Imagine this scene: You are invited somewhere for a party. You find out some of the details that are important, such as the place, date and time. But there is at least one more thing that you should be asking yourself. Any ideas what that might be? What should you wear? And that depends on the setting or the circumstances, right? The occasion might be more formal or it might be very casual. You need to know what to wear in order to be a part of what you have been invited to. Although it is not a way that we would normally say it, another way of asking that same question is: “What shall I clothe myself in?”
That image of being clothed is found many places in Scripture. In Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul talks about being clothed with Christ. Instead of wearing our own sinful actions and nature, because Jesus has come and has died and been raised again, we are clothed with Christ. When God looks at us, he sees us as wearing Jesus’ clothes of perfect obedience. But there is also another instance of being clothed as seen in Colossians 3:12 that says that Christians should clothes themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” What does it mean to put on these clothes? What do they look like?
I. What is compassion?
The word itself in Hebrew and Greek gives us an indication of what compassion really is. In Hebrew, the word “compassion” comes from the same root as the word for “womb.” Thus, compassion reflects the love of a mother for the child of her womb. Imagine a pregnant mother and how she feels toward that unborn child. She makes sure it is taken care of by what she eats and how she takes care of herself. She thinks about that child constantly and when she gets closer to the time of the child’s birth, she will often hold the child by holding her belly. The Hebrew idea of compassion is such love and care that is felt deeply within.
In Greek, the idea is somewhat similar in that people believed that the seat of one’s emotions and feeling were in their internal organs. We might say that we feel something in our gut or we have a “gut feeling.” Here too, it is something deep inside us that we feel deep inside, in our very innards.
The English word for “compassion” literally means to “feel with” or “feel for” others. It means feeling the feelings of someone else at a level somewhere below the level of the head. It is deeper than just knowing or experiencing something; we feel deeply for a person and have a sense of understanding the feelings of another. It is often associated with feeling the suffering of somebody else and being moved by that suffering to do something. When we have compassion we feel something deeply for someone in our very “innards.”
The mom’s brain raced as she thought, “What was there for me to say? The sweet, earnest, devout child before me, flesh of my flesh, a Hindu?! I had never thought of her in any way except as a child of Christ. I had failed her, and I had failed God. I had failed the other missionaries and the Indian Christians. How could I face anybody? All this came over me in a flash, and I was then more deeply shamed in the realization that my first reaction was one of loss of face.” Emma let her mom sit in silence until the whole impact of what she had said sank in. When Emma saw how stricken her mother was, she suddenly said, “I’m sorry, Mom. I just want you to know how Rani’s mother will feel. Rani is going to tell her mother this vacation that she is going to become a Christian. It will affect her family as deeply as it would affect you if I became a Hindu.” Emma’s mother concludes: “When I think of how close our family has been, it makes me hurt all over to think how Rani’s family will suffer.” That is a good example of compassion for others; you feel their feelings in your innards.
II. With this in mind, Psalm 103 says that the Lord is compassionate.
Verse 8 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” What a beautiful truth: God is compassionate! God feels our needs deeply and feels love for us deeply. It is not an abstract or detached feeling but one deep inside God himself. In the case of Psalm 103, God takes action as a result of this compassion and gives us his grace. God is slow to anger and abounding in love to his people. God knows us and feels for us in our needs and then showers us with grace.
Now let’s remember who David was for a moment. The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart. David walked with God and trusted him fully. Yet David was also a terrible sinner who failed spectacularly in committing adultery and then murder. Yet in verses 9-10, David assures us that God doesn’t always accuse. God is just, but He has allowed a way of escape for us even though we don’t deserve it. God is able to do this because He doesn’t harbor his anger forever. God’s love and compassion are so great that He cannot remain angry forever. David had no idea of how far God would go in order to do this.
We however do know because of what we read in the New Testament about Jesus. God has shown His love for us by sending Jesus to die on the cross to take our punishment. If God did not love us, then He could have far more easily destroyed us and have been done with the whole problem. Instead, God’s desire is to restore the sinner by forgiving us rather than by destroying us. That is God’s amazing compassion in action! But God did this in the most amazing way, the way we just celebrated this past Christmas. In compassion, God came down to us to be with us in all of our needs in order to save us from our greatest need: our sinfulness.
III. God’s compassion is like a Father’s compassion as is seen in verses 12-14.
In this part of the Psalm, we get yet another picture of God’s amazing compassion. Verse 12 says that God’s love is beyond measure and is as great as the vastness of the entire universe. It is completely unending in its range and depth. We cannot measure the expanse of the universe and so we cannot measure God’s love. Yet God’s love is not at all removed from us for verse 13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” There is a vastness in God’s love but also an amazing intimacy that is seen in a father and his child. We begin with the immense vastness of God’s love but then we are brought home in this beautiful verse for a good father will do anything and everything for the good of his child.
Yet, we must not forget that God is still God and verse 14 helps us remember that. “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” God is our creator and we are his creatures. And as such, he knows how frail, vulnerable and weak we are. And because he knows us in all our frailty so well, he has such compassion on us. He knows our weaknesses and our struggles and fears. And even though he is our Creator, he is right there with us.
Finally, after a terrifying night, the sun rose and the boy could remove his blindfold. Only then would he discover that his father was sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm. God is our creator but he is also our compassionate God who is right there with us, protecting us and watching over us. But again remember, we don’t deserve God’s compassion and in fact it is the result of our own sinfulness that we are in such great need, but God has compassion on us anyway.
IV. And as a result David says that we are crowned with compassion.
The result, as verses 4 says, is that God will crown us with love and compassion. The word crown means that in giving all these benefits, God will enable us to feel like a king. God will make us feel special with His love and compassion. That should help us to realize just how special we are in God’s eyes. God is compassion and shows his compassion to us through Jesus though we are not deserving.
The result of that is that we are to show God’s compassion to others. Remember that we are to be clothed with compassion. That means that it is not our compassion that we have to muster but God’s compassion within us that we put on. And we will see that there are times when it is difficult to have compassion. There are times when we are tired of showing it or when we simply don’t want to. In those times in particular, we must remember God’s compassion to us as we show compassion to others. God shows us compassion when we have unending needs one after the other. God shows us compassion even when we don’t deserve it or when we are rebellious jerks. That is the kind of compassion we are to show to others.
Being crowned with compassion means that we not only bask in God’s compassion but we extend that compassion to others even when it’s difficult, unpleasant and overwhelming. That is what God did for us and that is the compassion God says we must show to others.