Developing Discernment and Compassion
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

 "A young girl stood in the middle of an empty street in the early morning hours, looking more like a prostitute than a lost child.  Smoke from her cigarette swirled around her face.  An investigative reporter stepped into the [TV's] frame to begin his interview.  'How long have you been on the streets?' he questioned.  The coldness of her heart poured out in her words as she revealed that she had been on the streets for five years, since age eleven.  I wondered: 'What could possibly have driven her to the streets at eleven years old?  Why had her parents not come to her rescue?  Are they dead?'  The reporter continued his conversation with the misplaced teenager: 'You don't want to live like this, do you?  Don't you want out of this existence?'  For a moment her shoulders fell and the hardness in her eyes softened.  Looking beyond the reporter into the obscurity of the street, she replied with a broken whisper, 'Yeah ... but I can't find the door'" (Rigby).  A journalist visited several high schools a few years ago.  He spent time listening to students' dreams and to their hearts.  He reported his conclusion in an article for the Atlantic Monthly and said: "When it comes to character and virtue, these young people have been left on their own.  Today's go-getter parents and today's educational institutions work frantically to cultivate [clear thinking], to foster good study skills, and to promote [other] talents. ... But when it comes to character and virtue, the most mysterious area of all, suddenly the [hands off or values neutral] ethic rules: 'You're on your own, Jack and Jill; go figure out what is true and just for yourselves'" (Rigby quoting Brooks).  There's a chapter in a book entitled: "Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me about Right and Wrong?"  The author makes this observation in the Introduction: "Today's children are raised in moral confusion.  The movie and music industries promote one standard, the schools another, and the church still another.  Children see adults advocate for one way and live a different way.  They are given lists of rules, but the rationale for the list is never explained to them.  Children pick up on the fact that many rules are self-serving, protecting the interests of those who make them while hurting others in the process" (Shank).  How can we help our children though this irresponsibility, this values void, and this moral confusion?
 
Let's begin by looking at a series of passages. Psalm 145:8 affirms: “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.”  God is the starting point, and He is gracious, compassionate, patient, and merciful.  The next passage is Ezekiel 16:48-50, and notice here that Sodom's sins show her moral bankruptcy: “'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done.  Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me, therefore, I took them away as I saw fit.'”  Do Sodom's sins sound hauntingly similar to those of our own culture?  The next passage is Nehemiah 9:17 where those Jews who had returned to their homeland now look back on their history and God's character: “They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.  But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage.  But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them.”  This description does not mean that God was soft on sin because He sentenced to death all but two people in this rebellious generation.  God was compassionate, however, and did not let all of the Jews be destroyed.  Now let's go to the New Testament and see what is said about compassion in three passages.  The first is Matthew 25:41-43: “Then He will say to those on the left hand: 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'” Someone once told me, “That passage is so clear that it is scary.  I often come up way short in helping others.”  The next passage is one of the most beloved in all the Bible because it describes God in this way: “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).  A compassionate father welcomes home a lost son!  James 5:11 affirms that the Lord is “very compassionate and merciful.”  God is compassionate and merciful, but so often we are arrogant and apathetic.  Our service to others often reveals where our hearts really lie.  Jesus' compassion is noted often in the book of Matthew, a book written to a Jewish audience.  Matthew 9:36 reports: “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like a sheep having no shepherd.”  Matthew 14:14 states something similar on another occasion: “And when Jesus went out, He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick.”  Matthew 15:32 presents another scene: “Now Jesus called His disciples to Him and said: 'I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.  And I do now want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.'”  A teacher once had some children to finish this sentence: 'When I think of being like Jesus, I think of …' ... They used words like “self-sacrificing, giving, forgiving, and desiring to help others”.  Don't these responses show that these children's had compassionate hearts as well (Stonehouse & May)?  As Jesus was compassionate, we and our children must follow in His footsteps.  Paul reminds the brethren at Colosse with these words in Colossians 3:12-13: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”  Peter reminded some other brethren with these words in 1 Peter 3:8: “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.”  Jude admonishes faithful Christians to save some of the erring with compassion and some with fear and righteous indignation (verse 22). So, as Christians, the New Testament clearly commands us to be compassionate.  Doesn't it take discernment and empathy to be compassionate?  Discernment is that ability to foresee whether actions will have a good outcome or an evil result (Hebrews 5:14).  Someone has defined compassion in this way: "Compassion is the ability to feel the sorrow, suffering, or deprivation of another combined with the urge to help.  A key element in compassion is empathy, the ability to imagine―enter into―what another is experiencing and how the person is feeling.  Without empathy, there is no compassion, but to truly enter into another's suffering leads to the desire to act on behalf of the other” (Stonehouse & May).  Learning such discernment and compassion begins in childhood.  Someone has observed: "Research shows that childhood and adolescence are critical times for developing healthy emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion.  Simple, everyday interactions with parents, beginning in the early days of life and continuing throughout childhood, lay down patterns of response in the brain. Through such experiences, neurological circuits may develop for emotional awareness, constructive handling of feelings, motivation to reach desired goals, and the ability to understand the feelings of others―all factors essential for emotional intelligence" (Stonehouse & May).  We've covered many Scriptures showing God's and Jesus' compassion and the compassion which Christians should show as well. We've also seen that compassion starts with discernment and empathy, and such factors towards developing compassion can be learned in childhood and adolescence. 
 
Now some examples will be given about children learning discernment and compassion.  But before that, one passage read this morning needs to be emphasized for a moment—Genesis 18:19: “'For I [God] have known him [Abraham] in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring Abraham what He has spoken to him.'”  In this context, there is a contrast between two futures. Abraham is to command his children to keep the Lord's way of righteousness and justice so that all the nations will be blessed in the future through Abraham's descendants.  In contrast, the Lord's ways were not commanded in Sodom, and we read earlier how wicked they became, so proud, arrogant, and evil that God is going to punish them by destroying them with fire from heaven!  Abraham was to command his children—that's interesting language isn't it?  One preacher commented: "God told Abraham to [command] children in doing what is right and just in a world that was wrong and unjust.  Abraham had to raise children in a world that offered no such instruction, that provided few good examples" (Shank).  Now let's look at some interesting examples. "Marty expressed pleasure as she described her daughter: 'Kenzie (age 12) has a very compassionate side. There's a multitude of kids at school that are taunted and picked on by other kids, and Kenzie's always been very kind and gentle to them ... She goes out of her way to talk to them, to spend time with them," and to speak up for them. ...This popular girl was committed to standing with and for those being ridiculed and excluded" (Stonehouse & May). Tyler (age 11) noticed his mother rushing to get lunches packed for the whole family, so he asked her: 'Is there anything I can do to help?" (Stonehouse & May).  His mother was proud that Tyler was attentive to others' circumstances.  "Alertness to the needs of others can appear early in life. As Stan repaired his oldest daughter's bike, 18 month old Devon played nearby with the paper towels that Stan had used and tossed aside. When his wife called for him to come to the phone, he looked around for something on which to wipe his greasy hands. To his surprise, there stood little Devon, holding the paper towels up to him" (Stonehouse & May).
Want to help your children to learn to be more discerning and caring? Consider to these suggestions:
§  support and encourage a child or family in another country
§  give gifts to others outside your family
§  save funds to purchase Bibles to give to others
§  visit and show care to the elderly people, especially those in nursing homes
§  ask questions that can help their children to think about others' situations
§  try to include others or mention others when playing together
§  when you see others who need encouragement, try to help your children to notice their body language as well (sometimes our children can read body language better than we can)
§  welcome others into your home for visits, meals, or staying overnight (Stonehouse & May).
One researcher found that acts of caring and service in Jesus' name—from simple to more demanding—must be done weekly by a family in order to such compassion to become one's way of life (Stonehouse & May).
 
Before we look at some more examples, notice this statement in Luke 4:16: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”  Jesus assembled with God's people on the Sabbath “as was His custom”.  Now don't you think Joseph and Mary fostered this custom in Jesus through their weekly attendance?  “The church can influence children, and children can influence the church.  Above all, the church must support children's involvement in acts of compassion.  This happens in various ways in different locations” (Stonehouse & May). Consider these interesting examples.  Sam (age 6) was challenged in VBS to raise money to buy Bibles for people in Mexico.  Sam prayed about being able to give many Bibles.  He had his own garage sale and made $200.  He asked all his relatives to give him money for Bibles when Christmas came around.  Sam raised enough money to give Bibles to those at a local homeless shelter as well as those in Mexico!  When he was 12, Sam still saw the essence of following Jesus as helping others.  He rose to a challenge made at church, and this realistic service had made a lasting impression on him (Stonehouse & May).  Erin (age 9) drew an interesting picture of God because He had glasses and braces.  When asked why she did this, she replied that many people with glasses and braces are called stupid by other people, but she thinks that God would try to identify with anybody who is being made fun of or disabled, and He'd have traits like them to help them feel welcomed around Him (Stonehouse & May).  One child in a fifth grade girls' class would always ask that they pray for the homeless.  One day, their teacher had them over to make sack lunches, and they gave them to others who were poor and they thought were homeless.  On another occasion, a homeless shelter 30 minutes away, asked the class to come help serve.  The class did this and felt a great sense of satisfaction.  The teacher believed that these actions wouldn't have happened without those continued prayers laying the groundwork (Stonehouse & May).  One boy (age 11) heard about a slave girl in a Christian orphanage in India who had been sold by her parents to get money from an owner.  When they heard that she was at the orphanage, they tried to get her back.  This boy was so disturbed by these parents, that he took a photo of the girl to his Sunday School class and asked them to pray with him that she would be allowed to stay in the orphanage (Stonehouse & May).  Another preacher tells this story: "Mary and Kimberly learned about morality when they were 13. ... When they were that age, I was a sponsor on a mission trip to a government housing project in a city at the other end of the state.  Our task was to invite every child in the project to a VBS we would conduct.  So 20 of us set out to knock on 456 doors.  Mary and Kimberly had never knocked on doors. Our leaders assigned us to the same team.  I took the first couple of homes, tried to make friends with the families, and wrote down the names of the children who were planning to come.  After a few houses, Mary was ready.  She did a great job, and the kids agreed to come.  Then Kimberly did the talking.  After a few more doors, they were establishing rapport with the kids and parents quickly and more genuinely than I had. After an hour, they said that that they would go by themselves.  I think I was becoming a liability to them.  As we worked our way from door to door, I kept my eye on the two of them.  I saw an inner city woman invite them into her home.  I slowed my pace to watch for them to come out. Frankly, I got a bit worried.  About 45 minutes later, they emerged. There had been a death in that home.  They went in, sat, prayed, listened, held hands, and cried.  At the team devotional that night, they retold the story.  The experience touched them deeply.  They had done a righteous thing.  They had represented justice in a world that knew little fairness. ... Later I heard that they were in an exclusive club in high school.  There was an emphasis on dress, appearance, luxury, and consumerism.  They had good friends in the group, but they felt uncomfortable with the focus.  Mary and Kimberly decided to drop out. They wanted to live a different kind of life, [and] practice a morality they had experienced first hand" (Shank).
 
Just as Abraham was to command his family, Paul tells Timothy to command and to teach certain truths to the congregation in Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:11).  Can't we as parents also command our children Jesus' truths as well?  Could this be a godly principle found in both covenants? 
The main precepts of this sermon are four.  First of all, teach your children discernment and compassion through the Sources of compassion. Both God and Jesus are repeatedly described as merciful and compassionate (as well as holy and just).  Secondly, teach your children discernment and compassion through the Scriptures.  We just noted three passages in the New Testament.  There are many others you could share with them as well in a family Bible study.  Thirdly, teach your children discernment and compassion through your own family.  Daily compassionate interaction among family members and weekly acts of kindness to others in natural and various ways can foster empathy and emotional intelligence.  You can actually shape their brains towards patterns of sensitivity.  Fourthly, teach your children discernment and compassion through the church.  Through many activities in the congregation, children and teens can learn to see beyond their own backyard and to experience what's truly important in life.  Our children mimic us.  Let your children see your best by becoming a Christian today if you not one.  As you follow Jesus, your children will also learn to follow Him.  If as a Christian you've taken that hands off approach to teaching values that our culture has embraced, why not confess that fault and ask God to help you be more active in shaping your child's future?  “When children are taught and modeled [discernment and compassion], their lives will be changed for the better.  They will become a might army calling the world to a higher standard" (Shank).  Better your child's life by letting Jesus transform your life!