Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Comfort for the Oppressed

Dannah Gresh: Injustice is everywhere we look. Maybe even in the mirror. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The fact is, not only have you and I been wrongfully treated, oppressed by others at times, but we are all also oppressors.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for February 18, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

It seems like we’re constantly hearing of more and more situations where someone in a position of power took advantage of someone weaker. Maybe you’ve experienced that yourself. The Bible calls it “injustice” or “oppression.”

Today, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is going to show us what God’s Word says about oppression in this series, "The Power of Relationships." We’ll see how we can glorify God in our relationships, especially when we’ve been sinned against or we’ve sinned against others. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Let me encourage you to open your Bible, if you can, to the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 4. We're looking at the first twelve verses during this series. It's a series about relationships and today we're continuing in the first paragraph of Ecclesiastes chapter 4 where the writer is talking about the pain of oppression and injustice in human relationshipsrelationships that are sinful and damaged.

We'll move on in the days ahead to talk about the problem of isolation in human relationships, and then God's prescription—the power of intimacy in our human relationships.

Let's pick up again at verse 1 of Ecclesiastes chapter 4. The writer says,

Again I looked and I saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun.

And we said in the last session that oppression is inevitable. Injustice is a fact of life on this planet. And the writer says,

I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter (v. 1).

Now we said that there were three categories of people that are referenced in this verse. We looked at the first category yesterday and that was those who were oppressed. We reminded ourselves that God sees those who are oppressed. He know their circumstances; He knows their situations, and He cares.

God is always at work to fulfill His plan. Part of His plan is that ultimately all oppression and all injustice will be dealt with—not as quickly as we would often wish would be the case. But when we see the Lord in eternity, we will look back and agree. "Lord, the way You did it was best. The way You did it was right."

So we have those in this verse who are oppressed. Now I want us to take a look at those who are the oppressors. "I saw those who are oppressed." By implication, if there are oppressed people, then there are people who are doing the oppressing.

As you read through the Old Testament in particular, but the New Testament as well, you find that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of laws regarding how we are to treat each other. This is something that matters to God: How we deal with each other. There are particularly many laws in the Scripture about how we deal with those who are needy, those who are downtrodden, those who, through circumstances of life, are poor or destitute for various reasons.

We learn in the Scripture that God takes it seriously when brothers oppress one another, when people deal unkindly or inappropriately or harshly or wrongly with one another. We learn that God will judge those who are oppressors.

God takes oppression seriously.

There are several specific categories, particularly in the Old Testament, that God emphasizes the kinds of oppressed people that God is concerned about and that He really cares if we oppress those people. It talks about the poor, the widows, the orphans, about those who work for us, employees, about our neighbors, about women, about children, and another category, prisoners.

As you read through the Old Testament, you think about these various categories of people.

Let me read you several verses and listen to how seriously God takes it when we oppress people in these various categories.

Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, [that's the stranger, the traveler,] the fatherless and the widow (Deut. 27:19).

These are people that God cares for and He says that we better care for them as well.

Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case [and listen to this] he will plunder those who plunder them (Prov. 22:22–23).

"You plunder the poor," God says, "I'll plunder you." It is not a good thing to be an oppressor.

In James chapter 5, we read about how rich oppressors will be judged. Now he is not saying it is wrong to be rich. He is saying it is wrong to have wealth and use your wealth to oppress others. Verse 1 of James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you.

And then he goes on to detail what some of those miseries will be. But he says why these miseries are coming in verse 4: "Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields which you kept back by fraud." You didn't pay the people who worked for you. You treated them unfairly. Those wages are crying out against you. And the cries of the harvesters "have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (NASB).

God is listening to the cries of the people. James says that "you have wronged, that you have sinned against, that you have oppressed." And then verse 9, "behold, the Judge is standing at the door."

There is judgment coming for oppressors.

Now in much of our culture today and even in our evangelical culture, there is a lot of talk about how we have been oppressed, how we've been victimized, how we've been wronged, how we've been wounded, how we've been sinned against. And that's all true.

But the fact is, not only have you and I been wrongfully treated, oppressed by others at times; but we are all also oppressors. All of us have oppressed others. We have sinned against others. Sometimes we say, "Well, if I hadn't been sinned against, I would not have sinned against my mate, my parents, my children, my friends."

But God doesn't give us that excuse. He doesn't hold us accountable for how others have sinned against us. He just holds us accountable for how we have responded to those who have sinned against us.

How do we oppress others? Well, I know one way that we've all done it and that is with our tonguesbelittling others, demeaning them, cutting them down, cutting remarks to or about them. Have you oppressed your husband recently? Have you oppressed that child that is getting on your nerves? Have you oppressed him with your tongue? We oppress others with gossip, with unkind or untrue words, spreading evil reports.

We oppress others with our attitudes, our demeanor; when we treat them harshly or roughly; when we're unkind or angry in just our spirit. If you're like me, you don't have to say a word to oppress someone. I mean it can just be a look of the eyes, just a manner, a spirit, toward someone else.

We can do it by giving others the silent treatment. You hurt me; see if I get involved with you. I’m not going to talk with you. I’m not going to get involved. We’ll just talk about surface things, but I’m not going to let you get close to me. We’re oppressing others.

We oppress others when we are insensitive to their needs, when we're so concerned and consumed with our world and our needs that we don't stop to think how this other person is feeling. What are they going through? How can I minister to them?

We oppress our family members, mates, children, parents. We oppress our fellow workers, people in the marketplace.

The Lord has convicted me as I've been studying this passage about some of the ways that I oppress people who work for me, some of the people on our team who serve and are loyal and loving and committed in ways that I’m not as sensitive to their needs or as engaged emotionally and spiritually in their lives as God would want me to be. That can be oppressive.

We can oppress others in our churches—people that we go to church with, we serve with, we’re involved in the same praise team and worship or involved in teaching children’s Sunday school together, involved in maybe the same homeschooling group but oppressing one another in our relationships.

Can I remind us that when we sin against one another, we sin against God. When I sin against you as part of the Body of Christ, I am sinning against Christ Himself. This is no small matter to be an oppressor.

When we sin against one another, we sin against God.

The Scripture tells us there is a Judge. He is standing at the door. This Judge is on the side of the oppressed.

You see, power comes from God. The passage we have been looking at, Ecclesiastes 4, says "power was on the side of the oppressor." It seems that way here on this fallen planet—that the people that are the oppressors have all the power and we're the helpless oppressed ones. But ultimately, all power belongs to God. If you or I abuse that power, if we become oppressors, if we use power wrongfully against other people, we will have to give account to God, and we will be judged accordingly.

There is a powerful passage in Leviticus chapter 25 that talks about how the fear of the Lord is what should motivate us to treat others appropriately. Let me read three verses from that passage. Leviticus 25, Verse 17:

You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.

Verse 35:

If your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit [don't abuse him financially]; but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

And then verse 39:

If your brother becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave. He shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the Year of Jubilee. You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

You see, the fear of the Lord, living in the constant, conscious awareness that God is here; God sees; God knows how I'm talking to that person. God sees and hears and knows how you're treating that three-year-old child, even though you think no one else sees and no one else hears. God knows how you talk to that mother-in-law who's hurt you. But God says, "If you live in the fear of the Lord, constantly conscious that God is here, God is listening, God is seeing, God knows what's in my heart toward that person, that will keep us from mistreating those around us."

Not only does the fear of the Lord motivate us, but the love of God is what will motivate us. The love of God. The law of love. So we're challenged throughout the Scripture to deal with one another in the loving and merciful and kind way that God has dealt with usforgiving one another. Ephesians 4:32: "As God for Christ's sake has forgiven you."

The law of love. The fear of the Lord. These things will keep us from mistreating others.

Just within the past week as I was preparing for this series, I received an email from a longtime dear friend who had been very hurt by something that she had shared with me that I had shared with someone else and it had, for reasons that I had not thought through carefully enough, had come back and really had been a damaging thing to her. And she was just very wounded.

As God dealt with my heart, I had to go back to her and say, "I was so wrong." In a sense what I was saying was, "I oppressed you. I sinned against you. I should never have shared that piece of information without asking you if it was okay to share it with the person that I told it to." And I said to her, "Could you please forgive me?"

And she was very gracious and said, "You're forgiven."

This matter of reconciling relationships, it is so, so important. You can't be right with God if you're not right with the people that you live with, the people you go to church with, the people that you work with.

Now there may be situations where you can't make it right, and that's why Paul says in the Book of Romans chapter 12: "If it is possible, as much as lies within you, live peaceably with all men" (v. 18). That means if there is a breech in a relationship, make sure that it's not your fault. Make sure that you have done everything possible to deal with the situation, to be reconciled, not to be the oppressor in the situation.

Now we see also in this verse, by implication, that not only are there those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors, but then there are those who are the comforters.

Now in this verse it says, "There were no comforters." This oppressed person had no comforter. But the implication is that there are people who are called alongside of the oppressed to comfort them. Comforters reflect the heart of God.

People who comfort reflect the heart of God.

All through the Scripture, you see that God upholds those who fall. Psalm 145:14, "He raises up all those who are bowed down." Isaiah 61:1–2 tells us that "He heals the brokenhearted and He comforts those who mourn." In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4: "He is the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our tribulations."

So when we are comforting the oppressed, we are reflecting the heart of God who is a great comforter. He is the God of all comfort. When we comfort others, we really become channels of God's grace and God's comfort to others. He comforts others through us. He encourages others through us. He lifts others up through us. That's why it is so important that we recognize that we need each other. We're part of a body. We're part of a family, and we can help to comfort those who are oppressed as God does.

We need to remember, too, that God judges those who ignore the cries of the oppressed. Scripture says that if you hear the cry of the poor and you ignore it, when you cry out in your poverty, God will ignore your cry. God takes it seriously when we hear the heart cries of those who are wounded, those who are oppressed, and we turn the other way. We pay no heed. We don’t care. We don't get involved even as those religious leaders passed by that wounded Samaritan who was lying by the side of the road there in the Gospels.

So we need to hear the cries of the oppressed. Ask yourself, “Are there oppressed people around me?” Now, I can tell you there are. So ask God to show you who those people are and how He wants you to be a comforter. How does He want you to enter into their world, enter into their pain and be a part of ministering God’s comfort to them?

  • We comfort by caring.
  • We comfort by listening.
  • We comfort by being there, even if there is nothing we can do to change their situation.
  • Often we comfort by just helping that oppressed person see their circumstances from God's perspective.

In the Body of Christ, in the family of God, we should never be able to say what is said in this first verse of Ecclesiastes 4: "They had no comforter." There should not be a person in your church, there should not be a person in your family who goes without comfort.

Now don't put yourself on the guilt trip that that means that it's your responsibility to comfort every oppressed person that is anywhere in your path. God will show you if you have eyes to see and ears to hear. God will show you how you can minister grace and encouragement. If we all do that as God is prompting our hearts, as He is making us sensitive to these needs, then the needs will be met.

Now as we move on to verse 2 in this passage, we see Solomon's natural human response to oppression, life under the sun, life without God. The natural response, the human response is one of despair. Verse 2: "I declare that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living who are still alive." He's saying, "It's miserable to be oppressed. It's better to be dead."

And then verse 3: "But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun." He is saying, "Better yet is never to have been born." You see, life under the sun, life without God, is hopeless. It is meaningless. It leads you to despair.

That's why if we're going to have wholesome and healthy relationships, we're going to have to have God in the picture. We'll have to have God in those relationships. "But apart from God," he says, "it's hopeless; better to be dead; better yet, never to have been born.

Now verse 4, let me put this in as sort of a parenthesis before we move on in the next session to the next problem of relationships. But in verse 4 Solomon addresses a slightly different relational problem and issue. He says,

I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This, too, is meaningless [or vanity as some of your translations say], a chasing after the wind.

As I have meditated on this verse, I think part of what he is trying to say is that there is, in many of us, this striving to perform, striving to impress, striving to be as good as the next personthat is what motivates so much of our effort. Don’t you find yourself sometimes in that performance trap?

If I could just be as good a mother as so and so; if I could just be as creative a homemaker or as good as hospitality; if I could just teach the Bible like she does; if I could just . . . When we compare ourselves with other people, that’s envy. We wish we had their gifts. We wish we had their strengths, their abilities. So we labor and we strive and we put ourselves on this treadmill of trying to perform, trying to be as good at, trying to impress others.

What we don't know is what someone else makes looks effortless, they're probably looking at you and saying, "If I could just do whatever as well as she does." We really put ourselves under a lot of bondage by this striving, this labor and achievement that spring from envy of our neighbors. It's the trap of comparison, a competitive spirit, this drive for approval. And Solomon says, "It's futility. It's meaningless. It's vanity. It's a vapor. It doesn't last." It doesn't fill that vacuum in your heart that's striving to be as good as someone else.

As I meditated on this verse, I thought about another passage, one in the New Testament. James chapter 3 where James talks about this matter of envy and jealousy and what causes it and what it produces. He says in verse 14, James 3:

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above [this is not God's way for relationships], but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (vv. 14–15 ESV).

He's saying that this kind of living is from the pit of hell. This is Satan's way. It's what creates tension and disruption in relationships. It's what puts up walls and barriers, and he goes on to say that in verse 16: "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."

We can all think of relationships that have become disordered and fractured and frustrated because we have given into jealousy and selfish ambition. It's caused us to strive to compete against one another rather than building up one another, encouraging one another, and being thankful for the different gifts and abilities that God has given to others. What's the alternative? James 3:17,

The wisdom from above [God's wisdom, God's way] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (vv. 18–19).

So here we're back to comforting, being peacemakers, being ones who build bridges, rather than walls. And Solomon is saying, "If you live life with man's wisdom, under the sun, you're going to have these frustrated, broken, damaged, painful relationships, comparing, striving. But if we live life, not under the sun, but under God's lordship and authority, if we allow Him to come in and control our relationships and our hearts toward others, then we enter into that wisdom which is from above and we have pure and peaceable relationships as God intended that they should be."

Let me just ask before we close in prayer to just say, "Lord, who is it in my life that needs to be comforted? Who is oppressed? Who is poor and needy? Who can I minister grace to this day?" Whoever God puts on your heart, whatever He impresses on your spirit, go and do it. Minister grace. Reach out with the heart and the hands of the God of all comfort. Let God use you to be a minister of encouragement in someone else's life today.

Thank you Father for how You have encouraged our hearts by Your grace. May we be Your emissaries, Your ambassadors. May we not oppress others—may we be comforters. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Dannah: Just as God comforts the oppressed, we, too, can comfort those around us. I hope you’ve been encouraged by this message from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

I just want to say a word to you, if you’re in a place of abuse or experiencing oppression in the extreme. While it’s true that one day, God will right all wrongs (and I'm so thankful for that!), I want to be clear: Nancy is not saying that you need to just passively do nothing if you’re in a dangerous situation. Again, this is where healthy relationships with others are so important. You need to seek out wise, godly counsel. It’s sometimes important to involve civil authorities. It just depends on your circumstances.

Now, speaking of relationships, we have a new resource on loving the people around us. It’s the 30-day devotional Living Out the One Anothers of Scripture. This devotional takes a closer look at many of the Bible’s exhortations related to how we interact with one another. That’s why it’s called Living Out the One Anothers of Scripture. It’ll help you discover how to practically share the love of God with the people in your life.

We'd like to get you a copy of this devotional when you give a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. To give, visit, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Has your soul ever felt the ache of loneliness? I think all of us know what that feels like. Join us tomorrow as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shows us what the Word of God has to say about loneliness. I’m Dannah Gresh. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Encouraging you to comfort the oppressed, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture was taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.