What does Godly compassion look like? It looks like an episode in Jesus’ life in John 8.

JOHN 8:3-11 (ESV)
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, “Let Him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.

We see in this passage compassion with truth and… not compassion over truth… or even truth before compassion. The religious leaders devised a plan to trap Jesus. They brought a woman caught in the act of adultery, which somehow they knew about, and could jump in as it was happening. They press Him to judge her. If Jesus says she is guilty, they can go to the Roman officials and say He was advocating the death penalty which is unlawful to do. They also could point out how compassionless and hard-hearted He was. If Jesus says she is not guilty, they can scream from the rooftops that Jesus doesn’t follow God’s Law.

How will Jesus handle this?

If Jesus acts with compassion over truth then He will rail against the people for hating this woman’s lifestyle choices and command them to accept her choices even if it is not what they would personally do. Compassion over truth ignores any moral issues because there is no moral truth. Compassion over truth allows people to follow a destructive path no matter what because compassion is inclusive and tolerant over everything else.

If Jesus acts with truth before compassion, Jesus picks up a stone and beats her to death with it. Jesus clearly says in verse 7 that the One without sin can stone her. Who in the crowd is without sin? Who is without sin?! Jesus! The punishment in that society and in the Old Testament for adultery was death. It was death because God takes sin seriously. Truth before compassion is a hard heart and for everyone except Jesus smacks of hypocrisy and self-righteous pride.

If Jesus acts compassionately with truth, He will do exactly what He did. He acknowledged the unfairness of the situation, and the sinfulness of everyone around Him, and make no mistake… told her she was sinning. He corrected the sinfulness of the crowd and the self-righteous hypocrisy that was present. He offered grace and a way out and also told the woman to “go and sin no more.” He did not celebrate her sin, but pointed it out and also helped at the same time. He gave her the option to follow God and the free choice to walk away from sin.

What does Godly compassion look like?

It looks like an episode in my own life when I was 19. I was home for the summer right after my freshman year I college. I got 2 jobs that summer. I worked watering trees in the desert and I got a job at a convenience store. I saved and saved all my money that summer because I was saving for a car. That summer I drove my dad’s car to and from my jobs. He had a 1987 Toyota Camry which he purchased new. He loved that car because it was the first car he had ever purchased that was new. He washed and waxed that thing constantly. In the summer of 1996, that car was still in mint condition. One day after watering trees in the desert, I was driving footloose and fancy-free on a gravel road and I came across a cattle guard.

A gravel road plus a cattle guard plus a nineteen-year-old foolishly driving too fast equals I crashed and rolled the car into the desert brush. The car was totaled. My dad’s pride and joy was wrecked beyond repair. I do not recall my dad yelling and I do not recall what he said actually. I remember compassion with truth. I recall three things. First, I said over and over (on the outside) it was not my fault and yet my dad impressed on me it indeed was my fault. Second, I knew inside without a doubt I was in the wrong and I had wrecked something that was not mine to wreck. I had been careless with something that was not mine and I learned a lesson that day about the truth of responsibility for myself and for another person’s property. Third, my dad allowed me to buy a car at the end of the summer even though I had totaled his which in my opinion was complete compassion.

Our challenge and I happen to think it is a big one, is to have compassion with Godly truth that helps others and also points people to God. This is difficult because the scheme of the devil is to fill our society with compassion over truth which ultimately leads people away from God. Being an advocate for compassion with truth will make you stick out and also leads to uncomfortable conversations. May we be compassionate as Jesus was and is compassionate.

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