By Johnny O. Trail — Compassion is defined as “sympathy for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help.” It might also be defined as “to have the bowels yearn” for the well-being of another. It means for one to have a deep, inward yearning for the good and welfare of another person—even in cases where they are not deserved of our sympathy. The word for compassion is used several times in the Old and New Testaments.
In the New Testament, the word compassion is combined with an action in connection with the expression of sympathy. Simply stated, we need to act compassionately toward those who deal with various physical, mental, and spiritual afflictions. If we wish to be like the Master, we should have the same type of compassion within ourselves.
It is not enough for us to acknowledge that a person has a need and do nothing in connection with their problem. This problem was addressed among those who lived in the diaspora. James 2:14-16 says,
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”
The poor brother was dismissed from this assembly to fend for himself. This is not characteristic of genuine Christianity.
Contrariwise, Christ was moved with compassion upon the people that He encountered in His earthly ministry. He show compassion to the man possessed with a “Legion” of demons (Mark 5.19). He had compassion upon a leper (Mark 1.41). Jesus had compassion on over five thousand people that he fed with five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6.34). One could say that His entire ministry was characterized by compassion.
One might reason that the most compassionate act of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His final act—laying down His life at Calvary for the sins of the world. Jesus did not deserve to die for our sins. Without His atoning sacrifice, our sins would eternally condemn us. Paul says it well in Romans 5:6-10.
”For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
Compassionate Christianity is characterized by action. The church was not purchased with precious blood of Jesus (Acts 20.28) for the purpose of warming pews. Just as Jesus was about the business of His Father (Luke 2.49), we need to be about the business of the kingdom (c.f. Colossians 4.11).
We cannot say that we are truly compassionate to the needs of our fellow man and not engage in personal evangelism. The single greatest need of any human being is salvation from sin and eternal punishment. If the church does not understand the nature of its purpose, it cannot possibly accomplish God’s will regarding lost humanity. To that end, Ephesians 3:9-11 says,
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is why the church is called upon to show forth the excellencies of Christ, 1 Peter 2:9-10:
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises (excellencies—ESV) of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
When we show compassion to people who have a need, we truly make a difference in their lives. Sadly, there are people who have never truly known what compassion is. Perhaps they have been mistreated for their entire lives or even abused. Jude 21-22 “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference.”
Showing compassion would include people not normally within our social sphere of comfort. Jesus lists strangers and prisoners in Matthew 25:34-36 as people that were shown compassion by His followers.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
God’s people should lead compassionate lives. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Johnny O. Trail is the father of three sons and has been married to his wife Jada for over 22 years. He preaches with the Hillcrest congregation in Springfield, TN. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist.