E56: A disciple’s guide to mercy and compassion – What does the Bible say?

PODCAST: Are you giving back what you’ve received?

20 min ·
What does the Bible say about compassion and mercy? (Christian Podcast)

The Bible has a lot to say about compassion and mercy. But actually, what is mercy? And what is compassion? It goes both ways – we’ve received a lot and we should give a lot. But in order for it to be genuine, something really has to happen inside of us. Join Julia and Kathy this week as we read through some of these scriptures and really dig into what the Bible says about mercy and compassion.

Transcript: “Living the Gospel” podcast, Episode 56: A disciple’s guide to mercy and compassion – What does the Bible say?

Welcome to ActiveChristianity’s “Living the Gospel” podcast. Join us as we talk about how we can “live the gospel” every day, no matter who we are, where we live, and what our circumstances are.

Kathy: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of “Living the Gospel.” I’m Kathy.

Julia: And I’m Julia. And today we are starting a new series.

Kathy: Yes, so we’ve wrapped up our series on the Philippians, which I loved doing. I loved putting all that time and research into what Paul wrote to the Philippians there. But it is time to move on. So today, Julia, what are we starting on?

Julia: Today we’re starting on a series called “What does the Bible say about …?”

Kathy: Yes, so we’re going to talk about very specific things.

Julia: So today’s topic, the first one of the series, is “What does the Bible say about compassion and mercy?”

Kathy: Again, it comes down to the way we treat other people and our thoughts about other people and our actions towards other people. And the Bible actually says a lot about this.

Julia: Quite a bit, yeah.

Kathy: So we’re going to go over, what are compassion and mercy?

Julia: Why are they important?

Kathy: And how do we get them?

Julia: So compassion, you can say, is an expression of love. When we love someone, then we have compassion for them. And for example, we maybe try to put ourselves in their shoes and walk in them. And then compassion leads to mercy. Which is when we show goodness and love and forgiveness and understanding, or you can say true help, whether or not it’s deserved.

Kathy: Right. And I think that’s like, one of the key things about mercy actually, is that whether or not it’s deserved. Because I think we can very easily think to ourselves, well, you know, “I’ll be merciful, or I’ll be kind and good and loving to someone, you know, if they deserve it.”

Julia: Or not even consciously, but it just is simply easier to be compassionate and merciful to somebody who is “deserving” in your mind.

Kathy: That’s true. But I thought about the greatest example of mercy and compassion we have. So this is the first Bible verse we’re going to take up about this topic today. So in Ephesians 2:4-7, Paul wrote this: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us …” – and that right there is the compassion that He had for us, that great love with which He loved us – “… even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” So we were talking before about mercy, whether or not it’s deserved, right? And when we read here that we were dead in trespasses ...

Julia: None of us deserve mercy from God, actually.

Kathy: None of us deserve it. No. We are, like the Bible says, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but because of His compassion on us, that great love with which He loved us, He sent His Son here to earth to save us from all of that.

Julia: And then Jesus Himself, it speaks about the compassion and mercy that He has, obviously in several places, but here in Hebrews 4, starting in verse 14, it says, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16.) So, you can see Jesus’ compassion there, just in the fact that He saw us struggling. He was up there in heaven with God and He saw us struggling. And everybody was living in sin. Some intentionally, some were trying to be good, but couldn’t find a way out of sin. And He saw us struggling, and instead of, you know, “Ugh, these people just can’t get it together. Ugh, it’s been thousands of years, how can not a single one of them have gotten it right?” Instead of any of that, He saw us and He was filled with compassion for us, and for these poor, weak people who just couldn’t find the way out of sin. And He was so filled with compassion for these struggling people He saw that He left everything, all the good things He had in heaven, and risked everything and came down and took on a human nature like ours, so He could show us the way out of our sin. And that is the greatest example of compassion we’ll ever see, I think.

Kathy: Yeah. So when I think about that, I mean, first of all, like, I should be overwhelmed with thankfulness and love for Him in return for what He’s done for me, right! And on a personal level, this is what He’s done for me, this is the mercy that He’s shown, not just to mankind, but to me! That could be saved, so that I’m not stuck in my sin. But He didn’t just come for that, He also came to show us the way to become merciful and compassionate, right? We are to learn of Him. He says that, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.” And then we’re to follow Him, He says that those who want to be His disciples have to take up their cross, deny themself, and follow Him, to become like Him, right? So that’s what our ultimate goal as Christians, and as His disciples is, is to be like Him, right?

Julia: And I mean, that’s not the way, obviously that’s not the way we are by nature. Otherwise we would have got it figured out on our own. But by nature, we’re so unforgiving, and so in ... un ... uncompassionate? Is that a word? We are not compassionate.

Kathy: Right. Hardhearted, you could say.

Julia: Yeah, actually, hardhearted is a really good word for it.

Kathy: Well, at least that’s how I’ve seen myself. Like, very quick to judge other people harshly for the things I see them do. And just, by nature, I know myself I tend to have such huge expectations of other people and demands on how they should behave and so on. Like, I see that very clearly in my interactions with other people. I’m quick to judge and I’m quick to see things, just through my own human perspective.

Julia: And I mean, I think that’s how we all are by nature. And if I don’t think that I’m like that, I need to ask God to open my eyes to it. Because we definitely all are much more hardhearted than we need to be. Even if it’s not, perhaps, the area that we’re weakest in. It’s still something we need to come closer to the image of Jesus in.

Kathy: You know, the Bible says a lot. And if you were to search the word “mercy” for example, in the Bible, you would come up with a lot of verses. But we’ve picked just a few here. So we’re going to start with two verses that are actually things Jesus said. In Luke 6:36 it’s written that He said, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” And then He also says in Matthew 5:7 that, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” So in a way, I kind of thought of it as like, I don’t really know the right way to say it, like, not a vicious cycle, because it’s not vicious, but mercy ...

Julia: What goes around comes around. But in a good way.

Kathy: Yeah! And like, mercy leads to mercy leads to mercy, right? Like, I experience mercy and what that should give birth to in myself is that I am merciful to others and then, when I am merciful, I get more mercy, right. And it just, my heart becomes softened. And I become a merciful person actually, right!

And then James wrote, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13.) So you know, I can think in my human way that I need to set someone straight or I need to correct a situation or whatever, but mercy triumphs over judgment.

Julia: And then in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32.)

Like, I think for example about, like, it can be so easy to have an abstract notion that, yes, I’m going to love everybody, I’m going to be good to everybody, but when it comes down to like, a case by case situation, somebody rubs me the wrong way, I don’t get why somebody behaves the way they do. Somebody’s views don’t align with mine, then right always, that hardness can come in. And if you think, for example, just about social media how there’s so much bullying and evidence of hardheartedness, actually, on social media. It can be so easy, because you don’t look somebody in the eye, to just say what you think, and “I’m going to set this person straight.” And there’s so much of that in my own nature in daily life, and it’s so much easier to do it on social media, because you’re not looking at this person in front of you, whose emotions you have now affected with your words, for example. And it just, to think about, if I could just imagine myself in a person’s situation. Whenever somebody does anything, whether it’s good or bad, or I just don’t get it, or whatever. Just, we don’t know everything about a person. I don’t have to reconcile somebody’s behavior to make it make sense and make them worthy of goodness before I’m good to them. I can just be good. That’s how Jesus was. He was so good to those around Him. Because He cared for them inside, not because He thought, “Oh, I should show these people goodness because I’m Jesus and I need to set a good example.” But He had deep compassion in His heart for people when He saw them struggling and saw them in hardship.

Kathy: And 1 Peter 3:8-9, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

Julia: It’s also written somewhere that love covers a multitude of sins. And I was just thinking, that’s right along the same lines as what’s written in 1 Peter here. That having compassion and loving as brothers, that ... And it can be so easy too, as soon as you show someone that goodness, maybe you’ve had to humble yourself, and maybe it was a real work, because we are all so proud and hardhearted by nature, it can be a real work to humble yourself, and just, you know what? I’m just going to show love and goodness, and God, You’re going to help me to love this person. And then right aways, there can be a demand or an expectation, well, then they should (a) either show me mercy and compassion back, or (b) at least be very grateful for how good I’ve been to them. But real love doesn’t have those expectations. You just love. Jesus just loved. And then in the verse you read earlier it says, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  And if you skim read that, it can kind of come off like, “be merciful, because your Father is also merciful.” But just as He is merciful. As merciful as He is.

Kathy: That sets a very different tone, a very different standard for mercy.

Julia: But that’s our goal! Then it’s written in Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” 

Kathy: So the way he writes it here makes it, actually, very appealing. Or for me it is, anyway. When I read this, this is how I want to be! But I also find that in myself, I find, as Paul says, there is no good thing, right. So these are virtues that I have to fight for. Something has to take place inside of me, because it’s not natural for me to be this way, but something has to happen inside of me. A battle has to be won against that hardheartedness and that judging and that demanding expectation that I have in myself. Something has to happen with that, right?

Julia: Because that’s the only way it’s going to work. If you try and do this out of human goodness, without really taking up a battle against the root of the sin inside of you, then at some point you’ll come to your own limit.

Kathy: Yeah, absolutely. You can be, like, some people are a little more empathetic by nature. Kinder and gentler people, right? But we do all eventually come to the place where, you know, it costs us something that we’re not willing to give up, or you know, like you said, we meet someone who rubs us the wrong way, or we’re in a situation where it just is so hard. And then we fall short of mercy and compassion. And then we need help if we want to have mercy and compassion.

Julia: We need to have the mind of Christ.

Kathy: I have to be willing to give up my own ego and my own high-minded thoughts about myself and how things should be. My own opinion, my own demands, and my own will. And I have to humble myself to do that. It keeps me humble also when I think about how often I myself have fallen short of doing things the right way. I say something wrong, I do something wrong, or you know, I just haven’t learned yet to do things in a perfect way, obviously, right?

Julia: Because we’re in a development.

Kathy: Because we’re in a development. And how often then have I needed compassion and mercy and forgiveness? But the one thing that I really thought of today, actually, when I was preparing for this, is what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, and he writes there, “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested …” – Where? Not in eternity, when I get to heaven, but – “… in our mortal flesh.”

Julia: That means now.

Kathy: Here, while I am in this mortal body, the life of Jesus can take place and come forth from my life.

Julia: It’s just incredible.

Kathy: So, like we’ve already said, it is going to cost me something, right, if my goal is to be like Jesus, to have compassion and mercy like Jesus had, then it’s going to cost me my own opinions, my own demands, my own will, and all my thoughts about how things should be and all this. And that means that I have to be, as the verse says, carrying about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus. So that when these things inevitably come up from my flesh when I meet people and as I go about my situations of life, when these things inevitably come up, then the death of Christ comes in. In other words, they meet a strong “No!” and I, in the power of the Holy Spirit, resist those things, I don’t allow them to live, and they’re put to death!

Julia: And then nobody else ever has to see them or be hurt by them.

Kathy: Exactly! Then what comes forth instead, is something new grows in me, like we said. And that new thing that grows in me, is Jesus’ virtues, right? Like, I get that ... Peter says that we are to get divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3-4.) And I get that as my personal possession, because I have faithfully put to death this hardness and this ugliness of sin and ego and self-seeking in me and then I get something new. I’m transformed and I get these patience and meekness and long-suffering with people, and compassion for people, mercy; all these things become my own possession that I can then spread out to others. And the life of Jesus is manifested in my mortal flesh.

Julia: Yeah. And I think, well, there’s another verse here that Paul’s written to the Philippians that I think would be really good to wrap up with. He says in Philippians 2, starting in verse 1, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ …” – and actually, in some translations it says “Therefore since there is consolation in Christ ...”

Kathy: Right, yeah.

Julia: “... if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2.)

Kathy: So that pretty neatly sums it up.

Julia: Yeah. To be like-minded with Christ. That takes care of it all.

Like Kathy said earlier, you can look up the word “mercy” in your Bible. You can use a search feature, or if you’re old-school, look it up in a concordance. And there will be lots and lots of great verses. And to just really, if you really dig into it, you’ll just get a real taste of the mind of Christ. Just reading about the mercy that He showed over and over again. And the way that Paul, who had the mind of Christ, talks about mercy and compassion. That would be really good.

Kathy: And we have collected a whole bunch of those verse in an article on ActiveChristianity, called: “38 Bible verses about mercy and compassion.”

Julia: How convenient!

Kathy: It’s very convenient. So we’ll put a link for that in today’s episode description as well. And there’s also, we have a whole topic page called “What does the Bible say?” So, more of these collections of verses that show what the Scriptures say about many important topics. OK, wishing you guys a very good and victorious week ahead of you.

Julia: Yeah. Thanks for joining us again and we’ll see you next time.

Kathy: Yeah, we’ll see you next time. Bye.

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.