When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion

by Larry Kreider

Kimberly led a women’s Bible study group at Good Shepherd Church which met in the church basement every Thursday evening. An inner-city church, Good Shepherd was intent on reaching out to the many low-income people in their neighborhood. Kimberly was a seasoned church leader and social worker and accustomed to the unique issues facing women in her city. But she had never experienced a person quite like Alexa, a single mom who started attending Kimberly’s Bible study group with her two children. Alexa had led a complicated life—childhood trauma, poor decisions, drug use, and failed relationships.

But Alexa had recently come to follow Jesus. She had an unswerving faith and trusted the Lord for every situation that came up in her life.

She soon shared her dreams with the group of becoming a part-time teacher’s assistant and working with disabled children. The only trouble was that Alexa had a fourth grade reading level. She had never finished high school and was currently on public assistance. The odds were stacked against her.

When Alexa asked Kimberly to help her study for her high school equivalency test, Kimberly’s first inclination was to say no. Her schedule was maxed out as it was. And really, Alexa just didn’t seem to have the mental capacity to do it. And if she was honest, Kimberly didn’t want to waste her precious time in an endeavor that would most likely get her nowhere. When it came right down to it, the whole idea just seemed like a time drain on Kimberly’s already busy schedule.

On the other hand, would she practice what she preached? Just last week the Bible study lesson was about unconditional love and about giving with no expectancy of return. Was this a test for her as a leader?

Most leaders are familiar with the love chapter in the Bible. The Greek word for love in this chapter is agape, a love which gives with no expectation of return. The agape love test for leaders is often our temptation to favor certain people because of their influence or for what they can do for us. One church leader repented after he realized he was favoring a wealthy church member who owned a yacht, and his underlying motivation was to spend time on the yacht! We must constantly be aware of showing partiality. Everyone, great and small, is precious in God’s sight.

Agape love is the straight arrow of love that flies free in one direction to give to others unselfishly. John 3:16 speaks of this love. “For God so loved. . .” We can be sure that a leader’s love will be tested to see if it is unconditional. Our Savior was compassionate about people and their needs. When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion (Matthew 9:36). Compassion compels us to give and not be upset if something is not given back to us. Colossians 3:12 tells us to clothe ourselves with compassion. Compassion, unlike pity, gives people a path out of their pain. A pastor tells this story about passing the test of love to someone who was difficult and hard to love.

As a teenager, I helped tend a produce market stand. One of our regular customers was a middle-aged woman who bought a few tomatoes every week. She became my “enemy” as each week I listened to her complain while she aggressively sorted through the pile of home-grown tomatoes, squeezing each one firmly enough to bruise.

One Saturday, my “tomato enemy” once again began sorting through the beautiful quantity of tomatoes. I waited on her grudgingly, fuming as I watched her deliberately squeeze each one. My attitude wasn’t helped as I witnessed her steal two tomatoes, dropping them into her basket. Needless to say, I was angry, but I finally had the opportunity for vengeance!

I quickly informed the owner. I wasn’t prepared for his reply. He instructed me to get a large paper sack, fill it with the nicest tomatoes, and give them to her freely. “Tell her she doesn’t need to steal any of them. If she can’t pay, we will gladly supply her, free of charge, all the tomatoes she needs,” he said.

I did what I was told, and that act of love did something for us both; it changed our hearts. In the ensuing weeks I developed a strange friendship with my new “friend” as I learned to know her name and that she was a single mom struggling to raise a handicapped son.1

Love at a Whole New Level

God expects a Christian leader serving both in the church and in the workplace to love others with an unconditional love. When Jesus walked with His disciples on this earth, He taught them the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12). However, just before He left, He told them He was giving a new commandment. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus’ new commandment was to “love each other as I have loved you.” The new commandment challenges and moves us far beyond the old commandment of loving others like we want to be loved. Now we are commanded to treat others as Christ has loved and treated us. This takes us to a whole new level. It moves us beyond our personal preferences and causes us to esteem others as more important than ourselves. At this point it is not what is important for me—it is what is best for my team (or followers). How can my team advance into the greater things of God? God expects leaders to nurture and care for their followers. A Jesus-style of leadership is loving and focused on the needs of others.

With the old commandment, you are still the center of your universe, and everything depends on your human capacity to love. When you move away from being the center of your universe, you are challenged to love unconditionally like Jesus loves. A leader will unselfishly place others first (Philippians 2:2-7).

A true leader’s main goal is not to preserve life or position; it is to advance the Kingdom of God. It is not the building of our business or our own ministry that should consume us; it is advancing God’s Kingdom. While speaking on the topic of passion, my friend Floyd McClung has said, “I can tell when I have lost my passion for Jesus when I make decisions based upon what it will cost me versus the glory that Christ will receive.”

A friend of mine has been elected to a local school board. He is often confronted with the dilemma of making the right decision for the school district, knowing that he will be criticized by the press for doing it. Often in leadership you are misunderstood because you have information that can’t be shared publicly. There is nothing you can do about it—you will be misunderstood. Leaders do not always have to explain themselves. It is okay to be misunderstood.

Love, Loyalty, and Faithfulness Go Hand-in-Hand

The combination of these three character traits is powerful. Some people are one or the other, and that spells trouble. A dog may be your most loyal friend and faithfully greet you as you enter your home after a day at work. But if he responds to everyone with that same loyalty, he will allow a burglar to come in your house and take everything you have! A dog like this is loyal, but not faithful.

A team member can faithfully show up at every meeting and event of the church, but if he is not loyal enough to jump into the fray when spiritual battles need to be fought in the church, he will allow Satan to tamper with God’s people and his leader. Leadership teams stand together in both loyalty and faithfulness and love. Strong churches are made up of a group of people who genuinely love each other and those they serve, who loyally fight together against the spiritual enemy who is trying to destroy them. They do not fight with each other!

There is a story from the Vietnam War that tells of a platoon coming under a surprise attack. They fell back to a safe zone, but one of the men was wounded and lying out in the open field. His friend told the commanding officer, “I must get my friend.”

The officer said, “I absolutely forbid you to run out there; it is too dangerous.” But the young private ran off into the field, amidst the fire and explosions, to pull his best friend to safety. He arrived back to the safe zone with his friend, and the officer looked down at the man, now dead. He asked, “Well, private, was it really worth it?”

The young man, with tears in his eyes, responded, “Yes sir, it was. The last words he spoke to me were, ‘I knew you would come.’”

This is the kind of unconditional love God wants us to have. The enemy will attack. Can we remain steadfast and loyal and love others unconditionally when the pressure is on?

Kimberly took the matter to the Lord in prayer. The Lord spoke to her spirit, “I love Alexa with an unconditional love and I want you to do the same.” It was enough for Kimberly. She started to tutor Alexa every week. For weeks and weeks it seemed as if they made no headway, but then a light bulb seemed to go on in Alexa’s head. Words started to make sense, and her school lessons became easier. Eventually she passed her high school equivalency exam and achieved her dream of working part-time as a teacher’s assistant with a disabled child in a local school.

“What if I had said ‘no’ to Alexa?” Kimberly thought. “Lord, forgive me. It’s so easy to love those who are good-looking, smart, or fun to be around. But when people inconvenience me or I feel I will not get anything back in return, it’s easy to turn away.

  1. God Stories from Lancaster County, “Kind Words,” Wesley D. Siechrist, (Lancaster, PA: The Regional Church of Lancaster County, 2006), p. 297.

Taken from the book Passing the 21 Tests of Leadership by Larry Kreider.