Our culture generally sees compassion as a virtue. We admire and respect compassionate people and even feel that it is our responsibility to be compassionate to some extent. But, the call to be compassionate is more than a cultural value; it is a biblical expectation for all who claim to follow God.
Here are just a few verses that emphasis that truth: Lev 19:9–10; Ps 41:1; Prov 14:31; 17:5; 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; 29:7; Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 25:31–46; Luke 14:12–14; Gal 2:9–10; Col 3:12–13; Jms 1:27; 2:14–16; and 1 Jn 3:17–18.
Now, before going too much further, let me be clear about what I mean by 'compassion.' I’m defining compassion as a sympathetic concern that moves us to show love to others. Compassion isn’t simply a feeling; rather, it is a feeling that prompts action. Yet, so often, I think we stop at the feeling. Why? Possibly because…
- We become self-focused. We see our problems at the expense of others, or we are so busy that we just never act on our our good intentions.
- We become calloused. We just get calloused and cynical at times.
- We become overwhelmed. We look at the problem and think, “What can I do?” The problem just seems so great that our petty efforts won’t even make a dent.
We must fight against these tendencies. We must seek to bare the marks of a follower of Jesus and discipline ourselves to not stop at feelings alone, but to leverage those feelings so that they bear the fruit of action. So, with the desire to be active in showing compassion, let’s examine the actions of the Good Samaritan. When we examine the way in which he showed compassion to his Jewish neighbor, we discover 3 gauges by which we can evaluate our levels of compassion:
1. Our Clocks.
The Good Samaritan sacrificed substantial time in order to be compassionate to his neighbor. It was inconvenient and that’s the point. Compassion overrides convenience. So, how do we spend our time? Do we have time for others? Are we okay with being inconvenienced by the needs others? Does my time reflect a heart for others?
2. Our Coins.
The Good Samaritan had to make a financial sacrifice to help his neighbor. Are my financial concerns seasoned with my concern for others? Does my bank statement reflect a compassionate character? If we look at how we spend our money, it will tell us something about our level of compassion.
3. Our Conversations.
Notice how the Samaritan spoke about the beaten man to the innkeeper. He spoke about him in a way that was respectable and dignified. Do we talk to and about people in a way that is compassionate? Do we talk about people in poverty as if they are all dishonest, underhanded, or manipulative? Do we judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart?
How do we talk to people in need? Do we seek to maintain their dignity? Are we honest with them? These questions assume that we are opening our eyes to those hurting around us, then courageously engaging them in conversation.
What about our prayers? Pray is a form of conversation. Do we pray for others particularly those in need? A couple of years ago one of my children praying at the dinner table said, “God please help all the homeless and poor people in our city. Please provide for them.” Immediately, I thought: "How ridiculous. They're homeless for a reason." How dare I believe in an all-powerful God and not pray in an all-powerful way? How dare I preach about a God of compassion, then pass along condemnation?
These 3 gauges reveal, on some level, our heart for the world. The Good Samaritan allowed his clock, coin, and conversation to be influenced because he had compassion on his neighbor. What about us? For those of us who are followers of Jesus, are we compassionate? Do we think of others? Are we sacrificial?
What if we all upped our compassion game a little? We would be more mindful of others and their problems and less prone to focus on our own problems. We would send a signal to our children, friends, and loved ones that life is more than being comfortable, and the way we live life and how it impacts others matters. Could you imagine if we, as the people of God, truly sought to live in the world in such a compassionate way that we allowed other people to influence how we spent our time, money, and how we talked? Could you imagine what the world would think when they asked us why we were doing this, and we tell them, “There is this guy named Jesus and he didn’t leave me desperate, he didn’t walk on the other side of the road when he saw me, and he didn’t ignore me. Instead, he loved me and gave me purpose, hope, and provided salvation”?
Let us be radically compassionate because of the radical compassion we have richly received from Jesus.