Do you remember the first time you told someone I love you? Not a parent, a child, or a sibling, but someone you were dating. You were probably very nervous, weren’t you? I vividly remember the first time I told Tanya I love you. We were in the courtyard of Hart Hall, the dorm where she lived at Milligan College. I was really, really nervous. Not because I doubted what I felt, but I worried she didn’t feel the same way. What happens if you tell someone I love you and their response is okay; thanks? That would be discouraging, wouldn’t it?
What happens if love has no expression? What happens if love is not made visible in any kind of way? Love, to be love, has to pass from one person to another person.
As we continue our study of spiritual gifts we are moving to our final category of gifts – Redemptive gifts. Redemptive gifts are those that make a redemptive, or life-changing, difference in the life of another person. The redemptive gifts are – compassion, giving, miracles, healing, and faith. Today we will study the redemptive gift of compassion.
For our text we turn to the well-known passage in Luke that is the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are using the NIV, which uses the word pity in verse 33, where other translations use the word compassion.
The setup for this parable is very important. A man who was an expert in the religious law comes to Jesus one day and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the man he is to love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
In response to what Jesus tells him, the man does a typical legal maneuver – he begins to get into a discussion over the legal definition of terms – and who is my neighbor, he asks. You can hear the haughtiness in those words – oh yeah? And just who is my neighbor? The man was seeking to evade his responsibility to be compassionate towards others. There are certain people he doesn’t want anything to do with, so he tries to hide behind an evasive legal tactic.
The man knows that when Jesus uses the word neighbor he’s not simply talking about the people that live next door or down the street; he’s talking about everyone, including those he doesn’t want anything to do with.
1. Compassion is love made visible.
It’s important for us to define compassion. I think we generally think of compassion as an emotion, such as empathy or sympathy. But compassion, in the Biblical sense, is something far deeper than empathy or sympathy. Compassion, the way Jesus defines it, is putting love into action and stepping directly into the lives of others to work on their behalf to bring a positive change to those lives. The way that love is expressed is through compassion.
This is what the Samaritan did for the man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the road. When the Samaritan saw this injured man, he demonstrated compassion; that is, he did something about his condition. Compassion is love with hands and feet. Compassion is taking love out of the theoretical realm and putting it into the practical reality of everyday life. Compassion is not just saying the words, but putting those words into action.
We often use the word moved. We might say I was moved by that song or I was moved by those words. Moved is a great word to use, because it is an action word. Moved is a verb. It means we are touched deeply by the condition of another person and we are literally moved into action. Compassion begins in the heart, where we are moved by the plight of another, but it is not true compassion if it remains in the heart. Compassion must move from the heart to the hands and feet, making a difference to another person.
2. Compassion is entering into the suffering of others.
Did you know there was no word in the Greek language for compassion? The writers of the gospels had to make up a new word for what Jesus was seeking to communicate.
Interestingly, the word compassion means to suffer with. Now, right there is a problem. We expend a lot of energy minimizing suffering, so why would we want to enter into suffering? Because it is the way of Jesus, to put it quite simply.
In our time, one of the great examples of entering into the suffering of others is certainly Mother Teresa. Working with the poor and destitute of Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa devoted her life to bringing help, in the name of Christ, to the poorest of the poor.
Not everyone can be Mother Teresa, but everyone knows someone who needs us to step into their lives, and into their struggles.
Jesus told this man to go and do likewise. He wasn’t going to let him off the hook. Jesus pushed this man to go and be compassionate to others.
3. Compassion is what brings healing to our suffering world.
It’s a hard world in which we live. It’s a tough world, and it seems to be getting tougher. It takes a lot just to take care of our families and ourselves. Who has the time, energy, and resources to worry about others? Sometimes we don’t believe we do, but that is the calling of Jesus.
It would be far easier, I suppose, to protect ourselves from the suffering in the world. It would be easier to guard our hearts, but entering into the suffering of others is what brings the hope of healing to our suffering world. Compassion takes the risk of being involved in the lives of others, of walking with them through their pain and struggles, and doing so means we make ourselves vulnerable to their pain. But this is exactly what God did in Christ – he became one of us to walk with us through our struggles, and our pain, and our difficulties.
The compassion of Jesus would not leave people to their difficulties and troubles, but reached out to them, in spite of the difficulty.
How much easier life would be to withdraw into the safety and seclusion of our own lives, but how much poorer is the world when we do so.
One of my favorite movies is Places in the Heart. The movie features Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich, Ed Harris, and other great actors. It is set in Texas in the 1930s, and opens with the song Blessed Assurance sung by a church choir. Sally Field’s character is married to the sheriff, who is accidently shot and dies. She has two young children and must try to keep their home and farm. She struggles to raise a crop of cotton and puts together an unlikely collection of helpers. They face almost every imaginable obstacle, and there is a lot of heartbreak along the way. Time doesn’t allow me to go into all the plot developments, but everything culminates in the final scene, which takes place in a church sanctuary. The minister is preaching from I Corinthians 13, while the members of the congregation are sharing communion. What’s interesting is seeing the congregation as the camera pans down across the pews. There are some characters who had been enemies, now seated side by side, sharing the bread and the cup. And the final two characters on camera – both of whom had died during the course of the movie – were now seated next to each other on a church pew. It was the sheriff and the young man who accidently shot him, sharing together the bread and the cup, and the final words of the film come from the young man to the sheriff – peace of God.
It’s a beautiful scene, where people are brought together through the power of love.
Our world is not going to improve on its own. The suffering of people will not go away without action. It is compassion that will heal our world.