Love and compassion are not the same virtues. They sound like they would be the same thing, but they aren’t. You see, we have compassion for people, because we love them. Love is the prerequisite to compassion. There are several occasions when Jesus “had compassion” or was “moved to compassion” for people, but that compassion was birthed out of his profound love for them.
Compassion defined: Compassion differs from love in that it is more of a “feeling.” Love is a decision. We can love someone, but not have that “feeling” of love. Compassion is different in that it is an inward feeling of the soul and spirit and it drives us to action! Although love and compassion don’t mean the same thing they are closely related and can result in the same action being taken. Vines Expository Dictionary of Greek Words defines compassion as: “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity).” Compassion is that deep seated concern, pity, and feeling for those who are hurting.
So who did Jesus have compassion on? As we read the gospels, I see five groups of people that Jesus had compassion for or was “moved” to compassion with them.
1. The Hungry — In Matthew 15 the crowds had been following Jesus for days and in verse 32 Jesus tells the disciples that he doesn’t want to send them away hungry lest they faint: “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” As followers of Christ we should have compassion on those who are hungry.
2. The Harassed — Depending on which translation you are reading, the word translated as “harassed” in the NIV is also translated: confused, distressed, fainted, and weary in other translations. You get the picture. Jesus had compassion on those who were the least able to take care of themselves. Look around you, who is it that is being harassed? Who is it that is weary from the distresses of life? They are the ones who Jesus would have compassion for and so should you and I. (Matthew 9:36 NIV)
3. The Helpless — Have you ever felt “helpless?” It is a terrible feeling. You want to do something but you simply can’t either because of physical, intellectual,or mental limitations. I had back surgery many years ago, and I wanted so badly to go outside and mow my lawn, but I was helpless! I had to depend on someone else to do it. Jesus had compassion on the helpless, the scattered, the ones who society had “cast aside” or “cast away” because they were different or they couldn’t contribute in a manner that societal norms would dictate. Find the helpless and help them! Find those who everyone else has “cast aside” and show compassion and bring them in. (Matthew 9:36 NIV)
4. The Lost — Those whom Jesus had compassion on, he likened to “sheep without a shepherd.” In other words they were lost and in danger. Sheep without a shepherd are vulnerable to the wolves and other wild animals who prey on innocent sheep. Jesus had compassion for people like this. We need compassion for people who are vulnerable to the wolves of this world! The wolves of this world are those people who want to destroy God’s children. (Matthew 9:36 NIV)
5. The Hurting and Sick — Jesus had compassion on those who needed healed. Jesus desires to heal His children who are sick and hurting. He didn’t condemn them for their sickness He simply healed them. Too often I have seen well meaning Christians condemn others who were suffering sickness. Often blaming them for their plight. Jesus didn’t do that, he just prayed for them and healed them. As His followers we should have compassion on the sick and pray for their healing and withhold any judgement. (Matthew 14:14 NIV)
As Christ’s followers it’s time we start displaying Christ’s compassion! What can you do today to demonstrate compassion for the hungry, harassed, helpless, lost, and sick? Whatever it is, start doing it and you will find that you will be more fulfilled and satisfied in your walk with the Lord.
— Keith Fife