Walter G. Fremont
I was on my way to the dentist on a hot summer day. Driving in air-conditioned comfort, I passed a grandmotherly looking woman standing by an older car with a flat tire. I felt pity for her, but I had only ten minutes to spare and a meeting after my dental appointment. I didn’t want to be hot and sweaty for either, and changing a flat tire could put a real strain on my deodorant. However, at the next light, I turned around and went back to see if I could be of help. I found out the woman had a disabled husband at home, whom she had already called for help. He had called his son at work, but the son wasn’t able to come until after 5:00, which meant she was planning to wait three hours for him. I changed the tire and was able to give her my testimony of God’s saving grace.
That experience made me understand that compassion is not just sympathy or feeling sad or even shedding tears for the unfortunate. Compassion and pity are two different mindsets. Compassion is a response of love that draws one into the situation. Compassion makes a difference in the lives of people and involves actions to relieve suffering and give assistance. Pity is a reaction to fear of being in the same situation and causes one to withdraw from the situation or, at best, to give only superficial help.
In studying the Biblical examples of compassion, such as the account of the Good Samaritan, I found there is action. James 1:22 says, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” In Isaiah 1:17 we are told to “learn [i.e., make it a practice] to do well.”
Compassion should be the motivation of every ministry; and, since Biblical love is “an unselfish or self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the loved object,” real compassion should involve a sacrifice of one’s time, effort, and money to put love into action. I still had many lessons to learn about compassion. Many years ago our pastor, Woodrow Finger, came to me before church and asked to borrow five dollars. He was working on a doctorate and was pastoring our small church for $50 a week. He had a wife and two children, so he had to work at a local department store to make ends meet. You can trust a preacher, so I loaned him five dollars. After church I was standing just inside the church and overheard the pastor at the door talking to Oscar. He said, “Oscar, I know you’ve been out of a job and needing food money, so here’s five dollars. Keep it; it’s from the Lord.” That was a humbling lesson, for I had known Oscar was out of a job and needed food money; Oscar was my next-door neighbor. Needless to say, when I went out the door later, I said to Pastor Finger, “You know the five I loaned you? Keep it; it’s from the Lord.”
From that incident came the “Flying Five.” When you see a need, put a five-dollar bill in an envelope, accompanied by an appropriate Scripture verse but with no name, and send it to the person in need. With inflation it now needs to be a “Flying Twenty,” and occasionally a $100 bill. This idea has spread all over the world as a multitude of compassionate people, led by the Holy Spirit, have used this means to help others.
Compassion doesn’t come easily to most people. The amount of compassion a person feels and exhibits is a result of early training in the family and the parents’ example. My parents showed a lot of compassion, especially during the depression. We did not have much, but we had a warm kitchen and food, and no one was turned away.
I remember an older man who came to the door at lunchtime on a cold winter day. As he came in, he stomped the snow off his shoes. He took off his overcoat and unwound a big wool scarf he had over his head covering his ears and his neck. Before he ate, he grabbed a pepper shaker and shook it over his bowl until the surface of the split pea soup was black. After two bowls and three peanut butter sandwiches, he thanked us profusely and went on his way. My parents’ reply to any thanks or offer of payment was always, “Just glad we could be of some help.” Since love comes from God and is part of the fruit of the Spirit, the effects of one’s home background can be drastically improved by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
There are many needy people all around us; which ones should we help? Jesus Christ, in His earthly ministry, helped only whom the Father wanted Him to help (John 5:30). Sometimes He healed everyone present (Matt. 8:16; 12:15; Luke 6:19), and other times he healed only a select few. For example, in John 5:3 Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda where there lay a great multitude of sick people waiting to be healed. Instead of healing all the people there, Jesus healed just one person. In John 5:19, explaining why He followed that course of action on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”
In any large city in the world, you can’t walk down the street without seeing an overwhelming number of needy. Even in my own community or church, the needs are more than any one individual can handle. I had to learn that I needed to be led by the Holy Spirit in doing what God wanted me to do with my resources.
Jude 22 says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.” Through many experiences I began to realize that compassion which makes a difference should affect or change someone else’s life. Toward this end, compassion would include warning others against evil such as illicit sex, pornography, abortion, drugs (including alcohol), or anything else that could ruin their lives. How could I put my Biblical love into action to the glory of God so that it would make a difference? Here are three methods I learned:
- Help people who can’t help themselves. This would include older people, orphans and widows (James 1:27), the handicapped, the needy, and the sick.
- Teach people to help themselves by teaching them a skill, such as English or reading or the use of tools, or by counseling them. A friend of mine worked for many years in the Frank Laubach Literacy program. When asked why she spent so many hours volunteering, she replied, “Reading is a tool that opens the door to better jobs and increased academic and cultural advantages. It can even open the door to eternal life if through reading the Bible they come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.”
- Help people eternally. Invite someone to church, pass out tracts, send a gospel letter to a friend or relative in another city, give a personal witness to someone, go on a missionary team to another country, help support an orphan in a Christian orphanage, volunteer to help in a Christian ministry or mission work.
I learned to practice compassion continually by being on the alert for opportunities to help strangers, family, friends, church members, and leaders, and by not being a burden to others by having a selfish, rebellious, or bitter attitude.
My faith has been strengthened from these ongoing experiences in learning to make a difference. In every opportunity I hope people will be helped and good things will result. Rarely do I know the full extent of my efforts. However, relying on faith (Heb. 11:1), I’ve learned to follow God’s command to love by planting good deeds, watering them, and trusting God for the increase. One can be sure that compassion, love in action, can make a difference for the glory of God.
The late Dr.Walter G. Fremont served many years as Dean of the School of Education at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2001. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)