Chapter 21: Compassion
God has been bringing Compassion to mind. I’ve not always been a compassionate person myself. Years back I was rather intolerant of people. Yet the Lord is faithful to do a work in our hearts and minds. It is the Lord’s grace that teaches us compassion. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this.
For starters, the Bible is pretty clear that the only way we come to know God is because of his compassion extended to us. We find a picture of the Father’s compassionate heart in Hosea,
“I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws and I bent down to them and fed them.”
Hosea 11:4 ESV
This is a beautiful picture of compassion that ‘bends down’ to serve and to free.
We are only a changed people because of compassion. There are other ways to motivate and try to change people, such as criticizing, condemning, and manipulating, but these do not create lasting change. Only the compassion of God creates a work in our lives that cannot be undone.
Compassion is the heart of God and compassion is the hard emotional work where miracles happen. (footnote #1 below)
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14 ESV
Compassion steps us into another person’s experience and from their point of view we gain bigger perspective. When we do not run from the hurts of others, we are exhibiting compassion. (footnote #2 below)
The thing is, we can know all sorts of things, be wise in all measure, have education and knowledge in great ways, but without compassion all of this is a waste. It means nothing, if we cannot connect with others hearts and lives.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV
Compassion is hard because it requires that we set our own needs aside. It is the language of the heart, not the mind. It is a learned skill to see others with God’s heart and not through our own code of right and wrong.
But the Bible is pretty clear that compassion covers over a multitude of sins. Compassion understands that we are human and that we have sin. Every one of us. (footnote #3)
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offences.” Proverbs 10:12 ESV
Compassion demands that we leave our judgements and condemnations behind.
Compassion has no room for such.
In the professional development world we talk about the difference between force and power and how force is used by those who have no real power for force demands and threatens others to our way of right and wrong, good and bad.
Force may feel good for a short period of time, but it does not create long-lasting results. In fact, force does just the opposite. Force undermines and destroys. It destroys trust, it destroys affections, and it destroys influence and relationships.
Force is the opposite of compassion and we get a good picture of the effects of this lack of compassion and the use of force in Ezekiel 34.
“… you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.” Ezekiel 34:3-5 ESV
Real power, on the other hand, is like a whisper. Have you ever been in a crowd that has been noisy and needed to get someone’s attention? Have you ever tried yelling but found no response, but then tried a whisper and were able to be heard despite the noise?
Compassion exhibits this kind of power.
In 1 Kings we have a beautiful passage about the Lord as he reveals himself to Elijah:
“And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV
Consider next Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery; a fabulous example of the power of compassion.
The ‘law-keepers’ had found this woman and had brought her to Jesus. The Jewish law at the time stated that the punishment was to be death by stoning.
We find the story in John 8:
“Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
…. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”
John 8: 2-11 ESV
Compassion ruled the day. And compassion brings from each of us our best. It does not force, it does not demand, and it does not condemn.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13 ESV
Compassion opens our hearts and enables us to see each other and our communities with God’s heart and God’s eyes.
At the same time compassion is a work of our hearts that we cannot manufacture ourselves. We cannot make our selfish narrow minded hearts expand, only God can do this.
So we ask him for expanded hearts, we ask for compassion to flood through us, and we step into God’s compassion for us. When we know God’s compassion personally, we can then give it out.
“Father God, we come to you today in the name and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We clearly see that we cannot make compassion happen inside of ourselves. This is a work that only you can do, and we are dependent on your doing this in our lives. Please bring your compassion into my life. Help me to see others with eyes of compassion. Help me to act with compassion.
I welcome your compassion to flood my being, heart, mind, spirit and body. Thank-you for your compassion. Thank-you that in compassion you sent your son Jesus Christ to die for my sin and everyone’s sin. Thank-you for extending to us fellowship of compassion with each other. I receive you and your compassion this day in the name and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all glory to you Father, Amen.”
There is a book called Leadership & Self Deception. It describes what happens when we refuse to do good for others.
It is like this: At the moment when we have a thought of doing something good for another person, we either move forward to do that good thing or we immediately create an excuse along with a judgment as to why we could not do that good thing.
For instance, I once passed by a homeless person and had the thought of giving this person some money. But I did not move to share any money with the person and immediately into my mind came all the ‘reasons’ why I couldn’t share that money. My thoughts became, “Well, he would just spend it foolishly, now I am no longer near him, and I don’t think I was to do this.”
Can you see, in this example, how I pushed aside the thought to do good and instead chose excuse and judgment?
The Bible actually calls choice #2 sin.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17 ESV
We are called to follow the conscience that the Lord has given us for it is through our conscience that the Holy Spirit speaks and directs and commands; there are things we know to do simply because our hearts compel us to do them. This is the Holy Spirit at work within us and we best not ignore the compelling of the Lord.
If we consistently ignore the thoughts we have for doing good to others, we will grow a hard heart and these offences (sins of omission) pile up between ourselves and others. Unless we confess and repent we then begin to defend and deny our wrong-doing and the wall between us and others (and God) grows bigger and bigger.
Bottom line: begin to pay attention to your own thoughts and begin to follow through on the good thoughts you have for others.
Summary – compassion
Compassion flows from God. Hosea 11:4, Matthew 14:13-15
Gentleness builds people while harshness tears down. Colossians 3:12-13
Love for others must come before everything else. 1 Corinthians 13:1
We work to remain in trust with people. Romans 12:9-13
We do for others as our spirit tells us. James 4:17
Footnote #1 – It seems that miracles are the place where God’s heart intersects with our hearts, where we allow ourselves to be moved by the heart of God and we call out to him, by which God’s heart is then moved by our hearts, which moves our hearts, which moves the Lord’s heart – here in this intersection between God and mankind, miracles happen.
To allow our heart to be moved is the emotional energy of allowing compassion. In compassion we are moved beyond ourselves for the benefit of another.
Footnote #2 – It is interesting to realize that every place where the Bible tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people, it was at times of personal weariness where the term compassion seems to indicate a putting aside of Jesus’ self-concern and an extending of himself in a way that offered more to the people than he would have humanly felt he had at that moment.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of times when I don’t feel that I have anything to give to others, and it is at these times that we are particularly called to extend ourselves in a way that ministers to others, beyond what we feel we can give. I know that at these times, in our weakness, that God takes over and ministers through our sacrifice in a way that we can never do in our own strength. Compassion is a call to go beyond ourselves in the service of others.
Footnote #3 – In a later part of this course we will learn more about Sulha and this profound spirit of the Lord that we can walk out in relationship with those around us.