WHEN Jesus taught his disciples how to preach the good news, he acknowledged that the Kingdom message would not always be welcomed. (Luke 10:3, 5, 6) In our ministry, we may encounter some who respond harshly or even act abusively. Admittedly, such responses can make it difficult for us to maintain compassion for those to whom we preach.
A compassionate person sees the needs and problems of others, feels sympathy for them, and wants to help. However, if we begin to lose our compassion for those whom we meet in the ministry, we may also begin to lose our zeal and effectiveness. On the other hand, when we cultivate compassion, it is as if we were adding more oxygen to a fire—we keep our zeal for the ministry burning brightly!—1 Thess. 5:19.
How can we cultivate compassion even when it is challenging to do so? Let us consider three examples worthy of imitation—the examples of Jehovah, Jesus, and the apostle Paul.
IMITATE JEHOVAH’S COMPASSION
For thousands of years, Jehovah has endured the reproach that has been brought on his name. Yet, he remains “kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35) His kindness is demonstrated by his patience. Jehovah desires that “all sorts of people” be saved. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) Although God hates wickedness, he views humans as precious and does not want any to lose their lives.—2 Pet. 3:9.
Jehovah understands how effectively Satan has blinded unbelieving humans. (2 Cor. 4:3, 4) Many have been taught wrong beliefs and attitudes since childhood, making it a challenge for them to accept the truth. Jehovah is eager to help such ones. How do we know?
Consider Jehovah’s view of the ancient Ninevites. Despite their violent ways, Jehovah said to Jonah: “Should I not also feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there are more than 120,000 men who do not even know right from wrong?” (Jonah 4:11) Jehovah viewed the Ninevites as spiritually disadvantaged, and he mercifully commissioned Jonah to warn them.
Like Jehovah, we view people as precious. We can imitate him by eagerly trying to help any who might listen, even if they seem unlikely to respond.
IMITATE JESUS’ COMPASSION
Like his Father, Jesus was moved with pity for people who were in spiritual need. “On seeing the crowds, he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36) Jesus saw beneath the surface; he recognized that those who came to hear him speak had been taught falsehoods and had been mistreated by their religious leaders. Although he knew that many would allow various obstacles to hinder them from responding favorably, Jesus still proceeded “to teach them many things.”—Mark 4:1-9.
When people react unfavorably to our message, we need to see beneath the surface and ask ourselves why they respond as they do. Some may have a negative attitude about the Bible or about Christianity because of the bad examples of those who claim to be Christians. Perhaps others have been told lies about our beliefs. Still others may face the scorn of members of the community or of family members if they receive us favorably.
Some we meet in the ministry may react unfavorably because of traumatic experiences that have left them emotionally damaged. A missionary named Kim says: “In a certain part of our territory, many people are victims of a war in which they lost all their possessions. They have no real hope for the future. They are frustrated and very distrustful. In this area, we regularly encounter those opposed to our message. On one occasion, I was assaulted while preaching.”
How does Kim maintain her compassion despite such treatment? She says: “When treated abusively, I try to keep in mind Proverbs 19:11, which says: ‘The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.’ Remembering the background of those in our territory helps me to cultivate compassion for them. And not everyone we meet is hostile. In that same area, we have some nice return visits.”
We might ask ourselves, ‘How would I respond to the Kingdom message if I were in the position of those to whom we preach?’ For example, what if we had repeatedly been told lies about Jehovah’s Witnesses? In such circumstances, perhaps we too would respond negatively and be in need of compassion. When we recall Jesus’ command to treat others as we wish to be treated, we are motivated to respond empathetically even when it is difficult to do so.—Matt. 7:12.
IMITATE PAUL’S COMPASSION
The apostle Paul showed compassion even for violent opposers. Why? He did not forget his own past. He said: “Formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and with a lack of faith.” (1 Tim. 1:13) He recognized that Jehovah and Jesus had shown him great mercy. Likely, he could see his former self in some of those to whom he preached.
At times, Paul encountered strongly entrenched false beliefs. How did he react? Acts 17:16 reports that while Paul was in Athens, “his spirit within him became irritated on seeing that the city was full of idols.” Nevertheless, Paul used the very source of his irritation to give a fine witness. (Acts 17:22, 23) He adapted his preaching methods to the backgrounds of various types of people so that he “might by all possible means save some.”—1 Cor. 9:20-23.
We can imitate Paul by acknowledging negative attitudes or wrong beliefs that we encounter and then by skillfully introducing “good news of something better.” (Isa. 52:7) A sister named Dorothy says: “In our territory, many have been taught that God is harsh and judgmental. I commend such people for their strong belief in God and then draw their attention to what the Bible says about Jehovah’s loving personality and his promises for the future.”
“KEEP CONQUERING THE EVIL WITH THE GOOD”
As we move deeper into “the last days,” we can expect that the attitudes of some to whom we preach “will advance from bad to worse.” (2 Tim. 3:1, 13) But we must not let this downward trend erode our compassion or cause us to lose our joy. Jehovah can give us the strength to “keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Rom. 12:21) A pioneer named Jessica relates: “I often encounter people who lack humility and who belittle us and our message. This can be annoying. When I begin a conversation, I pray silently to Jehovah and ask for his help to see the person as he does. This takes my focus off of my feelings and instead makes me think about how to help the person.”
We should also consider how to encourage our fellow workers. Jessica says: “If one of us has a bad experience, I try not to dwell on it. Rather, I shift the conversation to positive topics, such as the good that our ministry accomplishes despite the negative responses of some.”
Jehovah is well-aware of the challenges we encounter in the ministry. How he must rejoice when we imitate his mercy! (Luke 6:36) Of course, Jehovah will not extend his compassion indefinitely. We can be confident that he knows exactly the right time to end this system of things. Until then, our preaching is urgent. (2 Tim. 4:2) Let us continue to carry out our assignment with zeal and tender compassion for “all sorts of people.”