Being a church member is about relationships. First and foremost, it is about our relationship with God the Father and His son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Next, because God has chosen to place all of his children within the community of the church, being a church member is about relationship with other believers.
So then, it is essential that every believer learn how to live out Christ-honouring relationships within the church.
Healthy relationships are not easy because all of us are sinners. Selfishness, bitterness, jealousy and unforgiveness come naturally to us. While sacrifice, love, and forgiveness require Spirit-empowered effort. For this reason, it is easy to give up on relationships when others hurt us; to descend into animosity when we are offended; or to retreat when others disappoint us. But being a church member means choosing not to take the easy way out when conflicts happen (and they will). It is a commitment to work out our differences and to reconcile as soon as possible. Because, underlying all of church life is a God-sanctioned covenant with one another – one which requires selfless, sacrificial love.
In this lesson we are going to consider a loving attitude which God asks all believers to show towards one another – compassion. If compassion were exercised by every church member, it would go a long way in maintaining healthy, God-honoring relationships within the congregation.
The Character of Compassion
What is compassion? Compassion involves love, sympathy, pity, and even sorrow. To be compassionate is to share in the emotions of others. 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. Compassion is inseparable from genuine 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). Compassion begins in the heart, but it doesn’t stay there. It overflows into loving action.
Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
In the above passage, Paul was encouraging the church at Colosse to “put on” or clothe themselves with hearts of compassion towards one another. To have a compassionate heart toward others is to have an inward affection of compassion or pity towards them. This compassion was to be joined with kindness, patience, meekness, humility, forgiveness and above all – love.
This was not only a prescription for the believers of Colosse in Paul’s day, but for every believer in every church for all time. For the remainder of this study we will explore the character of compassion.
Compassion Loves Sacrificially
Compassion is the outworking of the genuine love that we have for others. In other words, love is the source of compassion and compassion is the evidence of love.
1 John 3:17 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?
The word for heart in this passage could be translated literally as “bowels” (see KJV). This was Jewish imagery used to speak of deep-seated compassion and emotion. John is teaching us that genuine love should spill over into real, practical, compassionate care. Without it, John questions the very presence of God’s love in a persons life. The bottom line is, love and compassion are inseparable.
Look again at:
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 are in need. He is moved emotionally and shares in the pain of others. His compassion motivates him to act in a way which will alleviate his brother’s suffering (Rom 15:25-28; 2 Cor 8:7-15).
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”. It is an attitude which causes us to be moved by the struggles of others. As church members we must purposefully consider the needs and hurts of others and then to come along side with the help, comfort and the encouragement that they need (1 Tim 5:14; Php 2:4).
Compassion Overlooks and Restores
Compassion calls us to suffer along with others, but what if someone is suffering as the result of their own actions? What if they are bearing the consequences of poor decisions? Genuine love does not say “See, I told you so!” nor does it think “It serves them right!”. Compassion is helping to alleviate the suffering of others – even if their suffering is self-inflicted. After all, we are all sinners and capable of the exact same failures. (Gal 6:1-3) 1 Peter 4:8.
Peter said “love covers a multitude of sins”. This does not mean that love excuses or hides sin. Rather, it means that if we love one another, we will view the sins of others through the lens of compassion. Love should never be withheld because of the sin or failure of others. Instead, it should be given freely with an understanding that we are all subject to the very same fallen nature and are capable of the very same sin. This never means that we affirm or excuse sin, but that we respond to the sins of others with love, humility and meekness.
Galatians 6:1-2 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. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
If it happens that a fellow church member falls into sin, it is the responsibility of the church to lovingly restore that person (upon repentance). It is easy for us to sit on a high horse and judge others who stumble and fall but we must remember that we are capable of comitting the very same sin. For this reason, Paul told the Galatians to keep watch on yourself and to restore with gentleness. The fellow church member who sins and repents is to be lovingly restored to the church. He should be met with love and compassion, not criticism, judgmentalism or ostracization.
2 Corinthians 2:6-8 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
As church members, we should be moved by the hurts, needs and plights of men in general. We should have a willingness to come to the aid of people because they need help, regardless of who they are and regardless of whether or not their suffering is the result of their own sin. If they do sin and repent, we must be willing to forgive and restore willingly and lovingly. Afterall, the only reason we ever came to be saved in the first place is because Jesus Christ had compassion on us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8).
God has designed the faith to be lived out in community. The truth is, we are all sinners saved by grace and we will all continue to struggle with the reality of sin until we are finally and fully glorified before God in heaven. We are all subject to the very same sinful condition. This reality should lead us to love one another with compassion as we live out our Christian lives together.