There is one primary way to compassionately touch the world, and it is not popular. If, in all things, we take our cues from Jesus, we must respond in compassion as He did, not as is convenient for us.
In Matthew 9:35, Jesus went through cities and villages teaching, proclaiming the gospel, and healing every kind of sickness and disease. We are told that surrounded by human need and brokenness, Jesus was moved with compassion, for the people were distressed and dispirited (v. 36). His response is telling. We respond to compassion by immediately thinking about social needs (which are real and pressing). When we see human distress and need, sickness and demonization, we think of programs, projects, and psychologists. But that is not where Jesus went first. Seeing all the human tragedy around Him, the response of God made flesh was: “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (vv. 37–38).
Lest there be any doubt to Jesus’ surprising reaction to social need, the entirety of the next chapter details the missionary mandate to Jesus’ followers. They were given instructions on how and where to proclaim the gospel. Simply put, the compassion of Jesus led Him to pray for missionaries and then to send them out. Strategically, the compassion of Jesus is far too wise to fixate on a few short years and is very concerned about the eternal soul. If we want to be compassionate as Jesus was, we will pray for laborers and send them out to win souls, make disciples, and plant churches. If we want to be compassionate in the truncated understanding of the world, we will focus on social action.
To be clear we do have a secondary mandate to address sociological, environmental, judicial, and practical fallenness of our world, but it’s not the priority of Jesus. The single-eye focus of Jesus is the saving of souls and eternal life. If we bear the name of Jesus, we must share the same greater love—a passion for eternal cure and joy. All temporal service (noble and necessary as it is) is a means, not an end. Why do we drill wells? So that souls may be saved. Why do we feed the hungry? So that souls may be saved. Why do we rescue those sold to sexual slavery? So that souls may be saved. Why do we care for orphans, widows, and the marginalized? So that souls will be saved.
The Bible is very clear about our priority. At the end of Matthew, we are told to make disciples of all people groups, and at the end of Mark, we are told to preach the gospel to every creature. At the end of Luke, we are told that forgiveness of sins will be preached in the name of Jesus to every people, and at the end of John, we are told that we will be sent in the same way Jesus was sent (away from home to suffer and die for the sins of all people). In the beginning of Acts, we are told to leave home and take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. How do we touch the world? We do what Jesus told us to do; we prioritize what He prioritized. We look out with compassion at human brokenness. We fall down on our knees and pray for missionaries to be sent out. We rise up and with all our energy send those missionaries to the ends of the earth, and those missionaries use every means of service to lift their voices to make disciples and plant churches. The Jesus way is not popular, but in the end, it’s much more compassionate.