Text: Philippians 2:1d,2d; Psalm 103; Luke 10:30-37
Today’s text contains one of my favorite words – compassion.
In the call to worship from Psalm 103 we heard it over and over. The Lord is compassionate and gracious. God crowns us with compassion. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear or worship Him. The result of God’s compassion is His lovingkindness and it is from everlasting to everlasting. It doesn’t run out!
In our series on having the attitude of Christ, we have been moving slowly through Philippians 2. There we are commended to have the affection and compassion of Christ. It is, in fact, described as our “one purpose.”
And Jesus famously told stories about compassion: the compassion of the Father in the Prodigal Son story, the story of a great debtor and the man who forgave him, and the story of the Good Samaritan, which you heard today.
Today I want to talk to you about what it means, how you show it, and how you grow it.
Feeling is Tied to Action
Compassion literally means “suffer with.” It is the emotion and the interest in others that stirs us to caring action. It is the motivation behind love of neighbor. Jesus would see a sick person, or an outsider, or even a hungry crowd, and he would feel compassion toward them. And in each case, he would act in some way. In the story of the Good Samaritan two people passed by a man who had been beaten and robbed. They saw the man’s condition; they took note of it. But they did not feel compassion. How do I know? Well, they may have felt sorry for the man, but compassion is a specific response that is tied to action. It is not feeling sorry for; it is suffering with.
The Good Samaritan gives us a picture of compassion. The story tells us that he saw him and “felt compassion.” But even without that narrative note, we would have understood that he did because he took time to tend his wounds and take care of him. Interestingly enough, the Samaritan also had to keep moving (as did the first two too-busy folks who didn’t stop); but the Samaritan took the man to an inn and made sure that he would continue to get the help he needed. At the end of the story Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” The answer: “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.”
Compassion is part of the definition of being a good neighbor. It is a feeling but it is tied to “showing mercy” – an action. And Jesus wants us to go and do the same!
Compassion with Guts!
People in Jesus day had an interesting way of talking about compassion. In English we locate deepest feelings in the heart: as in “I love you with all my heart.” In Jesus’ day the equivalent would be something like “I love you with all my guts!” – which, you gotta admit, is further down than our heart!
In our translation of Philippians 2:1, we read “If there is any affection and compassion.” ‘Affection’ is the English translators trying to say something like ‘heartfelt.’ But if you have the sanctuary Bible open you’ll see a footnote that ‘affection’ is literally ‘inward parts.’ In Jesus day, people thought the deepest feelings came from deep down, literally from your guts. It’s also a pretty fun word to say: splachnon… guts.
We actually haven’t lost that idea; we just don’t use it with compassion. I’ve heard kids say “I hate you with all my guts.” Or talking about courage we still will say “that was a gutsy move.” That means it was really brave mixed with real commitment… perhaps more than I would have in a similar situation. We sometimes say that with a mix of admiration and incredulity.
To get a sense of what biblical compassion is, I’d like you to apply some of those uses of ‘guts’ and ‘gutsy’ back onto the idea of compassion. So for Paul, writing Philippians, the kind of compassion we are to show is like that of Jesus, which is “gutsy compassion” – something that that is more than surface and skin deep. Rather, true compassion comes authentically from the deepest part of who we are. Remember it is connected to being a good neighbor and to showing mercy. It’s the kind of thing that might even stir some incredulity.
It’s also purposeful and committed. I think that’s what Paul means at the end of the verse in Philippians about being “intent on one purpose.” That purpose is the compassion we are talking about. Remember the Samaritan helping immediately and also following through with the innkeeper. That’s gutsy compassion. It responds quickly, but also thoughtfully plans ahead. It was unexpected: why would a Samaritan (a foreigner of a different religion) help a Jewish man? Because that’s compassion… gutsy and godly. That’s a Good Neighbor. That’s what Jesus is like.
What might gutsy compassion look like?
It could be taking an interest in the education and welfare of elementary age kids at our neighborhood school or in our neighborhood. Several folks in our congregation do that, tutoring or subbing at Olde Providence Elementary or helping in other ways. We have, in the past, made connections with some families with significant economic need in the neighborhoods behind our church. I have prayed for God to stir up some people to do that again.
Gutsy compassion might look like visiting some of our members in assisted living facilities, sitting for a conversation or to play a hand of cards or to pray together. Or helping give rides to folks who can no longer drive. Any of our deacons would be a good way to get into those ministries.
Gutsy compassion might stir you to give up some time to help with our youth or children’s ministry, to help with one of the outreach projects we are planning for the year, or to be a part of our prayer ministry.
I think the first question is: where is God stirring you? We’ve spent some time this year on that question… asking what God is doing and responding with “Here I am.” Has God been nudging you this year? It’s easy to think of those kinds of things in terms of programs or ministries, but I think the most effective and lasting ministries are those stirred up and fueled by true compassion. Where do you see need around us? Is it in our neighborhoods? In greater Charlotte? In our culture? In the world? Where is your heart – your guts! – moved on behalf of others? That’s the first step towards responding with compassion like Christ.
Growing in Compassion
A last question, and perhaps this is one on your mind: how do you get and develop that kind of compassion? Most of us can’t just summon it out of nowhere. Many times, we may find ourselves relating more to those who passed by than to the Samaritan of gutsy compassion.
I can think of two ways to get and grow that kind of compassion. One is through suffering. One way to be attuned to the suffering of others is if you have been through it yourself. Now, this isn’t to say we should go out looking for suffering or put ourselves through it in some artificial kind of way. But it is to say that if you have been through suffering, you are uniquely equipped to notice and respond to the suffering of others. You may well find yourself strangely moved, strongly moved, when you see another person suffering, particularly if it is in a way similar to the way you did. Encouraging and helping others through something you have faced is one way God sometimes redeems the suffering we have experienced. Don’t hear me saying that if you have suffered you somehow owe God something. Rather, know that you may have a capacity – a depth – of compassion that only comes through suffering.
I do think, however, that it is possible to have and show compassion, even gutsy compassion, without having suffered. That comes through paying attention, through noticing others’ suffering, and responding in love. It can come through walking with and alongside someone, even if you have not experienced what they are experiencing. That caring companionship is compassion.
How do we grow compassion? I think it comes through growing in Christ, who is compassionate. It comes through growing in our love of neighbors, others, which is what Jesus taught us to do. Again, that is what I think Paul means by “intent on one purpose.
He wrote, “If there is any affection and compassion – any gutsy compassion – make my joy complete by being intent on one purpose.”
See what you notice this week – WHO you notice. Is there an opportunity to walk alongside, to help, to care? What would “gutsy compassion” look like? And can you set your intent on that purpose: showing gutsy compassion like Jesus? With his help, each of us can! Amen.