In counseling people, I find that many literally do not understand the meaning of the word compassion these days. Just as aggressive and assertive are used interchangeably in spite of very different meanings, when I ask folks about compassion they respond by talking about their passion. I mention this only because compassion is such a central word in the Bible, and even my Christian clients are apparently unfamiliar with it. While passion speaks of high emotion on a given subject or person, compassion refers to hearts and hands that reach out to help a hurting person in need. It is no accident that Paul uses the word compassion as a foundational principle in the beginning of the second chapter of the book of Philippians:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any tenderness and compassion, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:2
Tenderness and compassion are linked here in a string of benefits that come from being united with Christ. We find encouragement in him, we are comforted in his love, and we have in him tenderness and compassion. Paul is setting the stage for one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, and as he does so, he is reminding the Philippians of the relational gifts of being in Christ. He uses the word if here in a positive assumption, as if to say:"if you have these things, and I know you do..." The if word, however, implies that the reality of their faith (with these benefits) is about to be put to the test.
Tenderness and compassion conjure images of a mother comforting a troubled child, of Jesus kneeling next to the spritiually and physically afflicted, of God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to save its inhabitants. As we live out our faith, we have plenty of need for the ongoing tenderness and compassion of God. And there is plenty of it--we cannot exhaust his resources--that is not even possible!
The tenderness and compassion of Christ are not meant to find their final destination in us, of course. They are meant to be accepted, embraced, and shared with others. Drink deeply of his tender compassion, and pass it on.