The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts…” (Col. 3:12). As I read this text, the question is why does the apostle begin his final exhortation to this church speaking about compassion? Why not kindness, generosity, or the call for self-denial? Surely, it is true that all those are hallmarks of the Christian ethic. Christians are known for their kindness, giving hearts, and emphasis on denying oneself. However, compassion, out of all other virtues, is what is truly reflective of Christ.
The word “compassion” literally means to “suffer with,” and when we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, compassion is what defines it. For example, throughout the gospels, we read Jesus seeing the crowds and having compassion for them. Whether it was the hungry multitude in Mark 6, the man with leprosy in Matthew 8, or his grieving friends in John 11, in the presence of suffering, Jesus Christ was quick to respond. These instances of Christ’s compassion are replete within the gospel narratives and point to the summation of Christ’s mission here on earth—to seek and save those that are lost (Luke 19:10).
To put things in perspective, our world is fallen and filled with people who are suffering terribly from the result of sin. Lives are ruined, broken, and in a constant state of decay and tumult from the radically corrosive effect of a world in rebellion against God. Rather than recoil from this world in disgust or wipe out the earth in holy fury, Christ came into the world not to condemn it but to save it (Jn. 3:17). Much like Jesus touched the unclean and the leprous in the gospels, Christ touches a world who is ailing, distressed, and full corruption with the mission to heal and redeem those who will repent and believe.
Compassion is the willingness to suffer with individuals. That is what Christ did, and the Scripture calls us to do. On any given Sunday, churches all over are filled with hurting people. They may be struggling with anxiety or depression. They may be grieving a loss or battling addiction. But, if we are honest with ourselves, compassion is not the first thing we put on; it’s avoidance or, even worse, judgment. When presented with suffering, our natural tendency is to turn away, train ourselves to become oblivious to it or rationalize our inaction for various reasons. Either we feel we aren’t equipped to handle their situation, have enough troubles of our own to deal with, or believe the best thing they need is space. Whatever the reason is, individuals are left unhelped and hurting.
As Christians, our hearts are to join with hurting people, not draw back. A “compassionate heart” looks like Christ. No, we may not have all the answers as to why someone is suffering, nor are we, at times, capable of bringing a solution. However, what we can do is give—namely, give Christ.
Christ is what the hurting heart needs, and the exhortation from the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3 could be summarized in this statement: Put on Jesus. As the world becomes increasingly isolated from one another and as Jesus Christ says that the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12), now more than ever is for us to put on Christ for others.
As you attend church this Sunday or go out in your community, be aware of others around you and have a willing heart to show them compassion. It may cost you something, but you have more than enough to give. If you are a Christian, you have the eternal Son of God who is all-sufficient and more than enough for any person’s need.