January 21, 2018

God's Compelling Compassion for the Vulnerable

Speaker: Bret Rogers Topic: Sanctity of Human Life Passage: Exodus 22:21–27, Exodus 23:6–7, Deuteronomy 10:15–19, Job 29:11–17, James 1:27

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

We normally preach through books. But occasionally we address what the Bible says about a particular topic. The topic I’ll address today is God’s compelling compassion for the vulnerable.

It’s Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Monday will mark the anniversary of Roe versus Wade. Forty-five years ago, the Supreme Court legalized elective abortion. They forced every state to give every woman the free access to abort their preborn children on demand. That decision has now provided legal protection for killing, according to best estimates, over 60 million babies.[i]

There’s no question over what an abortion is. Even scientists and medical professionals who support abortion, do so with full knowledge that abortion terminates human life. They just question the baby’s rights. In the face of this evil, we need guidance on how to respond. That’s my aim: to compel you to respond by showing you God’s compassion for the vulnerable. 

Preparing Us to Address Abortion

But before I do that, let me begin with what’s of first importance, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m teaching with full awareness that people in this room have had an abortion. Or, you counseled a girlfriend to have an abortion. You feel shame and guilt. You’re angry at others who deceived you. Gnawing memories depress you. “If I would’ve only known…”

There’s good news for you. Abortion is murder. But the good news is that God forgives murderers who trust in Christ and transforms them. Paul once breathed murder against the church. But this same Paul says this in 1 Timothy 1:15-16: “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

God knows your rebellion, your mess; and he sent his Son to save you still. He loved you by sending his Son to die under the punishment you deserved—whether that was for abortion or anger, murder or murmuring, bloodshed or boasting. Today may remind you of the true nature of your sin. But hear this truth again: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s the only people he saves—sinners.

Even more, he saved you as you were to display his perfect patience. That’s the goodness of the gospel. God takes our waste of a life, and he makes us theatres to display the drama of his mercy. That’s what your life is, when you’re in Christ: a display of God’s perfect patience to others in need of salvation.

Second, my focus today is not to establish what the Bible implies about when life begins. Nor is it my focus to show why abortion is morally wrong. Two years ago, we addressed both questions, and concluded as follows: from the moment of conception, preborn children are moral and legal persons who have intrinsic value as God’s image-bearers. Therefore, we should do all we can to nurture and protect them, and any deliberate act to end the life of a preborn child amounts to murder.[ii]

Today’s message complements that conclusion. This message assumes life begins at conception and abortion is morally wrong, and then goes further: God’s compassion moves us to act on behalf of the preborn. In other words, the biblical worldview is not simply avoiding abortion. That’s true; it’s just incomplete. True Christianity does something; it acts for the sake of the vulnerable. Avoidance didn’t abolish the slave trade. The relentless pursuit of William Wilberforce type Christians did. True Christianity acts to protect image-bearers; that’s more so our focus.

Third, several texts that I’ll read come from the Law of Moses. For some, appealing to the Law can be a stumbling block. Someone might object, “Wait a minute, I thought that in Christ we’re no longer under law but under grace.” That’s wonderfully true. Romans 6:14 says just that. But that doesn’t mean the Law has no place for the Christian. It’s still the word of God. Paul says elsewhere that it’s holy and righteous and good. More significantly, the apostles quote from it rather often when instructing the church. What are we to make of that?

It’s certainly not legalism. They’re not using the law to earn God’s favor. It’s also not resorting back to the Mosaic covenant. After all, Christ fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and brought for us the new and better covenant in his blood. Rather, it’s a matter of how the Law functions for us. The answer to how can be seen in the way the apostles interpret the Law in light of Jesus fulfilling it. It’s not a matter of choosing which laws apply and which don’t, but how those laws are fulfilled and brought to their truest intent in Christ and our union with Christ.

The apostles teach us to use the Law both for prophecy and for wisdom. It’s prophecy in that it points us to Jesus our true sacrifice, our true meeting place, our true Passover, our superior Priest, and so on. But the Law is also used for wisdom in the Christian life. God promised to create a new people who internalized his Law, such that it shaped their moral outlook and their actions toward others.

The Law reveals God’s character. The more we internalize God’s Law in Christ and by the Spirit, the more we reflect God’s character. So when I read from the Law in just a minute, don’t throw up the legalism flag. Don’t think we’re dismissing the new covenant. No, we’re actively pursuing what the new covenant realizes—a people so morally transformed by God’s word and Spirit that they reflect God’s character.

God’s Compassion for the Vulnerable

One aspect of God’s character that’ll be our focus is God’s compassion for the vulnerable. I want to read several passages, note just a few things. Then I want to parallel the vulnerable in these passages with the vulnerable around us. The vulnerable in the womb will be the primary focus, but it’ll be obvious that the biblical vision of God’s compassion touches many more types of vulnerable people.

First stop. Let’s turn to Exodus 22:21-27. It’s important to remember that God saves his people from slavery, then he gives them the Law. It’s not “Obey this first, and I’ll get you out.” It’s, “I got you out, now here’s how we live.” The word of God is to enter this community and profoundly shape every aspect of life. One aspect is how the people treat the vulnerable. He says this in verse 21…

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Sojourners, widows, orphans, the poor. These are the vulnerable in Israel. These folks lacked security and protection. They didn’t have welfare or CPS or Medicaid or social security to lean on. Israel was to look out for these vulnerable people. They were to act rightly toward them and not take advantage of them in their helpless situation.

The Lord gives three reasons why. One, Israel must remember their own helpless situation: “for you were sojourners in the Land of Egypt.” In other words, “Don’t forget your vulnerable state when I provided for you. You remember Pharaoh’s unjust whip; and I came to your aid.” Two, God fights for the vulnerable: “I will hear their cry and my wrath will burn…” He’s not aloof. God sees injustice and he will judge.

Three, God is compassionate: “I will hear, for I am compassionate.” Compassion isn’t just a matter of sympathy; it’s action to help those in suffering. God is just; he treats people without partiality. But even more, he’s compassionate. He identifies with those in suffering and lavishes his kindness upon them to help them in suffering.

Go now to Exodus 23:6-7. "You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” Again, God stands for the vulnerable. The poor were particularly vulnerable to mistreatment in lawsuits. The rich could bribe the judge to accuse the poor man without weighing the evidence fairly. God didn’t tolerate such partiality. But something else is that it’s evil to kill the innocent. It’s evil to kill innocent people who can’t defend themselves.

Note that while we turn next to Deuteronomy 10:15-19. It says,

…the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Do you hear this? The new heart that loves God will reflect God’s justice and show God’s love in our dealings with the vulnerable. See the connection? God executes justice…God loves the sojourner…Therefore, you love the sojourner. Or, to state it negatively, if you mistreat the vulnerable, if you just let people trample all over them and have their way with them, if you refuse to execute justice for them, you’ve got a callous, stubborn heart that doesn’t know God as he is.

Deuteronomy 24:17-19 is next. It adds another element that was implicit in the other passages, but now becomes explicit: “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and [here it is] the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” He then goes on to speak about ensuring the widow, orphan, and sojourner have enough to eat.

Again, these people lack freedom, security, and protection. But it’s Israel’s duty to look after them, even seek their benefit. Why? Because “you were a slave…and the Lord your God redeemed you.” In other words, when they were helpless without freedom, without protection, without hope, God intervened. God helped them. God saved them. He didn’t just send them nice words; he swooped in and did something about their situation. Now they too were to reflect the same compassion to the helpless.

That’s how it always works in Scripture: God stuns his people with incredible compassion; and that compassion, in turn, compels his people to show compassion. Job is commended for his righteousness and listen to what that righteousness entails. If you asked, “What’s it like to reflect God’s righteous character?” Here’s one picture. This is Job 29:11-17, “I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him…I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy…I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.”

Such compassion for the vulnerable is the very outworking of God’s righteousness. If you know anything of their history, Israel doesn’t emulate God’s compassion for the vulnerable. Zechariah says that great anger came from the LORD of hosts for this (Zech 7:9-12). But there was still hope.

God spoke of another Israelite, who would take up cause of the vulnerable. Isaiah 11:4, “…with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Isaiah 61:1, God would “anoint [him] to bring good news to the poor…send [him] to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…”

Jesus then applies those prophecies to himself. And throughout his ministry we see Jesus’ compassion for the vulnerable. The poor have good news preached to them (Luke 7:22). Jesus had compassion on the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. “Give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” (Luke 14:13). On the eve of his crucifixion, he reassures the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans [fatherless]; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

Then finally we reach the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The cross is the ultimate display of God’s concern for the helpless and vulnerable. Without Christ coming, we’re helpless. We lack the purchasing power to get ourselves out of slavery to sin. We’re all vulnerable to the devil’s oppressive schemes. We’re all orphans in that we don’t have God as our true Father. And we’re powerless to change the situation.

But in his compassion, God sends Jesus to pay the price, destroy the devil, and adopt us into God’s family. In other words, through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we see the ultimate display of God’s compassion for the helpless and vulnerable. And now, in light of that redeeming work, we’re compelled to show compassion for the helpless.

Just like God’s compassion to Israel in the Exodus was to move them to love the vulnerable, so also God’s compassion in the cross should move us to love the vulnerable. That’s why James 1:27 instructs the church with words that are very similar to some of the passages we’ve already read. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That means going to them with the intent to help, to give them aid, to fight for justice in their situation.

It’s more along the lines of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan where we make their needs our own. It’s not love to just sit back and say, “Well, I didn’t do him any evil.” That’s what the priest and the Levite could have said: “I didn’t beat him up. I didn’t hurt him.” That’s the way self-righteousness talks: “I didn’t do anything.” Exactly. You were no neighbor, you did not love. Those who truly know God’s love, will help alleviate the distress of those who cannot pay us back and work justice for those who cannot defend themselves. That’s the biblical portrait of God’s compassion.

Children in the Womb Stand among the Most Vulnerable

What does that have to do with preborn image-bearers? Everything. The sojourner, the widow, the orphan, the poor—all of them are weak, vulnerable, and unable to help themselves in the face of injustice. Preborn image-bearers stand among the most vulnerable people in our society. They cannot defend themselves. They cannot run from the abortionist’s instruments. They have no voice to argue their right to live and tell the mother not to stop their heartbeat. They’re innocent people in society, and therefore it’s wicked to kill them, even more wicked to legalize their killing.

Preborn children are weak, innocent, and unable to help themselves in the face of injustice. What does God’s compassion compel us to do for these kinds of people? It compels us to act on their behalf. It compels us to fight for their lives, to execute justice, to identify with them in their suffering and work for their good. Michael Spielman puts it this way: “By explicitly commanding us to care for those whose livelihood is in jeopardy…God is implicitly commanding us to care for those whose lives are in jeopardy…”

So let me give you a few ways we can do this. And as I do, hear me say this: none of us can do them all, but all of us can do some.

1. Pray for justice, babies, pregnant women

One, compassion will move us to pray. Pray for God’s justice to prevail. As Christians, we’re confident that justice will prevail. God displayed justice at the cross; and he raised Jesus from the dead to assure that his justice will prevail. Pray to that end.

David prays this way for the vulnerable in Psalm 10: “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted…you note mischief…that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer…” Pray that God topples the abortion industry. Pray God will bring justice for the innocent. Pray that the unborn are spared their lives and that the wicked are exposed.

Pray also for pregnant women. Pray the Lord would intervene in cases where a woman is callous to the life in her womb and more concerned with her convenience. Pray for the Lord to protect other women who feel trapped with no way out. Pray women would be protected from the fangs of wicked men who devour them. Pray also about ways you can enter their lives for good. Your prayers may seem like nothing, but our God is great.

2. Educate yourself and others

Two, educate yourself and others. As some have put it, education before legislation. In a day where information on any subject is just a swipe away, get educated. Go to websites like Abort73.com and just read for a couple hours. Get answers to questions about abortion, medical research, pregnancy centers, counseling services, how well the church is responding or isn’t responding. Educate yourself so you can pass on informed answers to others. If you don’t like to read, watch the videos.

You may not like to study, but consider it an act of compassion. Study will help put yourself in their shoes, identify with their sufferings, and then learn various ways to act on their behalf. If you have children, teach them that God values life from conception to natural death. If you have pro-choice friends, challenge their views. Expose the darkness, as Ephesians 5 says. Don’t pretend this doesn’t matter.

Some of you are good writers. Use that gift to write articles on your blog or the church’s blog or Facebook; spread the word about the evil of abortion and the sanctity of human life. Promote things on your Facebook account like the Pregnancy Help Center, or pass out good books that help people see the truth.

3. Renounce the abortion culture and the attitude driving it

Three, renounce the abortion culture and the attitude behind it. Part of the church’s mission to the vulnerable is to keep ourselves unstained from the world—James 1:27. That means the obvious, like choosing not to end the life of a preborn child. But it also means not participating in the less obvious—like not using “birth-control” methods that are abortifacient, or not using artificial reproductive technologies that threaten the sanctity of life. If human life begins at conception, then we should do all we can to protect the conceived but preborn child at every stage in development.

But there’s also an attitude driving the abortion culture. Really, it’s the same attitude that drives genocide and racism and road rage and verbal abuse. That attitude goes like this: dehumanize anybody who stands in the way of my plans, my wants, and my comforts. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, illustrates this attitude. The man Kurtz sets himself up like a god over a tribal people in the Congo. Surrounding his house are heads impaled on stakes. Not only had he enslaved them, but that’s how he treated anybody who got in his way. The point, though, is that the heart of darkness isn’t a place in Congo; the heart of darkness is that inward disposition that pretends to be god and dehumanizes anyone who gets in the way. We must renounce such attitudes.

4. Support crisis pregnancy centers that are pro-life

Four, support crisis pregnancy centers that are pro-life. Support them with finances, and support them with services. Create margin in your schedule to help women who come to these centers. As a church, we’ve chosen to help the Pregnancy Health Center off Camp Bowie. We set aside funds in our budget to support them; and some of you give your time to assist with sonograms or counsel the women or clean the facilities. In fact, our own Mary Ledbetter will be sharing a little of what she does at the PHC. That’ll be in the Fellowship Hall just following today’s service. So grab some lunch and join us to hear how the Lord is using Mary in that ministry. Her labors are worthy of imitation.

5. Be a safe-haven for pregnant women and their babies

Five, be a safe-haven for pregnant women and their babies. Here’s where I want to expand the application beyond just babies in the womb. Babies in the womb are vulnerable. But so are many women who are wrestling with whether to have an abortion. Some were raped and now are scared of raising a child alone. Some made poor life choices and aren’t mature enough to care. Some are just callous about life altogether, since mom or dad never treated them like a person either. Some have known nothing but poverty and fear the costs of raising a child. Whatever their stories, whatever their background, they’re looking for hope and help.

The church should be the first to offer them both—hope in Christ and help from his people. The church should provide a context for healing and restoration for victims of rape. I’ve heard of some churches even offering assistance for victims of rape, where sisters teach these women various trades that they can do from home. That income not only provides an alternative to welfare, but also allows the young mothers to work from home so they can care for their child, finish school, and so on.

The church can also provide help for those who are pregnant and facing the mountain of motherhood and counsel to those women running away from motherhood to abortion. We should even be ready and available to adopt their children when they come to us for help. When we ask them, “Hey, have you considered adoption instead of abortion?” there should be a real sense that we as a church can stand behind that question, and take responsibility to find that child a home if it’s not with his/her mother. Some of us may not be able to adopt, but others of us can.

If a woman comes who’s had an abortion, we who know God’s forgiveness should be the first to extend mercy to them. The church should be a home for women grieving over the consequences of their actions. We’re the only institution that can hold out true and lasting hope for them in the gospel message. Again, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

6. Let God’s compassion for the vulnerable shape your political action

Six, let God’s compassion for the vulnerable shape your political action. In a democratic context, we can engage at the political level. We can support those leaders whose principles and policies best reflect compassion for the vulnerable. But we can do more than vote. We can persuade others to embrace policies that reflect God’s compassion for the vulnerable—and not just in relation to the unborn, but also in relation to things like promoting equal treatment of all ethnicities; in relation to supporting the orphan and women in difficult places; in relation to refugee care as they flee life-threatening conditions; even in relation to “dreamers.”

That’s a scenario I’m learning about more as the days pass, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I have to say that the solutions of some Christians are hardly informed by the biblical vision of God’s compassion for the vulnerable, even less by his justice in some cases. We’ve got to ask better questions: Have the people writing the laws truly understood the people in those dire situations? Does the law uphold justice for the vulnerable? Will the laws in place end up punishing the innocent? What plan is in place to protect life?

7. Never forget your helpless condition when the Lord saved you

Finally, never forget your helpless condition when the Lord saved you. The Lord wouldn’t let Israel forget it. The apostles don’t let us forget it either. Regularly, we’re reminded of how depraved and desperate we were before God saved us. The point is both to humble us and to magnify God’s great grace. In coming to the Lord’s Supper, remember God’s compassion toward you. Remember where he found you and what he rescued you from. Then as you eat, consider how his great compassion toward you might be compelling you to act on behalf of the vulnerable.

[i]Estimate taken from “The State of Abortion in the United States – 2018” published by the National Right to Life Committee, Inc. Accessed 18 January 2018 at the following link: https://www.nrlc.org/uploads/communications/stateofabortion2018.pdf

[ii]Taken from the sermon I preached on January 17, 2016, and which can be accessed at the following link: http://www.redeemerfortworth.org/sermons/sermon/2016-01-17/personhood-preborn-children-our-role-as-a-local-church. Other ethical questions do enter the picture in the extremely rare case of an ectopic pregnancy, when the embryo implants somewhere outside the uterus, is unable to survive, and, barring miraculous resolution, the mother’s life is in jeopardy. In that extremely rare situation, two lives are at stake; and we must do all we can to save as many lives as possible. But keeping that extremely rare exception in mind, we’ve asked the Bible to tell us if it’s morally right or wrong to terminate life in the womb. And the Bible implies that it’s morally wrong. All children in the womb bear the image of God, are valuable persons, and to terminate their life is murder.