Understanding Compassion

It is serious business to be a Christian. It involves humility in confession and repentance, the laying down of your life, the taking up of your cross, and setting your mind on things above. One important part of this walk is our call to live in compassion. However, without the knowledge of Christ’s compassion towards us, our compassion towards others can only fall embarrassingly short. How can we be compassionate? The answer lies in remembering how in Christ, God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). True compassion comes from a knowledge of God and a knowledge of others.

The compassion that Christ has towards us and that we ought to have towards those around us comes from a deep knowledge of others. God’s Word says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ’s compassion does not come from a place of lofty judgment, but it comes from a deep comprehension of what it means to be human. Because he was himself human, Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses, and he shows compassion from this sympathy. One reason why God’s care towards us is so touching is that it is not a common compassion that goes to every person, everywhere. You would not feel loved if you received flowers from an unknown someone who did the same to everyone else. This affection is universal and lacks relationship. However, receiving flowers from your spouse of 50 years holds an entirely different weight. This is one of the reasons why marriage is used to show the mystery of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-33). Christ, like a husband, knows his people intimately and loves them personally.

In the same way, to show compassion we must first seek to understand. A lack of understanding breeds judgment and creates distance. In contrast, drawing close to and seeing the pain of another can establish true care and compassion. I fear that we spend so much time in conversation about people who are different from us without truly knowing them. How quick we are to say with confidence that people who voted for Joe Biden are unintelligent! Or that someone who uses paper straws to save the planet is a wacko! It is easy to name-call people who are different from us because we don’t understand. How do you expect to have a good, gospel-centered conversation with your atheist coworker if you talk so poorly about atheists with your Christian friends?

The idea of being a “safe space” for someone is widely accepted in the western world but mocked by many on the Christian right because it is too “woke.” But before we bash the term, let’s consider it – not from a Republican or conservative perspective, but from one of a Christian (because remember, we are Christians first and above all else.) Consider how your judgment of other perspectives and people can create walls. This would not be a big deal if our goal as Christians was to live cut off from the world, however, our commission is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This call is impossible when we look down upon those from metaphorical “other” nations. 

Thankfully, there are many avenues by which to share the gospel. The faithful engage in street evangelism, homeless ministries, pastoring churches, and in teaching college students. Sharing the gospel can look different depending on our position in life, our giftings, and our callings. On the other hand, we can all engage in the ministry of friendship and compassion towards those in our lives. Consider the benefit of becoming a safe space for another image-bearer of God to share their burdens, describe their pain, or celebrate their accomplishments. This frees you to engage in gospel conversations from a place of authentic trust and care. 

Deep compassion grows from this knowledge, but it is hindered by our quick judgments and crude jokes. We should put away the old self, which makes jokes at the other’s expense or groups people into categories. Instead, put on Christ, who intimately knows his people and shows real compassion for them through his understanding.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

Categories: Faith

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