Divine Compassion

By Mike Willis

The virtue of compassion is sadly lacking among some Christians. Others who manifest compassion direct it to the wrong people, in places where God does not want compassion shown. A compassion expressed like Jesus expressed is a virtue – one in which we Christians need to grow.

Companion Defined

The word “compassion” is defined as “a suffering with another; hence, sympathy; sorrow for the distress or misfortunes of another, with the desire to help; pity” (Webster). In discussing the Greek word splagchnizesthai, Barclay described this as “an emotion which moves a man to the very depths of his being” (More New Testament Words, p. 156). We can understand what compassion is by noting some of the occasions when it was demonstrated. Here are some examples of divine compassion:

1. When Jesus saw the plight of the widow of Nain who lost her son, “he had compassion on her” (Lk. 7:13). At the grave of Lazarus, he shed tears of sympathy for those whose brother had died.

2. When the Samaritan saw the man who fell among thieves who had been stripped of his clothes, wounded and left for dead, “he had compassion on him” (Lk. 10:33).

3. When the father of the prodigal son saw his son return home emaciated, barefooted and dressed in rags, he had compassion (Lk. 15:20).

Hence, the word “compassion” calls to our mind a virtue of being able to identify with the plight of another and desiring to relieve his suffering.

Those On Whom We Should Show Companion

The Scriptures give us divine direction regarding who should be the objects of our compassion. Let us see when compassion was shown with divine approbation.

1. We should have compassion on those lost in sin. “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. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36-38). Jesus was full of compassion when he saw the spiritually destitute condition of the multitude which was following him. In his discussion of “compassion,” Barclay wrote,

He did not see man as a criminal to be condemned; he saw man as a lost wanderer to be found and brought home. He did not see men as chaff to be burned; he saw them as a harvest to be reaped for God (p. 157).

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day condemned him for associating with publicans and sinners (Luke 15:1-2) because they held them in contempt. In our day, we need to be reminded that homosexuals, drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, thieves, and other vile sinners are men lost in sin – men who need the salvation provided by the Lord. When given the opportunity to teach them the gospel, we need to have compassion on them. Jude 22 teaches us to be discriminate in working with men saying, “And on some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” May God give us wisdom to work with all men in the manner most productive to the saving of the soul.

2. Those experiencing suffering in life. Jesus felt compassion for the widow who lost her only son (Luke 7:13). In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan expressed compassion on the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10:33). While Job was suffering, he cried, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me” (Job 19:21). His friends did harm in showing him no compassion; instead they attacked him, charging him with sin. The wise man said, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Prov. 19:17). May our hearts learn to suffer with those less fortunate than we.

Sometimes we fail to show compassion to the poor, blaming them for their own plight. Some churches seem afraid to relieve the suffering of their own faithful members, lest they help someone whose family has not done all that it can. Some seem to think that a family should lose all of its assets before brethren or the church ever steps in to help. The refusal to help a faithful brother in need is tangible proof that the church is without compassion.

One congregation was recently faced with a problem. Their preacher chose to drop his health insurance because he could not afford the premiums. Shortly thereafter, his wife developed cancer. What response would you expect and desire were you in this family’s shoes? They received censure from the congregation with which they labored. They received no help financially from their congregation, but were reprimanded for accepting monies sent from other congregations and individuals. Regardless of whether or not one approves the judgment of dropping one’s health insurance, why was their no compassion shown? Should the father of the prodigal son have withheld the ring, robe, and food because his son’s plight was self-created? Fortunately, the father was moved with compassion and helped his son. Should we show less compassion toward each other?

When death strikes a home, Christians should respond with compassion to the one suffering the loss of his friend or family member like Jesus showed compassion to the widow of Nain who lost her son. The poet J. Swain spoke of expressing compassion in these words:

How sweet, how heav’nly, is the sight,

When those that love the Lord

In one another’s peace delight,

And so fulfill the word.

When each can feel his brother’s sigh,

And with him bear a part;

When sorrow flows from eye to eye,

And joy from heart to heart. . .

Christians should share their joys and sorrows with one another. Where the virtue of compassion is present, this will occur.

Those On Whom We Should Not Show Pity

A number of times, the Scriptures expressly prohibit showing pity upon a man. We can stand in danger of showing too much pity and compassion just as we can stand in danger of not showing enough compassion. Let us see to whom compassion or pity was forbidden.

1. The person guilty of practicing false religion. In Deuteronomy 13:6-11, the Lord revealed that the man inducing men to depart from the Law of Moses to practice idolatry was to be put to death. “And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die.” Knowing the tendency of men to show sympathy with the idolater, God said, “Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him.” When the Israelites conquered Canaan, they were commanded to destroy the Canaanites and their idolatry (Deut. 7). Jehovah warned them not to disobey his command because of pity for the one to be put to death (7:16). The reason for this should be clear: idolatry and other forms of false religion lead men to eternal damnation. To prevent the spread of the gangrene of false religion, the false teacher was to be removed from their midst.

Some among us need to learn the lesson revealed in these verses. There is a tendency to show pity and compassion on the men who lead our children into false religion. Whenever a false teacher is exposed, whether through these pages or some other manner, some brethren are quick to invite them to their lectureships, to charge the one exposing their error with political motives, and otherwise express sympathy for the false teacher. Their coddling the false teacher encourages him to abide in his sin. Underlying this treatment of the false teacher is the belief that his doctrine does not really damn the soul.

2. The murderer. The law of Moses condemned murder (Exod. 20:13) and legislated that the punishment for the violation of this law was death. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” (Exod. 21:12). In administering this punishment, the law said, “the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee” (Deut. 20:12-13).

The political group in America which is trying to outlaw the death penalty is a group showing pity where it should not be shown. Such a group expresses more compassion toward the murderer than he showed for his innocent victim. Every time an execution occurs in our country, they are present with their banners and signs to protest the “murder” of the one being put to death. This group is guilty of showing pity where God forbade it. For the good of society, the punishment for taking a life must be so severe that men will not take another’s life.

3. A false witness. The law forbade the sin of bearing false witness (Exod. 20:16). In the event that a man was exposed as a false witness, the law said that the punishment which he tried to bring upon another by his false testimony should fall on him (Deut. 19:19). In administering this, the law warned, “and thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:21). The administration of justice is the role of government. Those who are too weak to administer justice are too weak to be appointed judges.

Our country is suffering because some have confused weakness with compassion. Divine compassion has its proper object. Where a society’s courts begin to administer compassion instead of justice, disrespect for the law soon follows.


The compassion which we express should be governed by the revealed will of God. Where it is not, we show compassion toward the wrong group of people.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 13, pp. 304, 406-407
July 2, 1987