of us today is that when you bring food to a hungry person, when you give a drink of water to someone who is thirsty, when you give clothing to a poor mother, when you visit someone who is sick or in prison, you meet Jesus face to face. When you meet Jesus face to face you become more open to the power of grace to work in you to forming and exercising holy tempers (see Galatians 5:22-23) in your soul. Love grows in your heart when you regularly go into the world to meet Jesus among the poor.