KEY TEXT: Matthew 14:14-19 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me."
KEY THOT: Jesus' ministry is motivated by compassion: "he had compassion on them and healed their sick" (v.14). Compassion is "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others" (Oxford). He not only healed because of his compassion, but when the disciples told him to send the crowds away because it was getting late, he fed them because of his compassion: "I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." Jesus didn't heal the sick, cast out demons and perform miracles to "prove" he is God; he ministered out of compassion. The Gospel is good news for poor and needy people. And a Gospel-centred ministry is motivated by compassion--nothing more and nothing less.
Compassion comes from seeing people as God sees them. Jesus had compassion on the crowds because he saw them as harrassed and helpless: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:36-38). Mark describes even his teaching as motivated by compassion: "When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34-35). If we are motivated by compassion, we will attract crowds into our churches.
Sadly, compassion for needy people is not often the primary motivation in many church-based ministries. People may "serve" in church because of peer pressure, legalistic obligation, ego, power, the need for attention or the need to be needed, pride, etc. Only when our ministry is motivated by compassion for others will then be serving God rather than ourselves. God will not endorse our ministry with his attendant presence and power if we are motivated by self-serving interests instead of others' spiritual and physical well-being.
If we want a ministry that pleases God, we should evaluate not only what we are doing, but why we are doing it. When we are motivated by compassion, we are willing to look to God to do the "impossible" things: like healing the sick, casting out demons and feeding five thousands with only five loaves and two fish. When we are motivated by compassion, we are not limited by our resources but only by what God can do.
As a new season for Alpha starts, we need to evaluate our motivation for participating in this ministry. The Alpha team must treat the guests attending the course with compassion; they are often harassed and helpless with great needs. If the Alpha team wants to be used by God to minister powerfully, it has to minister out of compassion not convenience. Christ-centred ministry is never the way to boost our ego needs--it must always be motivated by the needs of others. No other motivation for ministry is valid--nor ever godly.
Abba Father, grant us the same compassion that Jesus had when he was on earth, that we might minister like him in his faith and power. Amen.