According to Webster, compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it. According to God, compassion is what makes a difference: And of some have compassion, making a difference (Jude 22).Simple acts of compassion make a difference in every area of life. When a small child hurts his knee, a kiss or a Band-Aid makes everything all right. When a friend has problems, a listening ear makes all the difference in the world. When someone is sick, a card or a call helps him or her feel just a little better.
Confucius believed that compassion is one of three universally recognized virtues. He said, Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men. It is certainly one that God continuously looks for.
God has always shown compassion to His children (Psalm 86:15; Psalm 117:2; Isaiah 49:15; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4), and He expects His children to pass along compassion to others. Peter wrote, Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8). John added, But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17).
Kindness is part of the wardrobe of a Christian’s soul. Just as most of us would not think of going into public without four (to answer the door) to ten (Sunday suit) garments on, so one whose soul is without mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearance, and forgiveness is inadequately clothed (Colossians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 2 Corinthians 6:6).
COMPASSION IN CHURCH WORK
Pastors (elders) need to lead with compassion.
Elders face problems of all shapes, sizes, and colors. A few years of putting out fires can leave them burned out. They can come to rule with an iron fist rather than a velvet touch – more of the shepherd’s rod than his crook. Early Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus said, You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force. Peter explained that elders take the oversight, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).
A couple facing an imminent divorce will be more open to counsel from elders whose eyes fill with tears and whose voices shake with tender emotion. A wayward member will be more likely to humbly return when elders gently plead and softly admonish. A congregation that sees the compassion of an eldership as they have to exercise church discipline will stand behind their leaders’ decision. The bishops’ heartfelt love for lost souls will be recognized by a congregation looking for a cause to support.
The Bible often pictures elders as shepherds, a figure that emphasizes care, concern, and compassion (1 Peter 5:1-4). When a sheep is missing, a shepherd lovingly pursues it and compassionately brings it back (Luke 15:4-7). The shepherd-elder restores such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering himself lest [he] also be tempted (Galatians 6:1). The word restore is a medical term that has reference to setting a broken bone. An elder seeking to restore an erring child of God goes with trepidation, knowing that the stakes are high. He goes with compassion, just as a doctor would set a broken arm. Such elders are worth cherishing and complimenting: Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17).
Personal workers need to teach with compassion.
Few attributes a teacher can possess are more useful than compassion. Most non-Christians feel awkward about studying the Bible in the first place. It is new to them; they feel self-conscious because they don’t know how to find the different books of the Bible; they may be embarrassed about a lifestyle that differs from the Christian way; they are afraid they’ll be asked a question they can’t answer or pressured to make a decision they are not ready to make.
Paul treated souls as nurses handle infants (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He was sincere (2 Corinthians 2:17). He instructed the younger preacher, And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves (2 Timothy 2:24-25). We should try to have good favor among all people (Acts 2:47) and show courtesy to people who come to hear the gospel (Acts 20:20, Acts 20:26).
A compassionate, understanding teacher makes Bible study so enjoyable and so much more beneficial. Even a wrong answer can be complimented to a point. Craig, you are on the right track, but have you considered ? Karla, I used to think that myself until I came across this verse over in Acts Peter wrote, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15). Our defense of the faith must be in meekness and fear. These words suggest compassion. It is easier to have compassion when we consider the value of the soul that we are teaching (Matthew 16:26), our former lives (1 Timothy 1:13), and the love that our Savior has for that soul (Hebrews 2:9).
Even argumentative students can be dealt with compassionately. We must keep the big picture in mind. They are really fighting against themselves, and not against us. Paul wrote,
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Preachers need to preach with compassion.
One preacher said, “I have never had to apologize for my position, but I have oftentimes had to apologize for my disposition.”
Preachers, like policemen and counselors, can become jaded over time. They’ve seen it all, been in one too many business meetings, moved more times that they wanted. They’ve stuck their necks out for others, only to get their noses bloodied. They’ve tried to believe the benevolence stories again and again, only to find a sham and a fraud behind many a hard-luck story. So to keep from getting hurt again, they built a wall, went into their cave, and put a buffer zone around their heart of hearts.
Before that happens to you, reread these passages on compassion. Take the example of Jeremiah to heart. He had seen it all. He knew about bloodied noses and cold shoulders. Before he ever took his first pulpit God told him that he would have to ignore their dirty looks (Jeremiah 1:8, Jeremiah 1:17). Like Ezekiel, he needed a head as hard as flint to stay with it (Ezekiel 3:9). The people to whom Jeremiah preached had lost the ability to blush over their blatant sins (Jeremiah 6:15). They resisted to the point that they attacked the messenger – throwing Jeremiah into a pit of mud and leaving him to sink to suffocation or starvation (Jeremiah 38:6). (He was rescued by Ebedmelech the Ethiopian.)
Still, Jeremiah kept a tender heart. He wrote, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1). He was pained in his heart for his people (Jeremiah 4:19), and promised to weep in secret places for their pride (Jeremiah 13:17). His knew his eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the LORD’S flock is carried away captive (Jeremiah 13:17). Jeremiah kept pleading for them to come back to God.
In the New Testament, Paul models compassion in preaching. He preached with many tears (Acts 20:19) and told the Ephesian elders to remember, that by the space of three years he ceased not to warn every one day and night with tears (Acts 20:31). He had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart (Romans 9:2), and wrote that he had upon him daily the care of all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). Writing often brought him to tears. He told the Corinthians: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). As he wrote to the Philippians, tears must have dripped from his face onto the page when he described the enemies of the cross (Philippians 3:18).
Churches today need compassionate preachers in their pulpits. This does not mean we need compromisers. Neither Jeremiah nor Paul ever took one step back from defending the faith, and neither should we. But we can compromise the spirit as well as the doctrine of the gospel (Matthew 5:46-47; Matthew 7:12). We do not have to be mean to be sound, nor rough to be right (Ephesians 4:15). Whenever we lose our tempers and say things unbecoming of a Christian, we lose the argument even if we are right. Henry Ward Beecher believed that compassion will cure more sins than condemnation. Jesus did too (cf. John 8:1-11).
Compassion In Our Homes
Compassionate spouses strengthen their marriages. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). There are wives and husbands who go a whole month without a single compliment or an entire year without an act of kindness. A biblical case study is Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3, 1 Samuel 25:17, 1 Samuel 25:21, 1 Samuel 25:25, 1 Samuel 25:39).
The courtship should continue from the honeymoon stage all the way through to the retirement years (Ruth 2:20). Paul commanded husbands to be not bitter against their wives (Colossians 3:19). This is another way of saying, Be sweet to your wife!
We are nice to our acquaintances in a church hallway; why can’t we be nice to our own families in our living rooms? We can’t excuse unkindness by saying “I’m just not a morning person”. Half of life is in the morning! What would we think of a person who was nice for the first half of his life but turned into a grouch at age 40? We cannot use the excuse that we are stressed out from work or from keeping the children all day. We should not easily give in to “I just don’t feel well, so I don’t have the energy to be nice to my spouse”. The Bible instructs us to treat others as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12) and for husbands to treat wives as their own bodies (cf. Ephesians 5:28). Love is longsuffering and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).
This is the only way to ensure we won’t have regrets later. Herbert V. Prochnow said, “You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry you thought the worst, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find – you’re never sorry you were kind.” I heard of one man who sat beside his wife’s casket and talked to her all night before the funeral. He paid her many compliments; he must have said thank you 50 times, and I’m sorry at least that number. But her ears were deaf to his words. He had waited too late. Don’t make his mistake. No one ever regrets being compassionate, kind, and nice.
Don’t wait to put flowers on a casket – give them now!
I’d rather buy a cheap bouquet
And give my wife everyday
Than a bushel of roses white and red
To be placed on her casket when she’s dead.
Compassion in the Real World
The Roman philosopher and playwright Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.-A.D. 65) observed, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” Cal Thomas wrote, “Love talked about is easily ignored. But love demonstrated is irresistible.”1 George Washington Carver said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”
People in need, need compassion. During World War I, a reporter was watching a Red Cross nurse swab the infected wound of a soldier. After watching the sickening sight for a few moments, he said to the nurse, “I would not do what you do for a million dollars.”
The nurse, looking up at the reporter, replied, “Neither would I.”
A compassionate person is so moved by the needs and hurts of others that he or she cannot help but respond3 (Matthew 9:36; cf. Mark 1:40-41). Jesus was like that. He not only talked about love and kindness, He modeled it for us (Acts 1:1; Acts 10:38). Jesus had compassion on the sick (Matthew 14:13-14). Jesus had compassion on the demon-possessed (Mark 5:18-19; Mark 9:20-22). Jesus had compassion on those who were hurt (Luke 10:33-35). Jesus had compassion on the wayward (Luke 15:20-24). Jesus had compassion on the hungry (Matthew 15:32; see also Mark 6:34 and Mark 8:1-8).
Picture a frail, undernourished boy living in poverty-stricken Ethiopia. He wears his only clothes, which are tattered and dirty. His calloused feet have never been covered with shoes. His eyes are dull and listless in their hollow sockets as they stare blankly around him. He blinks to shoo away the flies and mosquitoes that swarm him. His tiny form is nothing more than a skeleton covered with skin. He does not run and play because he cannot even muster enough strength to raise his arms. He only sits, waiting for someone to feed him the daily ration of one bowl of rice. Hunger gnaws at him continually. He probably will not live to see his next birthday. There are hundreds of thousands of people on this planet in a similar condition – just existing.
Our hearts ache with compassion for them – or do they? Remember the last time you flipped the TV channel to a station broadcasting a telethon depicting similar scenes? Did you quickly change the channel? Do we ever help a needy family mentioned in the church service, or like the Pharisee and the priest, do we think someone else will take care of that? Does our compassion get past the be ye warmed and filled stage? (James 2:16).
We worry over which foods contain the least calories and fat, and have the most fiber. Our garbage disposals eat better than most of the citizens of some countries. Our overfilled closets are cleared out at yard sales, only to be replenished with the latest fashions and footwear. Like the Epicureans of Jesus’ day, many Americans live simply to eat, drink, and be merry. Like the rich farmer, we tear down our barns to build bigger ones.
Those who have wronged us need compassion.
A ladies’ Bible class teacher rushed in late for class and explained that on her way she had been pulled over by a highway-patrol officer. “How come you’re the fastest person on the freeway?” he asked.
“I teach a church class, and I’m late.”
“What’s the subject of the lesson?” he inquired.
Looking him in the eye, she replied, “Compassion.” He let her go with a warning.
Jesus taught us that we should show compassion to those who have wronged us. “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:27-33). Edward Bulwer-Lytton said, “A good heart is better than all the heads in the world.”
Joseph had compassion on his brothers, even though they had hated him, assaulted him, sold him as a slave, separated him from his father, and insinuated that he was dead. In spite of what had happened, he was compassionate to his brothers (Genesis 50:21). When they came into Egypt, over which he ruled, he could have said, “Ah, today is the day I have been waiting for. I can finally get even with them.” But he did not (Genesis 51:10; cf. Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32).
There are churches that would benefit greatly by having a couple of Josephs on their membership rolls, many that are torn asunder by unforgiving hearts (1 Corinthians 3:3). How can Christians hope to live together in heaven if we can’t live together on earth? (cf. John 13:33-34; 1 John 3:15). Eric Hoffer (American writer, 1902-1983) wrote, “Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”
We must use our tongues with care (Proverbs 18:21). John Wesley and Augustus Toplady had a disagreement over a minor matter of theology. Toplady wrote a tract entitled An Old Fox Tarred and Feathered, in which he took Wesley to task. Though he later regretted it, it was impossible to completely undo what he had done. Like feathers thrown from a mountain, it can be hard to gather words that have been sown indiscriminately (cf. James 3:5). The next time you sing Rock of Ages, note who wrote it. It was written by Augustus Toplady. Like Mr. Toplady, in a moment of weakness we can say or do something we will regret for a lifetime, even if we have had other great accomplishments.
Those who are different need compassion.
Baruch Spinoza wrote, “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand.” We should have compassion on those who are different from us.
An event that occurred during World War I illustrates the compassion we should cultivate. In the heat of battle a German soldier, seeking shelter from enemy fire, leaped into a shell hole. To his surprise, he found an Englishman already there! After his initial shock, he considered what to do. Should they bayonet each other? His question was answered when he saw that the other man was severely wounded – so badly that the German felt compassion for him. He gave him a drink from his canteen. The man gave him a look of gratitude and indicated that he wanted him to open his breast pocket. He found an envelope with pictures of the man’s family. The man simply wanted to look at his loved ones once more before he died. In the English soldier’s last brief moments, the German soldier held up to him the pictures of his wife, his children, and his mother.
At first, the attacker saw only an enemy, but when he looked more closely, he saw a wounded human who loved his family. Jesus told of another man who went from Jerusalem to Jericho, who also found an enemy. But he, too, looked deeper and found a suffering man needing compassion (Luke 10:33).
How can that attitude grow?
First, we should see persons as individuals, not as members of a disliked group. Individuals are usually much more likable than a group we view with distorted prejudice. Someone said, Make no judgments where you have no compassion.
Second, we can recall times when we needed compassion. Jesus became a man and felt the things we feel (Philippians 2:1-5).
Third, we can imagine what we would need under similar circumstances – then apply the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Abraham Lincoln said, “He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.”
Fourth, we cannot expect too much at once (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Sometimes olive branches are knocked from our hands the first time we extend them. But if we’ll pick them up, shake off the dust, and extend them again with a smile, they may be taken. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Fifth, we can remember that we will one day be judged according to how we have helped others (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10). William Penn wrote, “If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”