Applying the Character Quality of Compassion

Compassion vs. Indifference

3 min

Compassion is responding to a deep need with a longing to do whatever is necessary to meet it.

The phrase “bowels of compassion” comes from the Greek word splagchnon. It means “pity or sympathy” and refers to the seat of the tenderer affections. To be “moved with compassion” describes Jesus’ response to the deep needs He saw. The Hebrew word racham means “to love deeply, to have mercy, to have tender affection.” It is used to describe the tender love that a father and mother have for their children and the mercy that God shows to His people.

Another Greek word for compassion is eleeo. The wicked servant who was forgiven much had no compassion (eleeo) for the one who owed him little. It is from this word that we get the term eleemosynary, which describes the benevolent giving of humanitarian aid. Other concepts that describe compassion are “to have pity, to spare from destruction, and to show mercy.”

Compassion Results From Discerning a Deep Need

  • Jesus saw the spiritual needs of the multitudes and had compassion“When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:36–38).
  • Jesus saw the physical needs of the multitude and gave healing and food“Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. … He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes … . And they did all eat, and were filled” (Matthew 14:14, 19–20).
  • Jesus saw the multitude’s need for a leader and had compassion“And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

How to Develop a Compassionate Heart

Focus on your great debt to God.

It is all too easy to shut up our bowels of compassion towards those who have offended us, yet our attitude should be totally different when we realize the huge debt we have been forgiven by God. The wicked servant who was forgiven a huge debt did not have the same kind of compassion on one who owed him a small debt, because he himself was not humble enough to plead for mercy—he asked only for an extension of time. Thus, he did not appreciate the compassionate mercy shown to him, nor could he show similar mercy to one who also asked him for an extension of time. (See Matthew 18:23–34.)

Enlarge your heart with a prayer list.

The larger our hearts, the more compassion we will have. David asked the Lord to enlarge his heart. (See Psalm 119:32.) Paul urged the Corinthian believers to enlarge their hearts toward each other and toward him in the same way that his heart was enlarged toward them. (See II Corinthians 6:1–13.)

One of the obvious ways that Paul may have enlarged his heart for compassion was to have a detailed and extensive prayer list. (See Ephesians 1:15-16.) He carried the daily responsibility of all the churches and prayed for many of the believers by name. (See II Corinthians 11:28.)

The larger our hearts, the more compassion we will have.

Turn personal suffering into compassion for others.

All believers are called to experience suffering. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (II Peter 2:21). One of the purposes for suffering is to learn the compassion of Christ. By understanding how others feel when they go through suffering, we can give them the comfort we receive from the Lord. “[God] comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:4).

Look for ways to do good to all people.

Compassion is a practical expression of genuine love, and all believers are commanded to have love toward each other and toward others. Not only is love the credential of being a disciple, but it is also the means by which we fulfill the instruction of Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

Personal Evaluation

  • Are you “moved to compassion” when you see a group of people in need of Christ?
  • Do you pray that God will send forth laborers into His harvest?
  • Do you help only those who are likely to return the favor, or do you look for ways to help those who can never repay you?
  • When you see a disabled person, do you provide practical help?
  • Do you have funds or skills that are available to help those who have a need?
  • Who was the last person who asked you for help, and how did you help him?
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