Question 2: How do we show compassion to the “Gentiles” we know who are living the way Ephesians 4:17-19 describes?
This practical question is significant because we know that Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). While we must clearly articulate the destructiveness of sin and its offensiveness to God, we must do so in a way that demonstrates compassion for sinners. Demonstrating compassion can be even more challenging when you are confronting sins that our culture sees as virtues, and when the mere act of calling certain things sin is seen as hateful. How can we be compassionate and still identify sin the way God does?
First, we want to ensure our own hearts are in the right place. We are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), which means that our motive whenever we address sin in another person, believer or unbeliever, is our love for Christ and our love for that person. When we know that our motives are driven by love, compassion will flow from us because we are motivated by love.
Second, we need to understand that speaking the truth in love to an unbeliever may not feel like compassion to them. They may find the truth highly offensive. That does not mean that we have not been compassionate. We see how people persecuted and ultimately crucified Jesus, and we see how they rejected His apostles who preached the truth of the gospel. Their hatred of Christ and His servants was not because Jesus or the disciples lacked compassion but because they identified sin as sin and called sinners to repentance. We should not be surprised if the world hates us or labels us as uncompassionate when we identify their sin and call them to repentance.
Lastly, as I told a few people after the services Sunday, the sermon I preached would be cruel to unbelievers if I did not end it with the gospel hope. That is the compassion Christ has called us to display. The diagnosis I gave of the life of the unbeliever is not my analysis about how they live; it’s God’s description of how they live. But God not only identifies the sins that are so offensive to Him, but He provides hope through His Son. God is willing to forgive all of those sins for those who come to Christ in repentance and faith.
True compassion is not making people feel good about themselves; true compassion is saying what God says the way God says it. In the context of unbelievers, that means showing them the greatness of their sinfulness but that, as we sang right before the sermon, God’s mercy is more.