A general definition of compassion is sympathy and concern for the sufferings of others and a desire to alleviate such suffering. The Hebrew and Greek words translated as "compassion" in the Bible speak to having mercy or being moved with sympathetic pity.
What does the Bible teach about compassion?
The most important object this word is used to describe is God Himself. God is the root and foundation, the spring and fountainhead, of all true compassion (1 John 4:16). God's compassion is extoled throughout the Bible. Below are two particularly pertinent passages.
"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:18–19).
"As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children" (Psalm 103:13–17).
God is compassionate. He is sympathetic to the suffering of His people. He sees our distress and takes pity on us. However, His compassion is more than mere sympathy and pity. God's compassion is related to His mercy, kindness, patience, grace, forgiveness, and love. In fact, some of these attributes are so related and interwoven as to make clear demarcations between them difficult. God's compassion compels Him to take action. He is no impotent observer, but the omnipotent sovereign ruler of the universe (Romans 9:14–16). God's sympathy for our lost and miserable state led Him not only to feel our pain, but to provide an atoning sacrifice for our guilt; this He did by sending His Son to die for our sins (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:1–10).
Jesus is the Father's most compassionate gift to mankind. It is only by and through faith in Jesus Christ that we are forgiven of our guilt and rescued from our deplorable condition (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:14). He experienced human life and is able to sympathize with us fully (Hebrews 4:14–16). He lived a perfect life and modeled things like compassion for us. By observing the compassion of Christ we catch glimpses of the compassion of the Father and see how we ourselves can show compassion to others (Philippians 2:1–11).
The compassion of Christ can be clearly seen in the Gospel narratives. For example, in Matthew 9:36, we observe Christ's compassion for the harassed and helpless. In Matthew 14:14, we see His compassion for those who are sick and suffer disease. In Matthew 15:32, we witness His compassion for those who hunger. In Luke 7:11–15, we hear of His compassion for the widowed who were especially vulnerable; therefore, He resurrected the widow's son and gave him back to her. In the case of Lazarus, Christ's compassion was so strong that He wept (John 11). When Jesus arrived graveside, He raised Lazarus from the dead and gave him back to his grieving relatives. No doubt Jesus Himself rejoiced greatly over the return of His friend.
The pinnacle of Christ's compassion can be observed at the cross of Calvary where He lay down His life for the sins of the world (John 3:16). Those who put their faith in Jesus are born again spiritually and receive the Holy Spirit. We are made new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This enables us to love God and our neighbors. We are commanded in Scripture to put on hearts of compassion as we relate to our fellow Christians (Colossians 3:12–15) and to those who have yet to hear the gospel and believe in Christ.
This compassion we are called to is not emotive only, but is a call to action. True compassion encompasses both a gut level feeling of sympathy and pity as well as positive action taken on our part to relieve the suffering we observe (1 John 3:18). One of the most compassionate acts we can do is to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not know Him so that they might be restored to fellowship with Him. However, our compassion is not to be limited to the lost. We are commanded to have compassion on all people, but especially those who belong to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) and more especially to those who are poor and powerless among us (James 1:27).
Jesus has given believers the Holy Spirit and commanded us to follow His promptings to be compassionate (Galatians 5:22–23). We must have Jesus' heart for the lost, hurt, wounded, poor, and needy souls of this world. Scripture makes it crystal clear that if we do not have compassion or love for each other, then we do not know God (1 John 3:17; 4:20). We cannot be void of compassion and still call ourselves Christians. Compassion is of paramount importance in revealing the genuineness of our faith in Christ. Compassion and love are how we are identified as Christ's disciples (John 13:34–35). Without it we are nothing but clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
May we pray that He will forgive us when our hearts are cold and fan the flames of compassion in us, given by the Spirit.
Does the Bible say anything about empathy?
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