In the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus gives a striking illustration of the power of compassion. The king’s compassion toward the servant who owed him is stunning because his mercy is so undeserved. The word that Jesus chooses to describe the king’s compassion toward the indebted servant is the most considerable part of this parable.
Jesus uses the Greek word splagxnízomai – from splanxna, ‘the inward parts,’– the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. This word not only represented the actual inward parts, but eventually it came to denote the basis of human affections. Frankly, the root word was a rather disturbing word to the Greeks because it spoke of the bowels of a person, the entrails, or THE GUTS. It came to be used in phrases as we might say today, “That man has guts”.
When used in connection to the heart of the king toward his servant it gives us a strong illustration of just how deep the pity was of the king toward the servant. The man’s inability to pay his debt touched the king deeply and he felt such a deep compassion for the man it touched his inward parts. The king released him from the debt.
The word is used 12 times in the NT in connection to how God loves us. God is a compassionate God, meaning that his love for us is so strong that it touches him deep in His gut.
Micah said of God’s compassion, “Who is a God like you? Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage. He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins in to the depth of the sea.” 7:18-19.
The very fact that there was a tree of life planting in the Garden of Eden ought to give us some indication of the compassion of God toward his people. God planted a tree of life in that garden knowing that his creation would need it.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 103: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:13–17).
God’s compassion for his children is best stated in Jesus’ favorite title for God, “Father.” He is our compassionate Father who has rescued us and one to which we can run to in times of trouble and weakness. He literally loves us so much that it touches the bowels of His being.
God Shows His Compassion Through Christ
The greatest indication of God’s compassion is found in the person and work of Christ. Jesus is the personification of the grace, mercy, pity and compassion of the Father toward us sinners. And through the life of Christ we see the compassion of God on full display.
Matthew 9:36 says, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
In Matthew 14:14 it says of Jesus, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”
In Matthew 15 we see him showing compassion for a hungry multitude, in Luke 7:13, it says that when Jesus saw the grief of the widow of Nain over the death of her son, “he had compassion on her and said, ‘do not weep.’ And he raised her son to life.
In two passages we see Jesus so moved with compassion toward people that he was brought to tears thus giving us a visual example of the true meaning of the word, compassion. In John 11 we find Jesus weeping over the grief of the family of Lazarus and in Luke 19 he weeps over the city of Jerusalem. How are we as modern day believers supposed to process these vivid images of the Son of God? I believe it all comes down to this, what moves the heart of God, ought to move the hearts of His people.
Going back to the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, there was an expectation of the king that the servant who was released from his debt would replicate the king’s compassion in his treatment toward others. He did not and we see the king’s response, “You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you.” V. 30-34.
The clear message of this parable is that those who have been shown much compassion must give it away to others even if they have done nothing to deserve it. Over the centuries millions have come to Christ through the compassion and care of the church. Unfortunately, it is likely that many more have chosen to turn away from Christ because of the lack of compassion from Spirit-filled believers.
The Church Should Be Compassionate
The church should be the launch point of the greatest compassion because we are the only people on the planet who are capable of such love. Our lives should reveal the overflow of God’s compassion toward us. Our hearts should reveal compassion, mercy and pity to a hurting and divided culture. This world doesn’t need to hear our complaints, they need to see our compassion.
Just as our Savior wept over a city, so should we do the same. Fear, anger and animosity has gripped our societies and not only have people quarantined their bodies, but many have also quarantined their hearts. Not only are people wearing mask over their face, but many have placed a mask over their heart.
In the gospels before Jesus healed or helped, it was normally preceded by a statement of his compassion toward them. The same can be said of his compassion toward us. Christ has reached out to you with the compassion of a nail scarred hand, so you should do for others.
Not only should we show compassion to our culture, but also to our fellow believers in the church. Luke writes of the church of Jerusalem, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all as anyone had need.” Acts 2: 44-45.
Later in Acts 4: 32-35 we see how deeply the church cared for one another. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.”
The church ought to be the greatest example of how people ought to take care of one another. Our love and concern for one another should be so unique and peculiar that the world takes notice.
Paul commissions the church of Colossae in Colossians 3: 12-14 with these words, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
In spite of all the difficulties of 2020 it has offered Christians a tremendous opportunity to uniquely live out the compassion of the Father, the compassion of the Son toward us and the compassion of which we are to express and reveal through the local church.
We are uniquely equipped to show love and compassion to our world and our fellow Christians. To not show compassion is to undermine the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Compassion must be a perpetual action which drives us to see beyond differences and allows us to see people as Jesus saw people.
Though it may not be obvious, everyone you see is hurting at some level, likely experiencing disappointments, concerns and worry. And yes, especially in this current culture, many are at the end of their rope physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. It is my prayer that in these difficult days the church would practice a deep gut level compassion toward others.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in us empowers us to show compassion like no one else. We should be like Jesus and weep over our cities, going to those who are hurting the most, offering them a hope that even the Corona Virus can’t touch. As you go about your day, pray for a heart of compassion which touches you deep in your gut and as God does a work in you, show someone the power of Biblical compassion.