Moved By Compassion — Part 1
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
“For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14
We all need grace. We all need mercy. We all need compassion.
During the early years of my study in the Word as I was being prepared for ministry I heard a lot of messages about keeping my emotions in check and not being led by my feelings, not reacting to situations and circumstances based on feelings alone. The messages were frequent and I tended to believe that the Christian life was to be lived with a strict control over any overt action or response to everything I may have felt prompted to say or do, whether in response to the needs of others or in worship and particularly in giving to various people or organizations.
The preaching seemed to say that any expression or act of worship that wasn’t constrained and moderate was disrespectful to God and all who acted beyond that moderation were just showing off. Those preaching would use the examples of the Pharisee who "paid his tithe" by making a big deal about it so everyone could see that he was tithing, but the widow gave her mite almost in secret without any fanfare. They would also reference Paul’s admonition to be temperate in all things. Moderation was the key to everything.
Later, I began to realize that though much of what they were saying was true, particularly where feelings are a challenge to faith, their emphasis was misplaced when referencing other acts of obedience to God. And this was witnessed by the things God did and by the Words and actions of Jesus himself.
God through Elijah [1 Kings 17] multiplied the hand full of meal in a barrel and a little container of oil that the widow and her son had so much so that they remained full for three and a half years. And through Elisha [2Kings 4] God caused all the vessels that the widow could barrow from her neighbors to be filled with oil so much so that she was able to pay off her debt and live, she and her sons, off the rest.
Jesus did not heal in moderation. He did not provide (give) food for the 5000 or the 4000 in moderation. There was more than enough and a surplus left over. He did not preach the truth of God in moderation and he certainly did not mirror the Father’s actions in moderation. He said, I do and say nothing of myself, only what I hear and see my father doing, that I do.
“Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” John 8:28
Surely, in personal behavior and social interaction discretion and moderation are required and most desirable for every believer as an imitation of the way Jesus lived His life. He was not given to excessive adornment or crude and vulgar behavior. He was not brash or rude, nor pompous and full of pride. He was not demanding of the people that they show Him the honor and deference He was do. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us He humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
Yet, His life of ministry was lived extravagantly, supernaturally, boldly and with compassion.
There are three words that describe how Jesus could have responded to the people who followed Him, 1) with sympathy, 2) with empathy or 3) with compassion.
With sympathy He could have merely felt sorry for their bondage, need, grief or poverty and expressed His sadness for their plight. With empathy He could have put himself in their place and genuinely shared their plight and imagined or earnestly identified with them in it. And this He did. But empathy alone though greater than sympathy and more comforting to the one in need is still not enough to meet the need. With compassion, Jesus did not only feel sympathy for the needy and with empathy identify with them in it, He went the step beyond and did something to relieve their burden.
Both sympathy and empathy can feel sorrow, and empathy shares it and helps to carry some part of it. But in both cases the need remains unmet. Compassion adds the desperately needed action to take the burden away, to release the bondage, to supply the need and to lift up the soul.
This was the attitude of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. A certain man, traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was put upon by thieves, beaten and robbed, and left for dead. A Priest and a Levite, both official ministers to the people, and thus representatives of God on the earth, saw the man as he was laying in the street wounded and robbed following the assault. The priest, when he saw him, avoided him altogether by walking on the other side of the street. The Levite actually came to him, accessed his situation and then decided to do nothing to help him, so he too “passed by on the other side.” But, of the Samaritan, Jesus said, when he came to the man, seeing his condition, “he had compassion on him.”
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.” Luke 10:33-35
To be moved by compassion we have to feel something. Sympathy and empathy are the feelings that should move us to compassion. The obvious question that compassion addresses is, "If I were in that situation what would I want someone to do?"
Now compassion is not the Godly response in every situation because it is reserved for those who are repentant, contrite in their guilt, or weak, helpless, poor and unable to recover themselves by their strength and resources alone.
Witness the man who owed his master the equivalent of billions of dollars in debt which he could not have paid in a lifetime of work.
10,000 talents = 150 years wages = $2,250,000,000.
So his master, moved with compassion forgave him all his debt. But, that same man, after his enormously overwhelming debt was forgiven, went out demanded of his fellow servant the repayment to him of a debt the equivalent of $15. He showed him no compassion when the man pleaded for his patience. But he assaulted the man, denied his plea for mercy, and had him thrown into prison until every penny was paid. So, his fellow servants, when they saw how cruelly he treated the guy who owed him nothing compared to the debt he had been forgiven, went to his master and told him what he had done.
So, the master when he heard what the man had done he called him to him and sternly rebuked him for his wickedness and refusal to show compassion especially after he had been forgiven so much. He therefore, had him thrown into prison for the rest of his life. Then Jesus said to His disciples.
“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matthew 18:35
When it comes to responding to cries for mercy and forgiveness, compassion is not an option. It is a commandment, because we have been forgiven more than we could ever repay.