The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources for week 8:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Third Quarter 2016 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE COMMUNITY
Week 8: August 13–19
COMMENTARY ON "JESUS SHOWED SYMPATHY"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This lesson has as its main emphasis that the Adventist readers are to find ways to become sympathetic to those around them, helping their churches to be made into “a safe, healing place for the brokenhearted.”
On the surface, it’s hard to say something is “wrong” with the lesson’s objective and claims. It takes a closer look to see that the characterization that begins with the title, “Jesus Showed Sympathy”, is not accurate and leads the reader down a road different from the one Jesus was on.
“Sympathy” is defined by Merriam-Webster this way:
“Compassion” is defined this way by Merriam-Webster:
Just using a standard dictionary definition, we see that “sympathy” involves a similarity in feeling, vulnerability, experience, and/or agreement between people. In other words, “sympathy” suggests that two or more people share the same struggle, desires, goals, feelings, or concerns. It suggests that the sympathetic parties are on a similar plane; they are approaching their issues from a similar perspective and share similar goals. They have some common “receptor” or ability to relate to each other’s experience with similar reactions. They are somehow “joined”, reacting similarly.
Compassion, alternatively, suggests that a person observes another’s distress and has his own internal, even unshared emotional response to the other. Feeling compassion for another is a more intense, more active response than mere sympathy. It suggests that the compassionate one is in a position to truly help, rescue, relieve, intervene, or effect change.
The Bible does not characterize Jesus as a sympathetic character. It repeatedly says He felt compassion for the people, that He perceived they were like sheep without a shepherd. What Jesus felt for people was not sympathy; He felt compassion and brought what He knew was true rescue. He intensely saw their suffering and bondage to sin, and He brought healing to them.
David Engelhart has written a study about the biblical word “compassion” which is published on the website biblestudytools.com. In it he says,
“Compassion” is not frequently used with a human subject. It is found, however, in a mother's attitude toward her son ( 1 Kings 3:26 ), a princess's reaction to an abandoned child ( Exod 2:6 ), and the Ziphites' treatment of Saul ( 1 Sam 23:21 ).
In Scripture, compassion is an attribute of God. When humans display it, it is rare and indicates deep feelings of care and responsibility and empathy—the human displays of compassion reflect the image of God which He implanted in us.
Engelhard ends his short commentary with this paragraph:
Believers learn about compassion through example and exhortation. Imitating God and/or Christ has led many to lives of exemplary compassion. The Scriptures also exhort believers to make compassion an integral aspect of their lives ( Zech 7:9 ; Col 3:12 ). Compassion needs to be nurtured and practiced or even this basic love response can grow dull and cold.
The same webpage has another short study on “compassion”, this one by W. L. Walker. In it he says,
Compassion, literally a feeling with and for others, is a fundamental and distinctive quality of the Biblical conception of God, and to its prominence the world owes more than words can express…The God of the New Testament, the Father of men, is most clearly revealed as “a God full of compassion.” It extends to the whole human race, for which He effected not merely a temporal, but a spiritual and eternal, deliverance, giving up His own Son to the death of the cross in order to save us from the worst bondage of sin, with its consequences; seeking thereby to gain a new, wider people for Himself, still more devoted, more filled with and expressive of His own Spirit. Therefore all who know the God and Father of Christ, and who call themselves His children, must necessarily cultivate compassion and show mercy, “even as he is merciful.” Hence, the many apostolic injunctions to that effect (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17, etc.). Christianity may be said to be distinctively the religion of Compassion.
What did Jesus come to do?
This lesson subtly but directly diminishes the Lord Jesus and the purpose of His incarnation. Jesus did not sympathize with the crowds. He felt something much more urgent; He knew they were spiritually dead and without hope. He knew the religious leaders of the Jews were holding them captive to requirements that obscured the hope and promise of the Scriptures. They were in deep darkness, and He came not to bring relief but to bring them new life.
Adventism cannot offer anything but “relief”. It can offer free medical, dental, and vision clinics. It can offer humanitarian aid when disasters occur. It can send its members out with loaves of bread, sympathetic help, and material interventions when neighbors are in need—but it cannot offer people new life.
Adventism teaches a false gospel, and it keeps people in bondage to death—just as the Pharisees’ rigidity and rules kept the 1st century Jews in bondage. Jesus came to break open the deceptive falsehoods of the Pharisees and to restore the people’s vision of and belief in the promises of God.
Jesus’ hearings were not about “relief”. Rather, they were fulfilling the prophecies that the Messiah would make the deaf hear, the lame walk, the sick well, and the dead live. Moreover, in the story of the paralytic let down through the roof so Jesus could heal him, we see Jesus’ hearings were inextricably linked with forgiveness of sins:
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:3-12)
In this account we read that Jesus equated his healing the paralytic with forgiveness of sins. He healed the man and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” When the Jews responded by accusing Him of blasphemy, Jesus asked which was easier to say: your sins are forgiven, or take up your bed and walk?
Jesus made it clear that the two were equally impossible for men to do. Both healing and forgiveness of sin were the works of God. No human could do either. By deliberately connecting His healing with forgiveness, Jesus was both revealing His own identity and clarifying that physical health and spiritual restoration were completely the work of God, not men.
When Adventists say that their hospitals are continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus, they are blaspheming as well. They are conscripting Jesus’ life of revelation of His identity as God incarnate who was the sufficient sacrifice for sin for themselves, arrogantly declaring that they are continuing His ministry.
Wrong. Jesus’ ministry was completely unique. He came to bring life to the dead. He came to be the sacrifice for sin. Adventism is not continuing that ministry.
Moreover, they are mis-defining His ministry. His ministry was not one of bringing relief. He was not sympathizing with the people. His ministry was one of bringing new life, of restoring dead people to relationship with the living God.
Only those who have trusted the Lord Jesus and His finished work, only those who have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit can continue Jesus’ ministry to the world. They don’t duplicate, or follow the example of Jesus—they are saved by Jesus. Once they are born again, however, they are equipped by the Holy Spirit to take the true gospel to the world.
Those who are born again can meet people in their need and offer compassion, not sympathy. They can offer the true hope of Life to them as they minister to their needs.
Ministering to people’s needs without offering the gospel of the Lord Jesus’ finished work is merely a temporary fix. It accomplishes nothing of eternal value. Mobilizing Adventism to meet human needs is helpful on a temporary level, but it does not bring people true hope.
Before trying to copy Jesus’ example of “sympathy”, it is necessary to know the true biblical gospel and to trust the Lord Jesus as the One who paid for our sin and who gives us His own life—eternal life—which begins and does not ever end the moment we believe. From that moment, we are never out of His presence. Our spirits are made alive, and we are forever in Him!