Can Conviction and Compassion Coexist in Ministry

There is an interesting healing story found in John 5, that we need to consider as we minister to others. Jesus heals a man lying beside the Pool of Bethseda. While healing people was not unusual for Jesus, what happened next is a little different. After the man was healed, he took up his mat and walked away from Jesus. John tells us that Jesus found the healed man in the Temple at a later time. He instructed the man to stop sinning or something worse might happen to him (v.14).

We know Jesus had compassion for all mankind, but particularly those marginalized by their societies. It’s not surprising then, that he took the time to heal this man who had been an invalid for thirty eight years.

Jesus also spent a lot of his ministry teaching people to obey God’s commands. One might expect that Jesus would find this man and also teach him to stop sinning. We don’t know what sin or sins the man was committing. They may have been the same sins which all of us commit from time to time or he may have enmeshed himself in some specific sin. Notice, however, that Jesus felt the man needed an extra warning to awaken him to his need to obey God. He told the man if he didn’t stop sinning, something even worse than being an invalid for thirty eight years could happen to him.

Jesus did not avoid demonstrating his compassion for the man, nor did he hesitate to share his strong conviction that the man needed to stop sinning or it would not end well for him. Although this case is unusual for the timing between the miracle and the instruction, it was not unusual for healings to happen before or after the sermons and teachings of Jesus that shared many of his convictions with those listening. Jesus seemed to understand the need to pair compassion with conviction, yet that combination can be rare to find in the world.

Many people seem to have an all or nothing view of life. They are either all in or all out. If they don’t like the way something is done, they will do the exact opposite – assuming it will “cure” the problem. Often this opposite solution brings additional issues. They may be different ones, but the consequences can be just as negative.

In the Christian world – whether we want to admit it or not – there are sins that are more controversial than others. This varies from era to era, but it seems like there is always some sin up for debate. Ignoring the theological implications of the debate for a moment, the result of these debates is often two apparently diametrically opposed camps.

On one side, you have the grace and compassion group. They choose to focus on loving the person who is involved in whatever the sin may be. They constantly remind others of God’s grace. Often though, they choose to avoid discussing the sin itself and may even accept the sinner’s logic for why their particular issue is not a sin. Is it really loving someone, however, to allow them to believe they are not sinning, when the scripture clearly states something is a sin…. like lying? How compassionate is it to allow someone to believe they are not in possible danger, when they are?

On the other hand, we have those who favor their moral convictions. Their focus is on the eternal and trying to save the person from God’s wrath. While their motives may be admirable, strong convictions without compassion can appear to others to be harsh and even cruel. Those who are more concerned with life on Earth than eternity, may particularly be hurt and offended by strong convictions that are not paired with compassion. In fact, they may even reject God based on those encounters.

But why do there have to be two separate camps? Why can’t compassion and conviction coexist? Why can’t we show love and concern for someone enmeshed in any sin, while also sharing our convictions with them? Why can’t we teach others what God wants them to do and encourage them to take responsibility for their poor choices with love, compassion and grace? Jesus modeled for us how to do it.

We don’t know for sure what decision the man ultimately made or what happened to him. Ultimately, the choices people make in life are controlled by them. All God asks for us to do is be honest with everyone about what He expects from them, while also loving and having compassion on them.

Categories Bible, Culture, Volunteer Management
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