Compassion is More Important Than You Think

There is a calling in our lives as Christians and as a church to demonstrate compassion to one another and towards our neighbors. Compassion is something we are called to “put on” as part of our identity in Christ. Colossians 3:12 says we are to clothe ourselves in compassion—not as an option, but as a command. It isn’t rooted in a list of “to-do’s” that we check off or we show towards people when we feel up to it. This is grounded in the fact that Christ demonstrated compassion towards us by saving us. He doesn’t wait for us to do something that garners His attention. He sees our fallen, desperate condition and looks upon us with compassion.

So is it that simple? Do we all have compassion figured out now? Unfortunately, we as believers often miss the mark with compassion. All one needs to do is log on social media and see how selfish and unloving we are towards others. We pick and choose when being compassionate can best suit our convenience. We pre-determine in our minds who is worthy of compassion. We may choose to be compassionate so we can feel good about ourselves. We get compassion wrong a lot of the time. When we read those commands to put on or be compassionate, we agree with what we read but internally might add “but only in certain situations.”

This has really weighed on my heart and mind, especially during this season of COVID. There have been so many issues where believers (yes, unfortunately believers) argue with one another, insist on their own way, tear down each other, intentionally or unintentionally mock those in tougher circumstances, and really don’t demonstrate a loving, compassionate heart towards their fellow neighbors. It’s incredibly sad to me how self-absorbed we are. We’d like to think we’re not but deep down we operate on seeing ourself first and others second.
Now I am not saying all believers do this. There are many faithful brothers and sisters in the Lord striving to be compassionate and pursue a heart’s attitude that puts another person over themselves. But how can this become more common amongst us? How do we go from selfish and unloving to being more compassionate towards others? There are a few points I want to touch on that hopefully encourages us to have compassion so rooted in our hearts that we can truly honor Christ and reflect Him to a world that so desperately needs to know His compassion.

First, the example of Christ. We know Scripture calls us to show compassion but the example of Christ really helps us understand what this should look like. Matthew 9:36 talks about Jesus seeing the crowds and having compassion. Jesus never demonstrated compassion based on how people acted or if they proved they were worth it. He didn’t operate off of societal influence nor did He align Himself with agendas that determined who and when He would show compassion. He saw people and had compassion. He knows our hearts and the sinfulness that resides there because we’re all sinners. He knows our condition but He sees us and still looks upon us with compassion. We have done nothing that is worthy of His compassion. He sees sinful people, He sees those who have worth and dignity because we are created in His likeness, and He sees the needs people have, both spiritually and physically.
The rest of Matthew 9:36 mentions Jesus felt compassion because He likened the people He saw as sheep without a shepherd. A shepherd cares for his flock. He will do whatever is necessary to watch out for them. He doesn’t want harm to come upon them because He cares for each one. That is where Christ was able to see people, as lost sheep needing a shepherd, and view them with a heart of compassion. That is the example He set for us as believers and our hearts should be rooted in seeing fellow image-bearers who need the compassion of Christ, both spiritually and physically.

Second, compassion can be developed in our hearts when we’re in proximity to others. It’s easy to condemn and act unlovingly when you don’t encounter people needing compassion. Jesus was constantly in proximity to other people. That’s why He felt compassion because He saw them, meaning He was around them. He didn’t read about people or issues from afar and He didn’t isolate Himself from being around those whom society wanted nothing to do with. He put Himself in proximity to others because He cared for them. When you’re in that close proximity, you see the needs - both spiritual and physical - and hopefully that cultivates a compassionate heart that loves neighbors. We have to be around fellow image-bearers in order to demonstrate compassion. It can be difficult because we are also around other sinful people, just like ourselves, but this is exactly the compassion Christ shows us in our sinful state. We must be around others to see them, love them, and show compassion as Christ did.

With the ministry I’m involved in, there are numerous times where I can almost feel like another traumatic story won’t take me by surprise. But I often find myself completely floored, not because I haven’t heard the type of struggle before, but because I see the hurts, the pain, and the hopeless situations and can’t help but feel that compassion. It’s not pity—it’s seeing people as image-bearers and allowing the compassion of Christ to move in my heart. We can’t grow weary in showing that compassion. People need to know there is a Savior who looks upon them and offers compassion. This is all part of loving our neighbors. Find your foundation, not in doing good and nice things, but in Christ who saw us and demonstrated compassion towards us first.