|Volume 19 Number 12 December 2017
“For who can eat and can have enjoyment without Him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:25). Certainly men do eat, enjoying food in abundance. Men today are pleasure men, enjoying the fruits of unparalleled wealth. So what was Solomon’s point?
First, true enjoyment of the blessings of life is not possible, in the ultimate sense, without God. While some may feel that alcohol with a meal is “the good life,” such is, in reality, shallow and empty. Why? Because one sadly believes that his enjoyment comes purely because of his own efforts and his own abilities. Thus, there is no gratitude. It is a failure to recognize that if God didn’t send blessings to the righteous and unrighteous they wouldn’t have anything at all (Matthew 5:44).
Second, recognizing the hand of God in one’s blessings heightens enjoyment, even in the simplest of blessings. We don’t need to live in mansions, to drive a nice car or to have fancy clothes to be happy. Paul said that “if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). He also penned, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” How can one successfully do this? The key is, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). Solomon, who was blessed with considerable wealth, recognized that having all that one could ever want (see his list in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11) was “vanity and striving after wind.” Why? Because true, lasting enjoyment is not found in things or worldly pleasures.
Having God in one’s life provides a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:6), and allows one to rejoice and appreciate all of God’s wonderful blessings. So, what is the answer to our question? Can one have enjoyment without God? No, not true enjoyment. Only when we have God in our lives can we fully enjoy all that this life has to offer.
The apostle Peter wrote, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Christians all too often receive a negative caricature that they are mean-spirited, hateful souls, out to do nothing but impose their will forcibly upon all of society. It is true that, indeed, many who call themselves Christians would fit such a caricature. However, rather than judging the religion by the misguided steps of some claimed adherents, should not one judge the character of the religion by the intent of its authorized message?
The New Testament teaches that Christians ought to be people of compassion and kindness, not only toward one another, but also toward others. Benevolence is to be shown toward all men (Galatians 6:10). The criteria of judgment in the Great Judgment scene described by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 is whether or not the individual was involved in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and giving drink to the thirsty. Compassion on human needs must be at the center of the Christian life. Many times, to be sure, professional beggars take advantage of this kindness, and caution must be exercised. Even then, compassion, not enabling bad behavior, must be the order of the day for the Christian.
Indeed, compassion is not always what one would expect. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus’ reaction to seeing the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd was to have compassion (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). In Matthew’s account, His compassion prompted His healing of their sick. Interestingly, in Mark’s account, His prompted action was to teach them. Of course, neither author is wrong, and nor is there any contradiction; He did both. It is just interesting that Mark chose to connect compassion with teaching. That is not what some would expect.
Some expect that compassion is always geared toward physical needs. He had compassion, so He healed. That fits the modern psychological and sociological mold. Many charities are formed based on compassion. Compassionate people want to help raise money for the fight against cancer and other diseases. Tenderheartedness causes people to want to do something about hungry children in the United States or overseas. Compassionate people want to persuade even one mother not to have an abortion. Compassionate people want the elderly to be treated with dignity.
When is the last time you thought of compassion resulting in teaching? People are lost in a sea of lies in this postmodern world. People believe doctrines that are harmful to their spiritual health, their emotional health and even to their physical health. Societies function on foundational values and mores that just are not true.
One of the most compassionate things one can do is to teach. Yet, this compassion requires some courage. People might not be as open to receiving a particular teaching as they would be to a sandwich given in love. That teaching, if indeed correcting a lie, may just stir the ire of those who prefer the lie. Many people, because of their own selfish pleasure, will choose the lie over the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; Romans 1:24-28).
It would behoove each Christian to ask himself or herself, “When is the last time I showed compassion to someone by teaching, or at least making the attempt to do so?” It is a challenging question drawn from a challenging concept. Have compassion. Give what people need physically. Show them what they need spiritually. We cannot force anyone to accept the message and bear fruit, but we can lovingly sow and water (1 Corinthians 3:6).