Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
I am going to devote the next several articles to offering you encouragement and exhortation through what I call “the divine dress code,” as we read it from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul in his epistle to the church at Colossae. Today I will focus on the first article of clothing Paul instructs us to wear: compassion.
To understand compassion from a biblical perspective, it is important to combine the Latin terms com (with) and pati (suffering). To be compassionate is to connect at the deepest heart level with those who are suffering and in pain, just as our Lord did time and time again. Do you remember what happened when Jesus saw the blind men who were asking Him for sight? We read, “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34). The Greek verb splagchnizomai that Matthew used, which our English Bibles render as “had compassion,” is taken directly from the word root that Paul used with the Colossians; it means to feel a yearning “in the bowels”—to say it inelegantly but quite accurately, it is to feel sympathy in your guts.
Who can forget our Lord feeding the 5,000 after a long day of teaching? When Jesus saw a large crowd, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). The verb Mark used is the same splagchnizomai; our Lord was deeply moved with emotions of kindness and mercy, and He promptly acted to help His lost sheep.
Here are two important points we are to glean from the scores of passages in sacred Scripture which describe the compassion of our Christ:
First, Jesus took notice of those around Him. In a word, Jesus was “other-oriented” in every aspect of His life. When we are self-absorbed, we miss what is going on around us. We become more concerned with meeting our own needs rather than the needs of those around us. If we are always looking at ourselves, we simply cannot take notice of others. If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ, we must be willing to shift our focus away from self and look with eyes of compassion on the people around us.
Second, Jesus met those around Him in their place of need. Why? Because He cared for them. Those who imagine that the Lord God Omnipotent is some distant, disinterested deity are completely and profoundly wrong in their thinking. I have written articles here about Scripture’s instruction to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, emphasis added). Our Lord cares, and cares deeply, about mankind, who is made in His image. If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ, we must be willing to model His compassion as we go through life.
One of the most important lessons I have learned during my years as a pastor is that our compassion for others is a measure of our commitment to God. In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was not the priest or the Levite, those who were most outwardly “religious,” who demonstrated the compassion of Christ. Both those men actually crossed the street to avoid contact with a beaten man who had been robbed and left for dead. Rather, it was the outsider, the despised Samaritan, who put his life on hold and cared for the wounded man (Luke 10:33). This Samaritan understood the divine dress code and clothed himself with compassion.
Can the same be said about you and me? This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!