But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)

We live in a hard-hearted world where every kind of heartlessness abounds. It seems that the common compassion that used to exist for children, the elderly, and the disabled has been swallowed up by a common greed and selfishness that now prevails in our world.

The perilous (Gk. “savage”) times that Paul warned Timothy about are upon us. One of the marks is that people will be “without natural affection”,  which literally means in Greek “incapable of love.” There are countless examples in the news recently too grieving to mention. But what else can we expect from hearts that are closed to the love of God?

It’s the other side of the coin that should alarm us more — the “Christian side.” Is there not an increasing lack of genuine care for others among Christians? With the busy-ness of life and its increased material comforts, it seems that there is less desire to reach out to needy ones unless (1) it’s convenient, (2) there’s something in it for me, or even (3) it’ll look good on my résumé.

If it eats into our budget or free time, we may not be so inclined to do it. Or if it interferes with personal family time, we may not be willing to sacrifice that time for some needy cause or person. Also, our lives may be so full up with so many extra things that we have little or no idea of what others are suffering and become detached from responsibility. So, we can all be guilty of a lack of concern for the plight of others and be content with our own lot instead.

What is compassion?

The Greek word for “compassion” is a strange one (splagchnizomai) which literally means to be moved to the bowels. The bowels were considered to be the seat of love and pity. Compassion affects deeply the innermost self. So it is feeling with the innermost being, right to the core of the individual. The effect is felt not only in the soul and mind but also in the body. In other words, the body feels the effect as the whole being is moved.

Dictionary definition: Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

  1. Jesus had compassion!

Several  NT references mention this specific Greek word for compassion in Jesus (not including the countless examples of other similar words like love, care, concern). He had this for:

  • the crowds who gathered round Him (Matthew 15:32 and Mark 6:34)
  • a leper(Mark 1:41
  • two blind men (Matthew 20:34)
  • feeding of four thousand (Mark 8:2)
  • the son with “dumb spirit” (Mark 9:22)
  • the widow of Nain whose only son died (Luke 7:13)
  • the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33)
  • the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20)

To summarize these examples, Jesus had compassion for:

  • the lost
  • the sick
  • the dying
  • the backslider
  • the foreigner
  • the blind
  • the hungry
  • the grieving

 The hymn writer General Albert Orborn (1886-1967) was able to capture the compassion of Christ and our need to have the same compassion in the following hymn:.

The Saviour of men came to seek and to save
The souls who were lost to the good;
His Spirit was moved for the world which he loved
With the boundless compassion of God.
And still there are fields where the laborers are few,
And still there are souls without bread,
And still eyes that weep where the darkness is deep,
And still straying sheep to be led.

            Except I am moved with compassion,
            How dwelleth thy Spirit in me?
            In word and in deed
            Burning love is my need;
            I know I can find this in thee.

O is not the Christ ‘midst the crowd of today
Whose questioning cries do not cease?
And will he not show to the hearts that would know
The things that belong to their peace?
But how shall they hear if the preacher forbear
Or lack in compassionate zeal?
Or how shall hearts move with the Master’s own love,
Without his anointing and seal?

It is not with might to establish the right,
Nor yet with the wise to give rest;
The mind cannot show what the heart longs to know
Nor comfort a people distressed.
O Saviour of men, touch my spirit again,
And grant that thy servant may be
Intense every day, as I labor and pray,
Both instant and constant for thee.

  1. We need compassion!

Except I am moved with compassion, how dwelleth thy Spirit in me? What a heart-searching question. Having compassion is vital for us. Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India, said:

“If I have not compassion on my fellow servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

These are strong words. The Lord tells us that mankind is so able to be compassionless in Isaiah 49:15. In this verse, the question is asked if a mother could forsake her child. The natural bond between mother and child is likely the strongest bond that exists in the world. Even that can’t overcome the heartlessness of the human heart as mothers DO forget, neglect, abuse, and even despise the children of their womb.

 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. (Isaiah 49:15)

The Lord shows us the great contrast between Himself and us. While it is difficult to fathom, mothers are capable of “forgetting” their own flesh and blood, but He will never forget us.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23

There are many of God’s people across the world that need our compassion. For instance, those that are out on the mission field in difficult circumstances. Do we care enough to help, to write an email, to pick up the phone, to send something to encourage them, or to even go ourselves. It is part of our duty as the body of Christ to help. If we cannot go, we can PRAY! But we must pray with compassion. The Lord knows when our hearts are moved! May we not offer up something that is merely from our lips. May God move our hearts — even to tears!

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him.”  I John 3:17

The apostle Paul is a great example of one full of compassion.  Look how he poured himself out physically, mentally, and spiritually for the saints in the early church. Look what he suffered to bring the gospel to the Gentile world! He used our same Greek word for compassion (in bold type) when he stirred up the Colossian Christians to live in the compassion of Christ.

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Colossians 3:12

May we pray that God will give us a true heart of compassion for the lost, for those in the service of Christ, for our fellow believers, and for our families and friends. May we truly enter into His compassion with all our being, for except we are moved with compassion, how dwelleth His Spirit in us?