The meaning of compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
Compassion means to suffer along with others and drives us to respond, whether the need is; spiritual, physical, mental or emotional pain.
When asked by the Pharisees which is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded,
"…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:37-40
Loving our neighbour is an important aspect of our faith and it is the very driving force behind compassion. The Lord had great compassion for the lowly sinner, for both their physical and spiritual well-being, and the cross is the greatest act of compassion upon the sinner than any other act in history.
Because we love God, we ought to love and have compassion for others.
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.’
1 John 4:20
'If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.'
Loving God and loving our neighbour is the sum total of our Christian faith. Every word and deed should spring forth from this love. If we say we love God but do not love others, then this only reveals what is deep within our hearts. Faith without works is dead.
Compassion will cost you
As J. C. Watts Jr. once said, “Compassion can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It does come with a price tag, but that price tag isn’t the amount of money spent. The price tag is love.”
Showing compassion is an act of love and this act of love costs because it demands us to consider others more highly than we consider ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Jesus put our life ahead of His own by dying for us. So putting others' needs ahead of ours demands us to also take up our cross and follow Him. Doing nothing from selfish ambition, but loving in such a way that self-denial becomes the pattern and very expression of our being. Love costs. Why? Let’s read the demand together.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
We see that love considers the well-being of others. Compassion is the act of loving someone who needs it, despite their faults, failures and current situation - whether they are doing wrong, sick, imprisoned or other. Even though we do not rejoice with wrongdoing, we can still show compassion without having to compromise our faith. In fact, our faith should compel us to show compassion.
Imitating Jesus’ example of compassion
The Lord had great compassion for the sinner. Jesus showed compassion for both the Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, slave and free.
Matthew 14:14 records, ‘When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.’
Mark 1:40-41 also reveals that Jesus was moved with pity and healed the leaper. Others would never dare to touch a leaper but Jesus reached out His hand and healed him.
There’s a story told of an Eastern princess, whose child, a boy of only a few years, lay smitten with the plague and was dying. The mother stood a little distance away, forbidden by the physician to approach in case she also was to catch the plague and perish. As she stood with a breaking heart, looking upon her child, his little eyes opened and turned toward her tear-stained face. There stood the loving face of her who had so many times dispelled his childish troubles and healed his bruises with her kiss. Why not now? The little arms went out toward her while the childish voice said, “Kiss me, mama.” The doctors have forbidden it and so she hesitates, still her heart yearns for the little sufferer. Again the voice of her darling entreats, “Kiss me, mama, kiss me.” What does she care about the doctors now. It is the last request of her dying boy and she clasps the little form to her heart and covers the fevered cheek with her kisses - and he dies.
Here is a mother who loved her child so much that in his hour of need, she risked her own life to show him one last act of love. There's no greater compassion than this.
People who are hurting need compassion
Not everyone will easily accept our compassion. People who truly need it the most tend to build walls around themselves for protection against further hurt. Building walls around one self can be an effective way to keep you from being hurt by others, but it also keeps the good out as well.
When you are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is amazing how God can help you to help even the most broken-hearted. I have personally witnessed this myself from my time ministering to the homeless in the city. Even the most hardest looking person needs compassion. It is one of the greatest expressions of Christ’s love. It magnifies the Lord.
Don’t let appearances fool you, every person needs to be loved.
‘The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:18).
People who hurt others need the most compassion
The story is told of two liberal sociologists who were walking down the street. They saw a man lying unconscious and covered with cuts and bruises from a terrible mugging. One of the sociologists turned to his colleague and said, “Whoever did this terrible deed really needs our help.”
Being merciful to those who hurt others is also a call that each man or woman of Christ has. It’s easy to love the lovely, but the cross demands more from us than this. Anyone, Christian or not, can love those who are easy to love, but when sin abounds, grace abounds much more. None of us, not one, deserves love and compassion more than another. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
‘...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
The sociologist knew all too well that those who hurt others are the most in need of our help.
May the Lord teach us not to only be recipients of compassion, but to be givers as well. Lord give us the grace that we need to truly express Your great love.
-- By Judah Ayling
This article was written to form part of the series, 'Imitate'. Containing 45 sessions, this thorough series intends to reveal the characteristics found in a disciple of Jesus. The original article, 'Imitate', would be the best place to begin your journey in discovering the qualities of a follower of the Messiah of Israel.