When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Law, he didn’t know what he was going to get was a revelation of the character and nature of God:
Exodus 34:6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
This is a beautiful picture of the love and compassion and graciousness of God toward His children, contrasted against the truth of His justice and judgement of sin and rebellion.
We all deserve to be treated in the latter way, but because of the character of God, we get to be treated in the former way. God’s heart is for people. It is for people who are lost, for people who are seeking, for people in need. He is compassionate, gracious, patient, loving and forgiving.
The heart of God for all people is seen again and again throughout Scripture, and it’s particularly clear that His heart is for the weak and powerless (see James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 12:5, 146:7 just to name a few). The heart of Jesus’ ministry also focused on the weak, powerless and needy. And it’s particularly clear that we also are called to show compassion towards the powerless and downtrodden in our society.
We are called not to jump on the bandwagon of ‘us and them’, or of stepping on or over others to get ahead, or of pointing the finger or oppressing another people group. In fact we’re called to go out of our way to lift others up and in so doing, bring about some measure of equality. To exhibit the character of God in us by offering compassion and grace, when we’d rather withhold it. James says this is true religion!
This… the extending of a hand of help or friendship to someone who – it’s easy to think – doesn’t deserve it, as God in Christ Jesus did for us.
This… the hard but merciful act of forgiving a painful offence when it would be easier to hold a grudge.
This… the personally challenging gift of giving yourself (time) or your possessions (wealth) to benefit another person, who, we think, ought to take responsibility for their own lives.
Compassion is seeing the need in others and being moved to action, not just feeling bad, it’s actually doing something about it. That costs us, as it did our Lord. It’s the way of the cross and it’s the way for a Christian.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11