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Christian Compassion

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In our modern world we take for granted that people should have compassion for one another. But that was not always the case. Compassion from the Christians in the Roman Empire demonstrated the love of Christ and also set the standard for our modern view of compassion.

James 2 encourages us to meet the physical needs of a brother or sister who is “ill-clad and in lack of daily food.” We are not to say to them to “go in peace, be warmed and filled.” We are admonished to show compassion. This was radically different from the moral climate of the ancient world.

Rodney Stark in his book, The Triumph of Christianity, explains that “in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice.”

When plagues broke out in the Roman Empire, the mortality rate among Christians was much lower than among the pagans. The pagans fled from the sick and tried to avoid any contact with the afflicted. When “their first symptoms appeared, victims often were thrown into the streets, where the dead and dying lay in piles.” Christians instead ministered to the sick by giving them two things they needed: food and water.

Why did Christians respond differently? First, they were following the example set by Jesus who taught mercy towards the sick. Second, the early Christians “believed that death was not the end and that life was a time of testing.” They were willing to sacrifice themselves in ways the pagans never would.

Rodney Stark concludes “that Christian nursing would have reduced mortality by as much as two-thirds!” He also added that the “fact that most stricken Christians survived did not go unnoticed lending immense credibility to Christian miracle working.” This most likely led to additional conversions.

We may take for granted the idea of compassion, but the concept came from the sacrifice of the early Christians who ministered to others.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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