The Four Habits of Highly Uncompassionate People (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)
I’d like to begin by congratulating you on all the bags of food and clothing that you’ve brought in today. Way to go! I think we should also thank those who organized our Thanksgiving Food Drive. Let’s give a hand to Linda Hill, Arlene Rawson, Jan Fukumoto, and Laura Smylie.
One of the dangers of a few weeks like this is that we think that we’ve done enough. I read statistics this past week that you’ve probably seen before. If we could shrink the world down to a hundred people, maintaining the ratios that currently exist, what would the hundred people look like?
- There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western hemisphere, and 8 Africans.
- 70 would be non-white; 30 white.
- 50% of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people and all 6 would be citizens of the United States.
- 80 would live in substandard housing.
- 50 would suffer from malnutrition.
- Only 1 would have a college education.
- No one would own a computer.
I read this week the number of children who don’t get enough food to fully develop mentally and physically: 500,000,000. The number of hunger-related deaths every day: 40,000.
It’s impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ and not to care about this. As Tony Campolo said:
Nothing is more controversial than to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more dangerous than to live out the will of God in today’s contemporary world. It changes your whole monetary lifestyle. … Let me put it quite simply: If Jesus has $40,000 and knew about the kids who are suffering and dying in Haiti, what kind of car would he buy?
It’s impossible to hang around the people in this church and to maintain a bad attitude toward the poor. If you’re struggling against what God’s Word teaches, and you would rather live a shrunken, uncompassionate, selfish life, today I want to give you some help on how to do so. Some of you are making the life-changing decision to obey God’s Word, and you’re taking action to show compassion to the poor. Your goal is to be like Jesus and to care for the poor the way that he did.
But there might be someone here who has no interest in doing this. You want to remain shriveled up and engaged in your own world. You want to walk by a poor person without feeling even a twinge of guilt. I don’t know why you would want to remain that way, but I think it’s only fair to tell you how to do this. Today’s your lucky day, because the Bible paints a picture of what an uncompassionate person looks like. The pictures come from Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Let’s read it together:
But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year of release is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give freely without begrudging it, and the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some among you who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share your resources freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
This passage gives us three pictures of an uncompassionate person: hard-hearted, tight-fisted, and mean-spirited. Today we’re going to look at the four habits of highly uncompassionate people.
ONE: HOLD BAD ATTITUDES IN YOUR HEART
The first step is all about your heart. Why does it start with the heart? Because the way that we act is always a result of the way that we think. If you can keep your heart hardened, then you won’t even care about the poor.
Deuteronomy 15:7 reads, “But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted…toward them” (Deuteronomy 15:7). The first step is to maintain bad attitudes in your heart.
Author and speaker Gordon MacDonald tells of a time that he flew to Minneapolis to give a speech at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Near downtown Minneapolis, his taxi was stopped at a red light four cars back from the crosswalk. He noticed a homeless man lurching between the cars in the middle of the street. When he got to the front of the taxi, he fell and landed on his chin. You could hear the thud. His chin split open, and there was blood all over the place.
Gordon MacDonald got out and looked over the top of the door at this man six feet away, and these thoughts went through his head:
- I have a brand new suit on that Gail just bought me. I can’t afford to get it messed up.
- I have to get to the Minneapolis Convention Center to speak in 15 minutes.
- I’m in a strange city, and I don’t know what to do.
- I don’t have any medical training. I wouldn’t know how to help this guy.
- He said, “I wonder if underneath there wasn’t a fifth thought: If you’re dumb enough to get yourself that drunk, why should busy people stop and help you?”
Reflecting on the incident, MacDonald wrote:
I’m ashamed of this. I can’t believe a Bible-believing Christian could find those thoughts in the filing cabinets of his soul. For a few seconds those thoughts militated against any movement on my part. Before I could come to better senses, other people came rushing to this man’s help, and I was able to get back into my taxi and go on to the convention center to speak about sensitivity and caring for the needs of other human beings. Isn’t that stupid?
Satan is an expert in this. Satan can get us to ignore the plight of a person in need, even as we’re going to deliver a talk on compassion. Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. Do you remember the two people who walked by and did nothing? They were religious leaders. The trick is to harden your heart toward those in need.
I’ve found that there are four attitudes that we can maintain that will keep us from caring for the poor:
- BLAME – Think that it’s their fault. We think they’re poor through some fault of their own.
- SPIRITUALIZE – Remind yourself that you’re interested in people’s hearts, not their bodies. Focus on saving their souls, not
- RUSH – Become so busy rushing to your next appointment that you don’t even notice the person in front of you who’s in need.
- THINK IT’S TOO MUCH – Become so overwhelmed with the amount of the need out there that you stop caring.
Can it be done? Can you maintain a hard heart toward the poor while you’re following Jesus? I need to warn you that it’s nearly impossible. 1 John 3:17 says, “But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help – how can God’s love be in that person?”
You see, to harden your heart, you have to first be hardened to God’s love in your heart. You need to shut yourself off from God and his care for you. I think the Bible would even say that there’s a pretty good chance that your heart really hasn’t been changed by God’s love. As I said before, it’s impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to turn an eye on the needs of this world – especially because we in North America have so much. But if you’re going to do it – if you’re going to close yourself off to God’s love and love for those in need – it starts here. Hold bad attitudes in your heart.
TWO: HOARD YOUR POSSESSIONS
Deuteronomy 15:7 says, “But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them.” The second step is to tighten your fist. Cling tightly to your possessions. Whatever you do, don’t give up anything for the poor. If you’re going to shrink your heart, then you’ve got to hoard your possessions.
I mentioned earlier that 50% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 6% of the people. We are blessed incredibly here in Canada, so that even the poorest here today is richer than the vast majority of people in the world. A man came to Canada from an impoverished country. He actually ended up in Brampton, visiting someone who lived in a house with a detached garage. He asked the person, “Who lives in that house?” When he learned that the garage was not a house but a place to put the car, he was amazed. In his country, that garage would be considered a very luxurious house.
Today, many of us are going out to a restaurant for food. You know that when you do, you’ll be looking at a menu or buffet that would stagger most people in this world. They have never thought of eating as lavishly as we eat every day. In the face of such luxury, how can we resist the call to be generous with our resources? How can we maintain a stingy heart?
One way to remain tight-fisted is to always be in debt. Buy new cars and houses so that you never have any money left over to give to those who really need money. It’s guaranteed that you’ll be stingy if you’re always in debt.
Another step you can take to hoard your possessions is to compare yourself to those richer than you, not poorer. If you compare yourself to those who have only dirty water and rice to eat today, it’s going to be hard to remain stingy. You’re going to want to give your money to help them. That’s why it’s much better to compare yourself to those who earn three, four times your salary. You’ll want to keep every penny you get.
I find that it also helps to do the bare minimum. If you give a token amount every month or every year to help the poor, that will keep you from feeling too guilty about those in need. Talk yourself into thinking that what you do is enough.
Are there dangers? Yes. You need to know that when you hoard your possessions, you’ll be miserable. The root word for miserable is miser. Being a miser always leads to being miserable.
But there’s another cost. If you hoard your possessions, you’ll be missing out on the blessings that God is waiting to lavish on you. What do I mean? God says that the more you give away, the more you’ll have. Listen to Luke 6. Jesus said, “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving – large or small – it will be used to measure what will be given back to you” (Luke 6:38). I love the Message paraphrase of this passage: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
The Bible says that God measures his blessings back to us using the same measure that we use to bless others. The cost of hoarding our possessions is to realize that God is going to withhold his blessings from us. Only the truly generous will receive the full extent of God’s blessing in their life. But if you don’t mind missing out on God’s blessings, then hoard your possessions. Refuse to share with those in need.
THREE: HESITATE BEFORE HELPING THE POOR
The next step is not just to hold bad attitudes and hoard your possessions. You’ve also got to hesitate before helping them. Wait until it’s a convenient time for you.
Deuteronomy 15:9 says, “Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year of release is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin.”
Back in the days that this was written, all debts were forgiven every seven years in what was called the Sabbath year. During that year all the grounds would lie fallow, and to compensate all debts would be cancelled that year. This would allow people who had done well financially to rest and enjoy what God had given them, and it allowed those who had struggled to get a new start. Their debts were erased and they were given a break, a chance to be equal once again.
But you can imagine what happened. Year six came around – one year to the year that debts were forgiven. Everyone wants a ten-year loan. Why not? All debts are forgiven next year! The tendency would be for loans to be very hard to come by that year, because the loaner knew that it wasn’t in his best interest. You could call this good financial common sense. God didn’t like it, but these people were doing their part in hurting the poor.
Here’s the lesson: it’s possible to get around God’s designs to help the poor. By looking after your own self-interest, you can avoid the social mechanisms that are out there to help the poor. You can actually end up hurting and gouging them. This can happen in a number of ways.
Experts in this field tell us that there are three ways to help the poor. The first way is to collect resources for them – food and clothing and so on. This is necessary and important, and we’ve been doing this. But it’s a band-aid approach. It only treats the symptoms. It’s necessary, but it’s not enough.
The next level of helping the poor is to look at look at development. This is looking at ways of not just feeding and clothing the poor, but helping to develop systems that will be a permanent solution to the problems of poverty. For instance, you could set up a business whose goal is to train people who have never held a job before, so that they can learn how to work. You can avoid developing those who need help by refusing to do this.
A third level of helping the poor is to champion social justice. Psalm 82:3 says, “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” It’s to look at how our society as a whole is perpetuating poverty. This, I believe, is what God intended when he designed the system of wiping out everyone’s debts every seven years.
You’ve got to hesitate before you do any of this if you’re going to remain uncompassionate. It’s going to be tough. The best Christians throughout history have done more to help the poor than to sit back and do a little now and then. Wilberforce devoted his life to eradicating slavery. Christians throughout history have started hospitals and schools. You can see organizations today that are dedicated to helping to clean water, improve literacy, and to stop the spread of diseases in other countries.
But if you’re going to be uncompassionate, you’ve got to hesitate before you help the poor at any level. If you want to be uncompassionate, don’t even help treat the symptoms. And whatever you do, don’t speak up on issues of justice and development.
FOUR: HARDEN YOUR HEART TO GOD’S APPROVAL
This morning, as we conclude, I’ve been telling you how to remain uncompassionate. I think what I’ve been telling you is really the message that a lot of us have learned through society. But as I conclude, I want to tell you that you don’t have to make a conscious effort to be uncompassionate for it to happen.
I’ve realized over and over again that I have a tendency to hold bad attitudes toward the poor. I’ve been guilty so many times of judging people based on their circumstances. I’ve been guilty of hoarding my money. Many times I’ve hesitated – just enough to do nothing – when an opportunity presents itself to help the poor. It doesn’t really take an effort to be uncompassionate. It’s pretty automatic when it comes to human nature.
If that’s how we live, though, we have to realize that there’s another step we have to take. You can’t live an uncompassionate life without reaching this last habit. It’s the habit of hardening our heart to God’s approval. Deuteronomy 15:9 says, “If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin.”
Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Do you want to live with a sense of God’s approval? Then begin today to show compassion for the poor. Because when we do this to the least person, you’re doing it to Jesus.
Deuteronomy 15:10 says, “Give freely without begrudging it, and the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.” You can’t out give God. The more you give away, the more God will bless you in everything you do.
Psalm 41:1 says, “Oh the joys of those who are kind to the poor. The LORD rescues them in times of trouble.”
You have a choice this morning. You can close your heart to the poor. You can hoard your possessions. You can hurt the poor by your actions and your neglect. You can harden yourself to God’s approval.
Or you can develop a heart for the poor like God has. If that’s your prayer, would you pray this with me:
God, I want you to change my heart. I pray that beginning today, you would change my attitudes toward the poor. Soften my heart. Help me to let go of my possessions, knowing that when I do, that you use the same measure to bless me that I use to bless others. Help me to take a stand with issues of justice. Help me most of all to sense your blessing in my life, knowing the joys that come to those who are kind to the poor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.