What comes to mind when you think of compassion? Maybe giving to the poor … helping someone in need … your heart being moved for someone else and their situation. Perhaps you think of the compassion that God showed in sending Jesus to reconcile us to Himself. Regardless, one thing is certain: God’s heart beats with compassion. Therefore, we need to also cultivate a character of compassion.
The Bible is full of references about the compassion and lovingkindness of God.
“[God] crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion.” (Psalm 103:4)
“Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your loving kindnesses, for they have been from of old.” (Psalm 25:6)
“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13)
“For the Lord will judge His people and will have compassion on His servants.” (Psalm 135:14)
“The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22)
“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.” (Isaiah 30:18a)
The Compassion of Jesus
Jesus was the embodiment of the Father’s compassion; He not only displayed compassion but He also taught about it in parables and illustrations.
“And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:27)
“Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.” (Matthew 20:34)
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
“When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)
Do you notice that whenever Jesus was moved with compassion that He also acted? He allowed His emotion to result in action; He did something about what He felt compassionate about.
Compassion in Action
In Colossians 3:12-17, compassion is paired with many other amazing characteristics of Christ such as kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another. In fact, the way I see it, compassion is a launching pad for everything else in the Kingdom. For example, when we look at the examples of Jesus, His compassion leads to generosity, humility, healing, and forgiveness.
We want to be compassionate because our Father is compassionate. We want to be moved, to be loving, to stop for someone in need – we shouldn’t put blinders on or ignore someone in need. True compassion is being able to feel for another person. Instead of being selfish or self-focused, we should be others-focused, willing to do something when we see others suffering.
Compassion requires action. Faith without works is dead, so we have to be able to take action in some way. And love isn’t just an emotion; it’s an action. Jesus embodied this. The very heart of God is compassion, and He took action in giving His Son to redeem mankind.
We Must Have Boundaries
It can get sticky when we talk about boundaries and balance. For example, we know we’re supposed to be kind and loving and think of others, but boundaries are very important. This can be very difficult and we must consider each situation: when is it compassion, and when is it enabling? When is it compassion, and when is it codependency? These are very difficult questions especially for believers because we want to do what Jesus would do. In the same way, we can’t use the excuse of boundaries to do nothing.
We must remember that Jesus is their Savior; we aren’t necessarily going to be the savior for some people. But you may be wondering, aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? Yes, but Jesus already died – we don’t have to die to “save” people because He already has!
Instead of trying to save and rescue everyone who we feel compassion for, we need to pray and ask God how to help them because we don’t want to enable them in their dysfunction. So even though our heart can be moved with compassion, we still have to ask God what to do because He may tell us to do something different than what they want us to do or what we think we should do. For example, instead of giving someone money, God may show you to buy that person groceries or to take them a meal.
So, we cannot talk about compassion without talking about healthy boundaries. You aren’t going to be able to rescue everyone. That’s not healthy; that’s not your job. It’s not selfish for us to set up boundaries. Self-care is vitally important. Self-care comes from knowing YOU have value and worth. We need to be giving and compassionate – especially as believers – but we need to recognize what our limit is supposed to be as well.
Judgment is the opposite of compassion. The minute we judge somebody, we lose the capacity to have compassion. Judgment causes us to raise ourselves above the other person, and we no longer have the ability to show compassion to him or her because we’re judging, looking down on, and putting that person down.
When we judge someone, we are unable to minister to them because we now have an opinion about them. Judgment causes us to disconnect ourselves from having compassion for the ones we judge. As long as we have judgment toward someone, we won’t have compassion toward them and we won’t be able to minister to them. Rather than judging and assuming we know exactly why someone is the way that they are, we need to love the way that God loves and allow our hearts to break for what breaks His.
In a nutshell, compassion is loving someone when they least deserve it. This is the Father’s heart – being moved for them not just because you feel sorry for them or because they have lacked, but because you can love them when they least deserve it (in your opinion).
Challenge yourself to think about the people you have recently judged. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, and this stretches us. Ask God to help you see things the way HE sees them rather than judging people and situations. Invite God to soften your heart. Ask Him to help you recognize healthy boundaries and then follow His leading. Ask Him to stretch your heart of compassion so you can be His hands and feet to those who are hurting.
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