What is compassion?

Last Sunday, we had a presentation about a Christian organization called Compassion UK which works with children in poverty in some of the poorest countries of the world. The organization’s threefold purpose is to be child focused, Christ centred and church based. Click here to find out how you can invest in the life of a child in poverty through sponsorship.

In a world that tends to use and abuse the actual meaning of words, has the true force of the definition of compassion been lost on us? Today, we might hear the word and think, “oh, how lovely, what a nice idea, compassion,” but do we really know what it means and do we demonstrate it from our hearts?

What does it mean to have compassion or be compassionate as a Christian trait and virtue?

Jesus, in Matthew 9:35-38, helpfully illustrates true compassion for us.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and village, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”

In this portion of Matthew Jesus was on a healing streak. In chapters 8 and 9 alone He has healed a man with leprosy, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother in Law, many more demon possessed and those who were ill. He takes a break to calm the storm, heals two more demon possessed men, a paralytic, a dead girl, another sick woman, a blind man, a man who could not speak. He continues His relentless mission of proclamation, teaching, and healing, and His renown is ever growing and the people (the crowds) are drawn to Him.

He was likely physically exhausted. Jesus could have said: “Oh these people keep bringing me their problems, can’t they just leave me alone?” or “What a bunch of helpless failures, I’m out of here.” But it says that Jesus had compassion on them (Matt 9:36).

Today we might read that word as “oh Jesus had compassion, what a good guy.” We might think of other words like sympathy or empathy. However, the Greek word for compassion is splachnizomai. It might sound funny trying to say it, but it is a profound word. It actually means a feeling from deep within, from your guts, your innards. It means to love or have concern for someone with deep pain. And such pain wells up and leads to action.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were harassed and helpless (and helpless here does not mean guiltless of sin). Here were a bunch of ordinary people. They were harassed and helpless for many economic, political and spiritual reasons: Roman rule, religious oppression and their own wayward living (Jesus called them a perverse and corrupt generation). There were so many reasons why Jesus had compassion on them. But He did not pass them by, for His compassion compelled Him into action to seek to bring the life changing truths of the Gospel to bear upon their lives and life situations. Jesus too, in countless instances, commands His followers to be a people of compassion because of the compassion He show to us, by dying to save us from our sins.

Colossians 3:12, as a type of fruit of the Spirit, instructs us:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…

Whether it is through supporting a child through an organization like Compassion, or something much closer to home, and perhaps very personal and messy, would we follow our Lord’s example and be a people of compassion?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris