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The priority of evangelism Part 2

February 1, 2016

In part 1 of this article, we discussed that our priorities reflect what is most important to us. If we are going to be effective in evangelism, non-Christians must be our priority. If our priorities are rooted in what we care about, then our priority in evangelism must be rooted in a compassionate heart toward others. This article will deal with how to develop a heart of compassion.

Seeing as Jesus sees

How do we develop a heart of compassion for those around us? Notice in Matthew 9:36 that Jesus “saw the crowds.” You might think to yourself, “So what?” Well, Jesus was a very busy person, traveling from town to town, doing the work of ministry, and yet he saw the people. The point is simple but crucial to understanding Jesus’ heart of compassion. He never loses sight of the object of ministry: people. He notices the people around him and values them.

Developing hearts of compassion toward people takes training our eyes to see them by who they are in Christ. 

Not only is it important to see the people around us, but what we see when we see them is also important. Notice again that when Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion. There is a direct correlation between what he saw and what he felt. I often see people, and yet I am moved with impatience, frustration, anger, or even feelings of inadequacy. Obviously, Jesus trained himself to see people differently. When Jesus saw the people around him, he concluded that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Surely Jesus saw those who were physically impaired, socially marginalized, and economically under resourced. Jesus was healing and teaching because he was moved to do something about it. Jesus saw all of their brokenness, the greatest of which was their spiritual brokenness. Jesus saw them relative to their spiritual condition and eternal plight.

Compassion and the campus

Seeing people through this lens is especially critical for those of us on the college campus where we are trying to reach the most elite achievers in the world. Their external facades can be very deceiving, and people do not appear very broken. They drive nice cars, take expensive vacations, buy trendy clothes, achieve academic and athletic accomplishments, and are members of social fraternities and sororities.

None of those things move me to compassion; however, when I view them as “sheep without a shepherd,” my heart changes. According to the Bible, all of us are like sheep—independent, stubborn, directionless, self-destructive, misguided by our own impulses, and vulnerable. We have to conclude that those who do not know Jesus, the Great Shepherd, personally and savingly are lost, spiritually empty, have no lasting hope or peace, and are on a road to destruction. No matter what people appear to be, the Bible makes it clear that apart from Jesus Christ, there is no real life (John 10:10).

Developing compassion

So, how do we develop a heart of compassion toward those around us? We train our eyes to see people according to their relationship with Jesus Christ. We train our eyes to see people according to how the Bible describes people who do not know Christ—dead in their trespasses and sins, sons of disobedience, darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, and slaves to unrighteousness.

People who have compassion for others are those who have a sense of amazement for the mercy that Christ showed them.

Here are four steps to help us develop the ability to see people the way God sees them:

  1. View people appropriately:
    • Stop viewing people primarily according to their social identities and categories. For example, “That’s John, a Sigma Nu.” That is helpful at a superficial level of interaction, but that social lens will never move you to compassion. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:16–17, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” All people are ultimately either in Christ and thus a “new creation” or they are not in Christ.
  2. Replace your lenses:
    • Replace superficial lenses for viewing people with a biblical lens. When I first started in campus ministry, instead of hanging out with students every day at a particular social time, I decided to pray for students during that time. Some would call this a “silent outreach.” I would sit at a desk on the third floor of the library overlooking a daily gathering of about five hundred students. As I observed the students interacting, I tried to imagine what they were talking about, what they were thinking and feeling, and their hopes and dreams. I had a good idea since I knew many of them personally and knew college students fairly well. Then, I would study scriptures like Philippians 3:19 that describes people who do not know Christ: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
    • As I reflected on God’s Word and prayed over the reality that their paths were leading toward eternal destruction, my heart would break. Their smiles and laughter were evidence of their naivety in the face of impending doom unless God intervened in their lives. Many of them probably bragged about how drunk they were the previous night or how they had indulged in sexual activity with no regard for God’s will or the heart of the person they had used to satisfy their appetite. During that year, I saw God bring many of those students into a saving relationship with him through my witness. My evangelism became far more effective because the Lord was shaping in me a compassionate heart.
  3. Remember what it was like:
    • Do you remember what it was like when you were a “sheep without a shepherd.” It is good to go back and be reminded with the Ephesians that,“you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at world in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”     (Ephesians 2:1–3). For most who spent years of their lives apart from God, these were painful and empty years. People all around us are living out of that same emptiness right now. Taking the time to empathize with their plight will go a long way in helping us feel their hidden pain.
  4. Reflect on God’s mercy:
    • Reflect on God’s mercy toward you. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 3:4–5). Do you ever ask yourself, “Why me? How is that I have received such a wonderful salvation?” I think that you will find that those who have an abiding and growing compassion for others are those who have an abiding and growing sense of amazement for the mercy that Jesus Christ has shown them. Through His mercy, God disarms our self-righteous hearts that desire to hand out justice to those around us and replaces it with a meek, tender, gentle, and merciful heart for others.

To continue my series on evangelism, read The Passion of Evangelism.