In a recent devotional, I saw the quote: “The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them” by John Stott. It was an arresting quote because I’m not sure how often I weep out of compassion, especially for the plight of others. I’m probably more likely to point an accusing finger than shed a tear. Occasionally, I ask myself: “How does God feel about such and such?” But I rarely linger long enough on the question, let alone allow the answer to compel me to act. The Bible says that God is compassion and love [Psalm 145:8]. That implies He personifies compassion and love; He’s not just compassionate and loving. Those who bear His name should also embody these virtues.
Godly compassion is an outward manifestation of love, and Jesus epitomises this in many of His encounters in the Gospels. But that quote reminds me of one of two occasions Jesus wept before His crucifixion. Luke records that about a week before His death, as Jesus drew closer to Jerusalem, He wept over the city. Jesus mourned the ignorance of God’s people and the city’s impending disaster [Luke 19:41-45]. He did so knowing that in a few days, those same people would shout: “Crucify Him!” and mock Him as His naked, battered body hung on the cross. God’s compassion compels Him to act, and Paul explains this beautifully in His letter to the Romans. He writes that while we were God’s enemies, rebellious and enslaved to sin, the Father sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we could have the gift of salvation [Romans 5:6-11].
Paul and Silas exemplified compassion during a missionary trip to Philippi. They were beaten and jailed for preaching the Gospel and exorcising an evil spirit from a slave girl who was enriching her owners by fortune-telling [Acts 21:11-24]. While in prison, they were praying and singing when a miraculous jailbreak took place – all the doors were supernaturally flung open after a mighty earthquake, and all their shackles fell off. Apparently, under Roman law, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was liable for the same punishment intended for the prisoner. So, instead of fleeing, Paul and Silas stayed put [Acts 21:25-40]. They put the jailer’s well-being above their freedom without any guarantees of a favourable outcome. They knew God’s heart for the pagan jailer and didn’t want him to die without a chance to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Compassion costs; it often demands a sacrifice. It cost God the incarnation and crucifixion to save us [John 3:16]. Similarly, it’ll cost us something to show compassion to others. Recently, my kids reminded me how naturally reluctant human beings are to pay that price. We were driving home from school, both were hungry, and one had a snack. The one with the snack quickly ate it before the other could ask for some. It was so illustrative of human nature. Sometimes, we don’t even think of others. Worse, even when we consider them, we may still choose to put ourselves first and our well-being above theirs – the antithesis of who Jesus calls us to be [1 Corinthians 10:24].
It’d be insincere to suggest it’s easy to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others, especially when a favourable outcome isn’t guaranteed. It’s not a way of life an untransformed mind can embrace. Many would’ve been grumpy and even angry at God if they were mistreated and jailed like Paul and Silas. Such an experience could make a person too self-absorbed to care about the salvation of someone complicit in their suffering. But if we let the Holy Spirit transform us and reveal the Father’s heart concerning others to us, we’ll become more compassionate. If we’re motivated by pleasing our heavenly Father like Jesus, we’ll view any inconvenience we experience for the good of others – which they may not appreciate, through His eyes. That perspective, rather than the personal cost, provides a deeper purpose to our sacrifice as we reflect God’s nature and character to others, irrespective of their response.
Christian tears are usually an indication we’re in tune with Jesus’s heart; that what breaks His heart breaks ours too. Our world may interpret our tears as weakness, but desiring and acting to bring about the highest good of others, even those who hate us, is a sign we’re becoming more like Jesus [Luke 6:27-36]. Compassion is one of the most effective ways to advertise God’s love to unbelievers. Since we know that it’s God’s will that no one should die without the saving knowledge of Jesus [1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9], we should ardently pray for the grace to be compassionate. Our tears and actions to attend to the poor, the needy, the refugee, the outcast, the lost, our enemies or anyone maligned in our society should be a critical component of our witness as disciples of Jesus [Matthew 25:31-46].
Imagine a world where Christians are known more for compassion than their politics. How many more would embrace the Gospel? There’s a truism that people don’t care what you know until they know you care. If that’s the case, our attitude towards others impacts our witness. I often struggle to be compassionate when I’m under pressure. But I can see evidence the Holy Spirit is changing my heart. So, pray with me for the grace not only to weep at the plight of others but do something about it, seek the highest good of others and never despair in doing good, especially in difficult circumstances [Matthew 9:36, Philippians 2:3-4, Hebrews 13:16]. If we make ourselves willing vessels, God will use us to spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of His goodness as He appeals to the world through us to be reconciled to Him [2 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 5:20].