The title of this article should seem redundant, for disciples are supposed to be “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another.” [Random House Unabridged Dictionary] But Jesus added to this definition of what a disciple is supposed to be when He said, “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matt. 10:25). In the context of when Jesus said this [sending out the 70], He noted the poor treatment of Himself as an expectation for those who would be His disciples [“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!”], but this principle applies in how we must be like Christ if we are to claim Him as our Master. The world will not confuse us with one of His disciples if we don’t appear to be like Christ in our conduct, words, or thoughts.
Now, obviously, there are some characteristics of Jesus we cannot be just like Him because (1) He never sinned and (2) He still retained all the characteristics of deity that no man can equal [perfect knowledge, knowing the hearts of other men, etc.]. But even in those characteristics we cannot equal, we should still be striving to be more like Him every day. We should, as His disciples, certainly want to learn as much of God’s will as we can, and we should most certainly strive to put sin behind us (Rom. 6:6-14). Paul, in fact, would exhort us, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Christ most definitely left an example for us to follow (See John 13:1-17; 1 Pet. 2:21), so our earthly lives should be a reflection of that goal and constant effort.
For the next few articles [the number is yet to be determined], let us consider some of the characteristics of Jesus Christ that every disciple would do well to imitate, maybe even some we never thought about or have simply forgotten. Today, let us consider the compassion of Jesus.
Compassion, by definition, is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” It is more than just shaking our heads at the suffering of another, but it also includes the desire to alleviate that suffering; but at its best, it is action to alleviate the suffering of another. It is more than just words; it is an attempt to remedy the situation that instigated the sympathy or sorrow. It is important that we understand this from the beginning of this study, for a misunderstanding of what true compassion is may lead us to deceive ourselves into thinking we are more like Christ than we actually are. Whenever we speak of compassion from this point forward, let it be understood that it is more than just a feeling and more than just words; it must be followed by action, or at least attempts to relieve the situation of another.
Let us also note now that compassion is a feeling of sympathy and sorrow for another’s condition primarily [maybe only] because we love them. Without love, compassion does not exist, for there will be no reason or motivation for sympathy or sorrow. Without love, we just won’t care for the condition of another. To illustrate this, consider the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story after He was asked by one what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus then asked him what his reading of the Law found, the man replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus then told him if he did this, he would live, but then the man, “wanting to justify himself,” asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29).
Let us note in the story, the Samaritan, when he saw the man who had been beaten and left for dead, “had compassion,” while the Levite and the priest simply ignored him and went on their way. At the end, Jesus asked the man, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:30-36). Jesus was asking, “Which man loved his neighbor?” One will not have compassion without love, as the priest and Levite demonstrated in that story. The Samaritan showed compassion because he loved his neighbor. He did not just shake his head at this man’s condition, but acted on his feelings of love and sympathy. That is the lesson we must learn, too.
Now, to Jesus. The compassion of Jesus is first demonstrated in the fact He came to Earth at all. Before we were even created God knew man would sin and would need a Savior, and it was Jesus who would be that Savior. Peter noted, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20); this was something decided long before we even existed! And when the time came, Jesus left heaven behind and all the glories of being God and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). If we might put it in these terms for today’s study: Jesus, when he looked at man’s condition and the fact he could not deliver himself from sin’s grip, acted out of love and compassion for mankind. The love that he had for us in giving Himself for us (Eph. 5:2) was the greatest act of compassion we could ever imagine!
When He walked this earth, Jesus continued His pattern of compassion throughout His time here. When He went about teaching and healing, and saw the multitudes who came to Him, “He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:35, 36); that compassion moved Him to heal and to teach them because that is what they needed. On another occasion, when great multitudes came to Him and brought their sick, “He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:13, 14). At the end of that day, He again demonstrated compassion on the crowd by taking five loaves and two fish and made it possible for over 5000 to eat with abundant left over (Matt. 14:15-21). In each case, compassion was demonstrated by doing for them what they needed.
There are several more examples that illustrate the compassion of Jesus, but let these suffice for now. Now, we need to imitate Jesus! Let us do so by demonstrating true compassion. That means:
We Must First Love. As we have already noted, God expects us to love our neighbor but, of course, Jesus gave the new commandment, that we should love one another as he loved us (John 13:34, 35). If anything, that elevates the standard of love, for he did not merely love those who loved Him, but even those who hated Him and put Him on the cross.
What that tells us is we must love all. Without love, there will be no compassion and we will not be Christ-like disciples!
We Act to Do or Give What They Need. It is often the case that we give what we want to give, rather than giving what is needed. That is not compassion! Jesus, in every case [dying for our sins, healing, etc.] did what was needed for those suffering. He did not say, “I am doing what I want to do; take it or leave it.” He had compassion.
We Must Act To Help Without Judgment. Here is where we fail far too often, for we often feel compelled to offer our judgment more than our help! If we are to follow the example of Jesus, we must learn to love first, then act to help, and forgo the judging altogether. — Steven Harper