In His revelation to us, God has emphasized certain aspects of His character. One of those aspects is God’s compassion. Often, in times of distress and danger, a writer will call upon God’s compassion in hope of deliverance (cf. Psalm 25:6; 40:11; etc.). This is because God has, as just noted, revealed Himself to be full of compassion. This attribute is seen when God prevents us from facing the harsh consequences of some circumstances–sometimes of our own making and sometimes due to the behavior of others. God also demonstrates compassion when He forgives our sins, which is the most significant of examples, as David teaches in Psalm 51: “According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (v. 1)

God’s compassion is, by its nature, readily applied in situations where there is need and the need is such that there appears to be no remedy. Consider, for example, David’s words as he tells us about the ministry of the coming King: “For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:12, 13) In Christ, the Son of God, the world has encountered the compassion of God personified. As David describes the impact of Christ’s arrival, he stresses the fact that those in need, those with no helper, and the poor will find in Him a particular responsiveness.

From the example of our Savior, His people learn how compassion operates—it operates when we show genuine, life-changing concern for those in need (cf. James 2:15, 16). As the elect of God, the Savior’s compassion led to our redemption. We are subsequently charged to imitate Him in this world as God gives opportunity. And the opportunities are abundant.

Jesus said: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 7:12). If you had no place to sleep tonight, what would you want someone to do for you? If you hadn’t eaten in several days, what would you want someone to do for you? If you were suddenly facing some illness or some other dramatic and frightening change in your life, what would you want someone to do for you? If you have offended someone, what would you want that person to do for you?

Understanding the Savior’s admonition is not difficult. It’s the practical side, the act of doing, that challenges us. This is because mere words come almost without effort, but providing shelter or food or comfort with our presence  or extending forgiveness requires that we part with some of what we have—our money, our time, our pride. Of all the things we can do as believers, relieving the burden of someone in need is one of the most Christ-like steps we can take. When we provide shelter, when we provide food, when we sit with someone who is grieving, or when we forgive, we are honoring the Savior in a way that directly reflects His compassion for us.

The contemporary Church needs more, much more, of this kind of commitment. As I contemplate my future, having just ended a lengthy period of service as a pastor, my most sincere hope is that I will be able to unite with Christians who count ministry to the needy as one of their primary goals and who will labor so that their church is distinguished as a source of compassion.