Compassion. What a wonderful word to describe Jesus! Several times, the Gospels report that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” Gospel writers also wrote about Jesus weeping over Lazarus’ death (John 11:35) as well as over the waywardness of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
Jesus was “moved in His spirit” by a weeping woman (John 11:33). Out of compassion, He wanted hungry people to be fed (Mark 8:2-3). He cared about lost people, saying to repentant ones, “Your sins be forgiven” (Luke 5:20). When Jesus encountered hurting people, He acted in compassionate ways. Clearly, compassion is a basic quality of Jesus’ earthly life.
What does that mean for us? Well, if we are to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission in a Christ-like manner, our cross-cultural missionary efforts must overflow with compassion. That does not mean simply doing stuff labeled “compassionate ministries.” Sadly, we can actually run such programs without being very compassionate. As incredible as it may seem, promising rookie missionaries sometimes bomb out because they do not exude the tenderness, mercy and kindness we call “compassion.”
For missionaries, compassion must be more than a feel-good buzzword. A century ago Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That thought should shape the trajectory of world evangelism efforts even though Roosevelt was not specifically addressing his words to missionaries. In a time when trash talking seems the norm, global missionary work must radiate something entirely different.
Not long ago, the sarcastic sentence “I think you have mistaken me for someone who cares” became a popular one-liner. The cold insincerity of that remark reminds us that compassion must be more than an external act which missionaries put on as needed. If missionaries would truly imitate Christ, they must open their hearts to Him and allow His compassion to flow through them.