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Welcome back to The Gracious Life Series where we are learning to be gracious as God is gracious. Two episodes ago we were taught that we must be humble in order to be gracious, and last time we learned that we must be kind in order to be gracious.
However, be sure you listen to both of those episodes before continuing with this series. Satan and our sinful flesh makes us think we know what it is to be humble and kind, but far too often our understanding of those words is anything but biblical.
Now, if this podcast in general or this series in particular has been a blessing to you, please rate and review the show wherever you can. You can rate and review on Apple Podcasts and on Facebook, and you can often rate and review on other podcast directories. However, if you rate us on another directory, we likely won’t see it. So, if you would’t mind sharing your review with us at Team@CelebrationOfGod.com, that would be amazing!
And also be sure to access todays free episode notes, transcript, and grace resources on our episode page.
And now let’s look at what it means to be biblically compassionate.
James 5:11 says, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
James hearkens back to Job’s painful experience to teach that God is full of compassion. But how can God be compassionate when His people are experiencing such discomfort and temptation . . . discomfort and temptation God allowed Satan to pour on Job?
The answer to that question is very important because if we are going to be compassionate as God is compassionate, then we need to understand the nature of His compassion.
According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
If you break the word down it refers to “feeling together.” Sympathy has the idea of feeling for someone, empathy is feeling the same as someone, and compassion is a feeling-together with someone with the added desire to relieve the distress.
The Greek word in James 5 adds the idea of the heart being filled with pity. Merriam-Webster defines pity as “sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy.”
But what’s really interesting is that the biblical concept of compassion is so incredibly closely tied to mercy. One of the Greek words we’re going to consider later is translated “compassion” twice and “mercy” 25 times.
The reason for this is that compassion is one of the motivations for mercy. Justice demands consequences, but compassion embraces mercy. Compassion looks at someone for the pitiable individual they are and desires to work with them to help them. And the moment I mention mercy, our minds need to recognize that . . .
1. Compassion is Required to Live Graciously.
Grace does not exist without mercy, and mercy doesn’t exist without compassion. Therefore, we will never be the gracious people God wants us to be if we don’t have compassion on the people in our lives.
We need to not just acknowledge their position, we need to feel something for them. We’ll talk about what it means to feel for someone on our third point of the day, but for now we simply need to judge our lives. We need to be honest even if it’s painful.
Are you a compassionate person? Is that how your family and friends would describe you? How about the people in your church? What about the people at work? Do they think you’re a compassionate person? What about the people who don’t like you? How compassionate are you with them?
Colossians 3:12 commands, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion.” If we’re holy, we will be compassionate, and when we’re compassionate, we will do all the things that come next in the verses . . . “kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.”
Now, historically speaking it would be the men in the audience who would be squirming in their seats right now. Traditionally, men have been the less emotional, more logical, less compassionate of the sexes, and women have tended to be more passionate in their interactions.
Now, that’s not to say that women were being Christ-honoringly compassionate. Like we discussed last time, many of their kindnesses were not motivated by God’s glory, or they were too superficial. But it has been a fair accusation that too many men have been devoid of Christ-honoring compassion—which blows my mind considering that the Bible says so much about Jesus’ compassion.
Now, what about today? Well, there’s less of stereotypical response and more of a 50/50 split. There are guys who still tow the men-don’t-cry line, but there seem to be just as many who aren’t ashamed to let the tears flow. Of course, how willing one is to cry doesn’t necessary correlate to their level of compassion, but it demonstrates the bigger division in today’s society.
On the other hand, the feminist movement has been pushing for quite some time for women to be sassy and “strong” and even downright filthy and harsh.
All of that to say, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you aren’t inherently more predisposed to compassion than the other sex, and that leads us to . . .
2. Compassion is for All of God’s People.
Guys, if you believe that men don’t have to be compassionate, you’re a fool. Ladies, if you believe that compassion is a sign of weakness, you’re also a fool.
Compassion is a quality of God. In Matthew 9:36 we read, “Seeing the people, [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
If you are a child of God, you must be compassionate as Jesus is compassionate. Your age, your sex, your job title, your popularity, your nothing gives you a pass in this area.
Now, if you want to know if you’re truly a compassionate person, ask as many people in your life as you can. Let them know that the Lord has been convicting you of your need to be more compassionate and ask them if they would be willing to help you be honest with yourself. If they agree, ask them to define compassion so that you can be on the same page. You could also ask them to listen to this episode and them critique you by the understanding we will discuss here. And then ask them to give you examples of times that you’ve been compassionate and times that you haven’t.
Now, if they struggle to come up with a legitimate example of your compassion, that should tell you something. Why hasn’t that person experienced your compassion? But you also need to be careful of their definitions. They may have a superficial or unbiblical understanding. They may say you’re compassionate when you’re not, or they may miss your genuine compassion because they don’t understand it.
The point is to welcome other people into this process, just make sure they are going to judge you biblically.
And—with all of that said—let’s move to our final point.
3. True Compassion is Defined by God.
From here on out we’re going to be able to put a fine edge on our understanding of biblical compassion.
So far we know that’s it consists of a sympathetic heart that desires to help another. And that is obviously an undeserved, gracious thing to do.
Allow me to read what I read earlier in Matthew 9:36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus saw them and experienced compassion that desired to rectify their biggest need . . . their need for a shepherd.
So, with the remainder of our time, we’re going to look at the most common New Testament words that are translated compassion, and we’re going to see what we can learn about biblical compassion.
Let’s start with Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. I’m going to read them back to back. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” “But if you had known what this means, ‘ desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
These two passages are Jesus quoting from Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
And we see a similar command in I Samuel 15:22, “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.’”
In these four passages is looks like compassion, loyalty, and obedience are all better than sacrifices. Of course, we’ve commented many times on this show that had the Jews offered the best sacrifices in the best ways for the best reasons, their sacrifices would have pleased the Lord. But these verses are teaching that outward behaviors done for selfish reasons are not pleasing to God. Therefore, the argument is made that true obedience (doing the right things in the rights ways for the rights reasons in the right power) is what truly pleases the Lord. And obviously loyalty and compassion are two of those things the Lord requires.
But why did Jesus quote from Hosea which references loyalty and yet use a word that’s translated compassion and mercy in the New Testament. Good question! I’m glad you asked.
The Hebrew word translated “loyalty” in Hosea 6:6 carries the ideas of devotion, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, lovingkindness, righteousness, mercy, and unchanging love. And so we see that Jesus’ use of the Greek word translated compassion and mercy is tied to this Hebrew understanding.
This teaches us that compassion requires a foundation of love. Disconnected from genuine, biblical love, you will not feel compassion for someone. You won’t see them in their desperate need and be moved to show them mercy and grace. Love is good and kind and merciful and faithful and devoted, and compassion always grows from devotion.
Jesus said that the two greatest commands are to love God and others. Are you devoted to God and devoted to your fellow man? Are you loyal to them in such a way that you can be trusted to faithfully seek after their best interest? Are you so devout that their pain moves you?
In John 1:58 Elizabeth has just given birth to John the Baptist and we read that “Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.” The word translated “mercy” is the same word translated “compassion” in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7.
God saw her in her pitiable state—greatly desiring a child in her old age—and He saw her faithfulness, and He showed her compassion not only by allowing her to bear a son, but for that son to be the forerunner of the Christ.
Now, let’s transition to a new word, and we’re going to springboard from Matthew 9:36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
This word translated “compassion” appears 12 times in the New Testament, but it’s a very different Greek word. This word refers to being moved in one’s innards. It’s related to another word that refers to the organs of the body including the heart, liver, lungs, and is often translated “bowels” in the King James Version.
It’s an emotion word because it refers specifically to the chemical reactions we experience in our organs.
I don’t have time to get into a biblical doctrine of emotions, but that’s something we’re going to detail in future seasons. I’m actually preparing to do a workshop at the annual conference for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors on this very topic. A misunderstanding of emotions is so dangerous, and we see the devastation of that misunderstanding in every corner of our globe.
The point we want to make here is that there is an emotional dynamic to the experience of compassion. It’s completely appropriate to say that Jesus “felt compassion.”
So, one thing we need to accept is that compassion involves genuine emotions. And for those of you who pride yourself in being emotionless androids or Vulcans, or so devoted to logic that you have not time for feelings, please know that you are cutting off a gift of God that was designed to bring Him glory and be a valuable tool for you.
Yes, the world (and the church) are chock-full of people abusing emotions for their own pleasure. And yes, that’s going to be destructive every time. But that doesn’t mean we reject Christ-honoring emotions. And compassion is one of them. Actually, compassion is accompanied by emotion, but it’s not a pure emotion. Let me explain.
The second truth we learn from this passage is that compassion is informed by truth. Jesus didn’t just have a baseless emotional surge that wasn’t tied to truth and reality. He recognized that they were sheep without a shepherd. He knew their greatest need, He knew they were lost, and His emotions were stirred by that truth.
Listen, I don’t care how you feel unless your feelings are informed by truth. You may feel like you’re a man born in a woman’s body, you may feel like you’re attracted to members of your same sex, you may feel that it’s your body your choice, and you may feel like God has given you peace about divorcing your husband . . . but each of those feelings have been severed from biblical truth.
I love what Burk Parsons says, “Don't let your feelings inform your doctrine, make your doctrine inform your feelings.”
Compassion for compassion’s sake is empty and unhelpful. We must be emotionally moved for people because we recognize their genuine position before God. What moves God needs to move us, and what doesn’t move God shouldn’t affect us.
So, what does affect God? God is moved by legitimate need, therefore compassion is moved by legitimate need.
First, everyone needs Him. They need to have a living relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ.
Second, there are also legitimate physical needs. One such example comes from Matthew 14:14 where we read, “When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.” Jesus’ main concern was to meet people’s spiritual needs, but He also loved to meet their physical needs. Meeting their physical needs not only dealt with a legitimate need, but it also attested the fact that He was God—capable of healing their physical needs.
The New Testament is filled with references to Jesus feeling compassion for someone and then healing them.
But Mark 8:2 also reveals that Jesus felt compassion for people who were hungry.
We talked earlier about kindness and forgiveness, and we referenced a master who forgave his servant a lifetime of debt. Well, a similar story was told in Matthew 18:27 where we read, “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”
This compassion saw a financial need. Earlier in the passage we learn that “since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.”
Repayment would have resulted in significant pain to this entire family. And it was the lord’s compassion that caused him to relent.
And the last usage of this word is in Luke 15:20. This word is only used in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and it’s in Luke where we read about the father of the prodigal son: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
My friends, you cannot escape the biblical tension that is compassion. Compassion feels and it feels deeply. It feels so deeply that it is constrained to do something for someone. And it doesn’t just do anything that feels good, it seeks to do that which is in the person’s best interest.
Recently someone handed me an envelope. As far as I know, that man was just the currier of the envelope. And inside this envelope was $500. The note on the inside simply acknowledge that those who have much are required to give much. The individual wanted to worship God by giving my family money, but why did they choose my family? I can only imagine that they are aware of our financial situation, and they had compassion on us to the place where they did something about it.
This is reminiscent of James 2:14-17, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
It may sound compassionate to make a sad face and send someone “good thoughts” as you wish them prosperity. But God says that such a thing is empty and dead. We must show them grace. We must give them that which they don’t deserve but so desperately need. It may be food and clothing, it may be money, it may be the Gospel, it may be biblical reproof.
Now, there are two more lessons we need to learn about compassion. The next is found in Romans 9:15. It’s there we read, “For He says to Moses, ‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.’”
Now, we don’t have time to delve into the complexities of Romans 9, but the lesson here is simple, God’s mercy and compassion—His mercy and grace—is tied directly to God’s eternal purposes. Compassion is not capricious, it’s consistent. Compassion is not pragmatic, it’s purposeful.
But we also learn that compassion is unconditional. Just like mercy and grace, we don’t give compassion because the person themselves “deserved it.” A couple verses earlier we learn that God was merciful to Jacob. Well, Jacob was not exactly the pitiable type. He was a deceiver and manipulator, and yet God showed compassion on Him.
So too we must never try to justify being compassionless because a person is “underserving.” We’re all undeserving! That’s the whole point of mercy and grace . . . we don’t get what we deserve; instead we receive what we abundantly do not deserve.
And that leads us to our final passage for the day. In Philippians 2:1-2 we read, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
What is the most encouraging, consoling, loving, affectionate, and compassionate thing we can do? We must be unified in the love, spirit, and purpose of Christ.
And then Paul beautifully illustrates that unity by describing the most compassionate thing Jesus ever did. Starting in verse 3 we read, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus—the perfect God-man—is not selfish or conceited. He is humble, and therefore He regards others as more important than Himself. And that’s why He didn’t look merely for His own personal needs, but instead to the interest of others. He saw that we were lost in need of a Savior, and He pitted us, and that’s why He emptied Himself and obeyed and sacrificed and died on our behalf.
And God commands that we have that same attitude in us.
My friends, we must be compassionate. We must be compassionate because God commands it, and we must be compassionate because it’s how gracious people live.
Now, before we conclude, how does God’s interactions with Job make sense in light of what we learned? Well, it’s true God restored Job to his former glory, but we have to recognize that God allowed Satan to beat Job down because it was in Job’s best interest. God did not stop being compassionate because Job experienced what he experienced. God was compassionate the whole time.
If you are not a compassionate person, and you’d like to learn how to glorify God by being more so, please reach out to us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. We would be honored to open God’s Word and help you begin to embody the compassion of Christ.
And we ask that you please share this series with your fellow disciples of Christ. One great way of doing that is using this as a jump off point for small group discipleship and conversation. Everyone can listen to the episodes together, take notes, and then talk about how you can all hep each other live more gracious lives.
And please join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing what the Bible really means when it tells us to be gentle.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.