In this lesson we are going to consider an attitude of the heart which is closely related to love. Compassion is inseparable from genuine love. True love always results in loving action (1 Cor 13). For this reason we often see the phrase “moved with compassion” in scripture (Matt 9:36; Matt 4:14; Matt 18:27). Compassion begins in the heart, but it doesn’t stay there. It overflows into loving action.
Compassion involves love, sympathy, pity, and even sorrow. To be compassionate is to share in the emotions of others. It is to be moved by their troubled condition and to seek ways to help. Compassion drives us to offer ourselves and our resources to alleviate the suffering of others.
Our God is a God of Compassion
Psalms 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalms 78:38-39 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
Lamentations 3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
We are all the beneficiaries of God’s compassion. If it were not for God’s compassion upon our sinful state we would all be consumed by His wrath (John 3:36).
As the the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ was the embodiment of this divine compassion:
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 14:14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
The Blind Beggars
Matthew 20:30-34 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
These blind beggars did not have a sense of etiquette when it came to appealing to Jesus for healing. The men and women around them would have denied them access to Jesus just to spare themselves embarrassment. They were more concerned with proper decorum than the severe needs of the blind beggars.
The Weeping Widow
Luke 7:11-15 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
It is interesting that no one in this passage asked Jesus to heal the widow’s son. He came upon the funeral procession, saw the weeping widow and had compassion upon her. He felt her pain, had pity upon her and healed her son.
Jesus looked upon the plight of the crowd in Matthew 9 and was moved with compassion. He was sympathetic toward their sinful state and their need for a saviour. In Matt 14 and 20 he had compassion upon the sick. His compassion lead him to heal the multitudes and ultimately to die for all men so that they could be freed from the bondage of sin (Rom 6:17-22). Jesus Christ is the perfect example of God’s compassion. Jesus not only exercised compassion through physical healings and by dying on the cross, but he continues to show us compassion day-by-day as he forgives our sin and provides us the power to live a successful Christian life (Heb 5:1-2; Heb 2:17-18). Spiritual growth is a matter of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. This means that as a Christian matures spiritually he will grow in his compassion toward others (2 Peter 1:5-7).
The Character of Compassion
1 Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Paul used a similar phrase in Philippians and Colossians when he exhorted those churches to “put on bowels of mercies” (Col 3:12; Php 2:1-4). This is a strange phrase which we do not use. It literally means to have an inward affection or pity toward others. In this case he was telling the church to be compassionate toward one another.
Let’s look at the character of this compassion,
At its most basic level, compassion is simply an expression of love. Compassion is love rising to the surface when we perceive the needs or hurts of others. The word itself simply means to suffer (passion) together (com).
1 John 3:14-18 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
A compassionate Christian will look for opportunities to come to the aid of those who are hurting and in need. He is moved emotionally and shares in the pain that others are feeling. His compassion motivates him to act in some way that will alleviate his brother’s pain (Rom 15:25-28; Cor 8:7-15).
In Luke chapter 10 a lawyer sought to “justify himself” by asking Jesus a trick question, “Who is my neighbour?” In answer to this question, Jesus told a parable about sacrificial compassion. In his parable there is a man who was stripped, beaten and robbed. A priest and a Levite passed by without an ounce of sympathy toward him. A Samaritan came along and according to verse 33 of the passage “when he saw him, he had compassion on him.” The Samaritan’s compassion lead him to treat the man’s wounds, pay for a hotel and cover any other expenses that he might incur while recovering. Jesus told the lawyer that it was he who showed compassion who was neighbour to the Samaritan. He then encouraged the lawyer to go and show the same sacrificial compassion to others (Luke 10:37).
There is another characteristic of compassion that we can learn from this parable. That is:
Genuine compassion is not hindered by social, ethnic or religious boundaries. Nor is it withheld because of ones failures. This is what is meant in 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul tells us that “love beareth all things.” Love is willing to overlook (but not excuse) the sins of others if it means promoting their spiritual growth.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Compassion is moved by the hurts, needs and plights of men in general. It comes to the aid of people because they need help, regardless of who they are. Remember, Jesus had compassion on us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8).
Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus took the opportunity of Peter’s question to tell a parable about forgiveness. In it, there is a king who asks for all of his servants to come before him that he might assess how much money he is owed.
The king’s servant did not have the money to pay his debt. The king ordered his servant, his servant’s wife and his children to all be sold into slavery. The servant bowed down and begged the king for patience so that he might find the means to pay his insurmountable debt.
After the servant’s debt was forgiven he went out to find a fellowsevant who owed him money (which amounted to pennies). The servant took his debtor by the neck demanding payment. Despite his fellowservant’s pleas for mercy he had him cast into prison until the debt was paid.
God looked upon our plight as helpless sinners and was moved with compassion to forgive us (Col 2:13). Likewise, God expects us to show compassionate forgiveness toward one another (Eph 4:32).
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
The unforgiving Christian is a person who lacks compassion. He fails to recall how much God has forgiven him and fails to recognize his own tendency to sin (1 Cor 10:12).
Compassion loves, sacrifices, overlooks, forgives, and lastly:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The word tenderhearted means “pitiful, sympathetic, and well compassioned.” If we are to show compassion then we must be sensitive toward others. The calloused, detached, self-focused Christian shows himself to be unloving and consequently, uncompassionate. Compassion requires a purposeful effort to consider the needs and hurts of others and then to come alongside with the help, comfort and encouragement that they may need (1 Tim 5:14; Php 2:4).