Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
The other night, my wife and I watched the 2013 movie “The Butler.” It is the story of the life of a White House butler who served there for 34 years. It was a sobering experience. It brought back some painful memories of the struggles we, as a nation, have gone through. Those struggles continue today. As I went to bed, I asked for God’s forgiveness for whatever ways I have contributed to the racial discord in our nation.
We live in a world that is filled with anger, hate, frustration, and violence. All of this is a product of sin, yet our world, in the main, refuses to recognize it. Until we deal with the sin problem, we will never be able to solve the significant social problems that confront us. But, we, as followers of Christ, can lead the way toward genuine reconciliation.
In Colossians 3, Paul gives us a template for changing the climate of our world. It begins by recognizing who we are, in Christ. God has chosen to receive all who will accept His free gift of salvation. When we open our hearts to Him, He sets us apart for Himself; He claims us as His own. We cease to be slaves to sin, but become His dearly loved children. We take on a new identity. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! This is our new reality, but we need to actively embrace it.
Paul tells us that we need to actively clothe ourselves with the character of Christ. We need to replace antagonism with compassion, hatred with kindness, arrogance with humility, roughness with gentleness, and a demanding spirit with patience. This can only happen as we submit our will to the will of Christ. We have the responsibility to cultivate these qualities, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
As I watched “The Butler”, my heart went out to those people. I was ashamed of the way White Americans treated Black Americans. I saw the situation through their eyes, not for the first time, but in a profound way. I think that is the beginning of compassion. The enemy of compassion is the failure to understand and validate the feelings and emotions of the other person. Compassion seeks to see the situation through the other person’s eyes. But it is more than that. It is actively reaching out to that person in genuine kindness.
Genuine compassion is never condescending or patronizing. Genuine compassion meets the other person face to face, on even footing. Genuine compassion is an honest effort to enter the other person’s life, even when we can do it only incompletely. I think Paul sums it up best in Philippians 2:3-4.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
As we interact with one another, no matter who that other person may be, let us be guided by compassion; the compassion of Jesus Christ.