We’re a pretty tough culture. Independent. Pioneer-spirited. Entrepreneurial. Capable. Self-reliant. Even as Christians, the independent-mindedness filters into our behavior and spirit. While these qualities may have some good, they have some serious collateral. Unrestrained, these qualities undermine compassion. And compassion is important.
Jesus is compassionate.
The Bible has much to say about Jesus’ compassion:
“When…he saw a great crowd…he had compassion on them” (Matthew 14:14)
“‘I have compassion on the crowd’” (Matthew 15:32)
Jesus was the quintessential picture of compassion. He came and he served other people (Mark 10:45). He relentlessly healed the sick, fed the hungry, helped the needy, and taught Kingdom living (Matthew 5-7). Compassion, sympathy, care and protection are part of God’s very character as a Father (Psalm 68:5-6; Psalm 103:13). His compassion knows no bounds. But to say merely that Jesus had compassion is missing a bigger point. Jesus’ compassion grew out of his infinite love (1 John 4:8). Scripture tells us that Jesus came to serve, but not just to meet the temporal needs of one group of people in Palestine 2,000 years ago, but to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Thus, the compassion of Jesus was a compassion that transcended His life of thirty-some years, and erupted in a fountain of love and forgiveness for many. Jesus compassion is a saving compassion.
Compassion is at the heart of missional living
Now, we as Christians are to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world (Matthew 28:18-20). What does this mission look like? It is a mission rooted in love, and carried out in obedience. The Bible makes extremely clear that love for God is integrally connected to obedience to God (John 14:23; 1 John 5:3). True love (1 Corinthians 13) includes love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:36-40). Carrying this love to others includes telling them of God, who is True Love. It also includes living out the practical ramifications of the gospel—meeting physical needs, caring for the defenseless, providing for the poor, and rescuing the downtrodden. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what how His compassion reached others. We have been entrusted with this message, which is both truth (proclaimed) and action (practiced) toward others.
Compassion, in all its various forms, is not just the mission of parachurch organizations or charity ministries. Those are wonderful ways to express compassion, and they deserve our support. At the same time, compassion is something that every Christian should exercise.
Compassion is the central and defining mark of a Christian
Because we are believers, we should be compassionate. Paul writes in Colossians 3:12, after discussing glorious doctrine, that we must “put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts.” This is the type of culture that exists when God’s people are living in loving relationships with one another. It looks a lot different from the egocentric independent-spirit that we sometimes slip into, even in our churches and small groups.
We can be compassionate because of the gospel
So, if compassion is so important, how do we conjure up such pathos? How is it that we can be so others-focused and giving? We can be compassionate because of the overwhelming grace of the gospel. Picture yourself as you were before Jesus saved you. You were an active sinner, a God-despiser, a sordid, mess of decrepit humanity. Yet God loved you with an overwhelming love which exploded into your life with revolutionary force. The change in your life is best described as going from death into life. But why did God do such a thing, especially since you were in a position of active defiance to Him?
Because of compassion. Because of love. Because of His amazing unmerited favor (1 John 3:1). God did not do it because of some spark of goodness He saw within you, nor because He anticipated that you would eventually do some good or become good. He chose you because He is love. That’s good news. That’s the gospel. That is the only reason that we can love and serve others in compassion (1 John 4:19).
People everywhere need compassion. There may be people in your home who need compassion. Perhaps because of self-centeredness, you have neglected to be compassionate upon your family members. There are, no doubt, people in your church who need the compassion of a listening ear, or the chance to spend a few minutes in fellowship with an understanding Christian. There are people in your community who need Christian compassion–a homeless man reeling in the addiction of alcohol, a teen girl tempted to sell her body for drug money, a single mom with no income or resources, a coworker with a secret life of sex addiction and bondage to his flesh.
People need Christ’s compassion, and Jesus has sent us as Christians into the world as His ambassadors of that love and compassion. Who can you be compassionate toward today?