“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Compassion is Love in Action
by Randall D. Kittle
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“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts …”

— Colossians 3:12


The most fundamental principle of the kingdom of God is love. That is what it is founded upon,
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and that is how we are to be known, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). In fact, according to God’s Word, “If I … do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).

For many Christians, though, love is primarily a noun … something we are to possess. But to our Lord, love was primarily a verb, an active verb … something we must do! When Jesus was asked by a religious leader which commandment was the most important, He responded,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus didn’t say we must have love for God and have love for others. He said we must love them. For a true follower of Christ, love isn’t something we are merely to pursue or possess, it is the most important thing we are to do!

There is no greater illustration of what it means to walk in the ways of love than the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. It is Jesus’ illustrated sermon in answer to the question that the religious leader had. In this parable, we meet three individuals who are confronted with a person greatly in need of help, and Jesus’ teaching in it is as challenging to us today as it was to his listeners then.

Interestingly, this parable was once again prompted by a question from a religious leader. “Just then, an expert in the law stood up and tested Jesus, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the law?’ Jesus asked him. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘“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.”’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus told him. Do this and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

The expert in the law wasn’t quite satisfied with Jesus’ answer. So, he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” In this, he is seeking to justify himself, because maybe it just depends on how we define who are neighbor is. The lawyer wants to inherit eternal life but wants to negate his responsibility by making the object of this command seem vague and unanswerable.

Jesus refused to allow the lawyer to deal with love in this abstract, theoretical way. In answer to this question, He told the story of the Good Samaritan so that everyone would know that in the kingdom of God love isn’t some vague philosophy. Love isn’t some ambiguous thought we are to continually contemplate in our minds. True love doesn’t happen in our minds at all. It is something that fills our heart and moves us to action. Like our Lord, if we truly have love for others, we will be moved by love to have compassion. Compassion is simply love in action, and it is the evidence that we really possess love for others not just declare that we do because we know we are supposed to.

The story of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10:30-37:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

Most of those who were listening to Jesus would have been shocked that He would tell such a story with the characters He included. Jews felt the priests and the Levites were good people, righteous in fact. And a Samaritan was one of the most despised people to the Jews culture of those days. They were half-breeds who did not keep the kosher laws and were considered beyond unclean. They practiced an adulterated form of Judaism with a doctrine that was in error on numerous points. But Jesus wasn’t telling people to believe like Samaritans. He knew that the Samaritans didn’t believe correctly, that their theology was wrong. He even told this to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:22.

In this story, Jesus is answering basically 2 questions and doing it in a way that is going to offend some and challenge all those who have ears to hear: “What does it mean to love?” and “Whom do I have to love in that way?”

Compassion isn’t Religion
This story begins with the kind of violent victimization that happened quite often on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. In Jesus’ day, this was a scary road to travel — noted for the robbers and thieves who camped out waiting for unsuspecting travelers. The expert in the law would have known how dangerous this road was. He would have been able to picture in his mind the bruised and wounded body of this traveler that Jesus introduced as he began to tell this story.


The first one to come upon the injured man was a priest. He had no way of knowing whether the “victim” was alive or dead. And, in his mind, he couldn’t afford to find out. By the religious law of that time, if the man was dead and the priest touched him, the priest would have been ceremoniously unclean for 7 days. So, the priest decided to put his temple work above the claims of suffering humanity. Not only did he pass by the wounded man, he passed by on the other side of the road. That day, the priest decided to put his work for God’s temple above a suffering man.

The next person to encounter the traveler was a Levite. The Levites were those who worked in the temple, sung psalms, and instructed in the law. He, too, saw the man but
“passed by on the other side.” Both the priest and the Levite illustrate something we must not miss. Religious work, even near the very Holy of Holies does not necessarily make the worker holy. We can be doing all these things outwardly, but unless we have love … we have nothing.

Compassion Sees
The third person to come across the injured man was the Samaritan. While the priest wouldn’t help, the Levite didn’t help, the Samaritan stopped to help! The good Samaritan, by what he did that day, made his nationality forever something we think about and speak about in a positive way.

So, what did the good Samaritan do? Here’s where we learn how compassion works. First of all, we learn that compassion begins with what you see. The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan all
looked at this broken man, but only one of them saw him.

For Jesus, who is the ultimate example of compassion, compassion began with what He saw. The word “compassion” is a word that means:
“a deep moving within your inward spirit.” It is used of Jesus many times in the book of Matthew. Jesus showed compassion over and over again. He was a man of compassion. When Jesus saw something that wasn’t right, like little children that were being escorted away from Him or servants who weren’t being cared for, the Bible says, “He was filled with compassion.” Even in his deepest hours of agony, hanging on the cross, He never stopped from showing compassion to other people.

The least likely person in the whole story of the Good Samaritan is the one who acts. But the reason he acted began with him
seeing the man. Do you realize that many of us have taught ourselves not to see the homeless people in our community? We drive by them. And one of the reasons we do that is because we don’t know what to do. We know we can’t help all of them. We’re not sure how to respond, and so, we teach ourselves to look beyond them. We learn how to look straight ahead so we don’t catch their eyes. They become invisible to us. I’m not saying that I stand any more righteous in this than you. I have done that more times than I would care to admit. But until we are willing to see the misery of a person we will not help them. Compassion begins with what you see.

Compassion Does
But compassion is more than what you see … it is something you do. The difference between sympathy and compassion is that “sympathy” is something that you
feel and compassion is what you do about it.

The Good Samaritan did more than observe the victimized traveler. The priest and Levite had done that. Put yourself in this place. The Samaritan risked everything and by doing so he shows us that genuine love always involves risk. The Samaritan didn’t stop to consider if the robbers were still lurking behind the rocks. Or choose to play it safe because it might just be a trap and he could become the victim. The Samaritan was willing to put his possessions and even his life in jeopardy to offer compassion to this man in need.

Unlike the priest, the Samaritan touched the traveler with hands of kindness and compassion. No ceremonial reason would be great enough to restrain him. He bandaged his wounds. He bathed his sores and helped him on his way. This was compassion at work. When it comes to compassion, it is more than just a feeling. Compassion is an active verb … it is something you do!

Go and Do Likewise
It is hard to express how much compassion means to a person who is hurting. But, like the Samaritan, compassion will always cost you something. We cannot ever be compassionate without it costing us something. Sometimes compassion will cost us time. Sometimes it costs us money. Sometimes it costs us more. But true compassion doesn’t count the cost first. It simply responds to human suffering with loving-kindness. After Jesus finished telling this story, He turned to the lawyer and said to him,
“So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

I find it interesting that the lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say the word “Samaritan,” he simply answered,
“The one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to the lawyer, and to us today, “Go and do likewise.”

We live in this world of incredible need. But as the body of Christ, we ought to be the ones who show compassion. Compassion is about what you have in your hand — whether it is money or talent or encouragement or a shoulder to cry on — what you have that will help another person. Compassion is about those times in your life when God intends for you to be the healer, the helper, and maybe even the hero. Let us be willing to open our eyes afresh to those around us and put the love of God into action through compassion.


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