The compassionate Christ is more than an ideal. He’s s role model.
Being like Jesus
By Ted N. C. Wilson
One of the greatest themes in the Bible is that of compassion. We see it written on the pages of Scripture again and again, especially in describing the character of God.
“But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15).
“For the Lord will judge His people, and He will have compassion on His servants” (Ps. 135:14).
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy” (Ps. 145:8).
Perhaps one of the most beautiful passages is found in Micah 7:18, 19: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
A Gift Given to All
Interestingly, of the 50 times the word “compassion” appears in the Bible (27 times in the Old Testament and 23 in the New),1 the first mention of the word involves a person considered a pagan and outsider, a Gentile woman. We are given a glimpse of the scene in Exodus 2:5, 6: “Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ ”
Compassion is not only part of the fabric of God’s character but also a gift He endows to every human being: the ability to have a sympathetic awareness of the distress of others, along with a desire to alleviate it.2
Because compassion is such an intricate part of who God is, throughout history Satan has sought to destroy and obliterate that characteristic in God’s children. Wars, famines, violence, and the desensitization of society through various media, power-grabbing, pride, self-centeredness, escapism, covetousness, nihilism, and more—all are calculated to turn our thoughts from the plight of others to ourselves and erase all compassion from our hearts.
Jesus provides the antidote for a world seriously lacking compassion. Through His life and teachings, Jesus taught what it means to be “moved with compassion.” In Mark’s Gospel we see a leper coming to Jesus, “imploring Him, kneeling down . . . and saying to Him, ‘If you are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’ ” (Mark 1:40, 41).
Following the untimely death of John the Baptist, when Jesus and His disciples tried to go to “a deserted place in the boat by themselves,” thousands of people ran to the other side of the lake to meet them. When Jesus saw the “great multitude, [He] was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:32, 34). Later that day He fed the entire multitude from five loaves and two fish. “So they all ate and were filled” (verse 42).
Modeling True Compassion
While the ministry of Jesus certainly involved meeting the physical needs of people, He modeled true compassion by caring for their spiritual well-being and directing them to the only source of truth.
Stressing this point in His magnificent sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’. . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).
The compassion of Jesus is complete. While He doesn’t ignore the temporal needs of people, His ultimate concern is for their eternal spiritual welfare. This complete compassion is what He calls His followers to exhibit as they seek to minister for Him (see Matt. 9:35-38).
Desperate for Hope
Afari3 was from a Middle Eastern country whose dominant religion was hostile to Christianity. Her husband allowed her to work in a beauty salon where she would interact only with other women. Life at home was miserable. Afari’s husband frequently beat her and humiliated her.
Feeling hopeless, Afari seriously considered suicide. About this time one of her clients at the salon noticed Afari’s sadness. Having no one else in whom she could confide, Afari shared her troubles with this woman. The two became close friends, and eventually the woman invited Afari to a secret home group where she learned about Jesus. She was given a Bible and treasured it as her most precious possession.
Because compassion is such an intricate part of who God is, Satan has sought to destroy and obliterate that characteristic in God’s children.
Sadly, Afari’s husband found the Bible and beat her mercilessly, theatening to kill her. Miraculously she escaped and ran to her parents’ home. Afari was able to contact her Christian friend, who quickly helped her escape to a neighboring country. From there Afari entered Europe as a refugee.
Soon after arriving in Europe, Afari met up with two friends who had fled the same country because of religious persecution. These friends had come in contact with Seventh-day Adventists and told Afari, “This church is exactly what you are looking for.” They found that Adventists not only cared about their physical needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, but provided the spiritual nourishment they so desperately craved.
Afari says that she loves attending the Adventist church. It is where she has “found love, peace, hope, and kindness. They help me understand that I am not alone. I feel safe now,” she says.
One of the Adventist leaders in this city explains their compassionate approach: “We know that providing only the humanistic elements doesn’t satisfy. If we focus only on physical and social needs, they don’t get what they truly need. Spiritual needs are a top priority.”
Godly Compassion Not Optional
For Christians, godly compassion is not optional. Since the beginning, God has called His followers to be like Him, to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
In reflecting on the compassionate work given to God’s people, Ellen White wrote: “The unselfish labor of Christians in the past should be to us an object lesson and an inspiration. The members of God’s church are to be zealous of good works, separating from worldly ambition and walking in the footsteps of Him who went about doing good.
“With hearts filled with sympathy and compassion, they are to minister to those in need of help, bringing to sinners a knowledge of the Savior’s love. Such work calls for laborious effort, but it brings a rich reward. Those who engage in it with sincerity of purpose will see souls won to the Savior, for the influence that attends the practical carrying out of the divine commission is irresistible.”4
God is calling each one of us, wherever we are, to participate in Total Member Involvement as we show His complete compassion to a world in need. Let’s ask Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit so that we can have the wisdom and compassion only He can give.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
- In the New King James Version.
- Paraphrased from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion.
- Not her real name.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), pp. 109, 110.