Compassion in the Bible

The Bible contains phenomenal examples of various Bible characters acting with compassion. Many Bible stories are filled with kindness, mercy and compassion, along with calls for God’s people to follow the example of the heroes of the faith.

But going beyond the heroes and well-known stories discussed in Sunday School — David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Jonah and the whale, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Zacchaeus, Elisha, Gideon putting out a fleece for the Lord to make sure it was really God’s voice he was hearing — there is a treasure trove of examples speaking to us of compassion.

For example, Joseph of Arimathea who prepared his personal tomb for his Messiah, or the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Through them, we learn that showing compassion and kindness isn’t simply about being nice — it can be an act of worship of our Savior.

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The fruit of the Holy Spirit is what God desires our lives reflect and that includes kindness born of compassion!

Examples of Compassionate Bible Characters in God's Word

When others keep a safe distance from suffering, a compassionate person acts. There are many different ways to show compassion or be compassionate, and there are numerous examples in the Old Testament and New Testament of compassionate biblical characters empathizing, showing mercy to someone else or experiencing compassion themselves.

The true definition of compassion involves a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering. Compassion is not just an awareness of another person’s suffering. It moves beyond a simple desire to reduce suffering. A compassionate person recognizes the suffering of others and then takes action to help.

Here are some Bible examples of how to show God’s kindness:

  • Ruth — Ruth loved her mother-in-law, Naomi, and had compassion for her. Naomi’s husband and sons had died. In an act of selfless compassion and empathy, Ruth traveled with Naomi back to Bethlehem and settled there with her.

    If you’ve ever heard someone called "ruthless," it means that person is heartless or without compassion. The biblical Ruth wasn’t ruthless. Instead, she is a beautiful example of tenderness, caring and biblical compassion.

  • Boaz — In Ruth’s Bible story, Boaz also proved to be a compassionate Bible character. He instructed the workers in his field to leave grain for Ruth to pick up. This provided Ruth with the food she needed to survive. This is an example of compassion and sharing acts of kindness with the needy.

  • The widow of Zarephath — In 1 Kings we learn the story of Elijah and an unnamed widow. Even though the widow was in great need herself, she prepared a meal for Elijah. The widow’s food supply was extended — a miracle from God.

  • Moses — As a prominent Bible character in the Old Testament, Moses was chosen to bring redemption to the Israelites as he led them in an exodus from captivity in Egypt to salvation in the promised land. He stood before Pharaoh and watched God’s plan unfold, and he learned that with God’s help, he could be a compassionate leader of his people.

  • Joseph — After being sold into slavery and then rising to power in Egypt, Joseph showed compassion to his brothers when they came to Egypt looking for food. This makes Joseph one of the greatest stories of compassion in the Bible.

  • Dorcas — In Acts, a woman is introduced as one known for her care of widows and her provisions of clothing for the poor. She was much loved in Joppa. When she became very ill and died, the townspeople called for Peter. He took Dorcas by the hand and brought her back from the dead. What a fine example Dorcas is to us today. She met the needs of those around her and when she was gone, her absence left a void.

  • Paul — Several of Paul’s letters in the New Testament speak of raising money for the poor in Jerusalem. He compels the gentile church to join him in this endeavor. What a heart of compassion!

  • Joses, also known as Barnabas — The New Testament depicts Barnabas as a man who was delighted to see others exhibiting the grace of God in their lives, exhorting and encouraging them to remain faithful. He is nicknamed “Son of Encouragement” because of his inclination to serve others.

  • The Good Samaritan — Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan — a story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had and beaten. The good Samaritan came by and saw a person in dire need of help. He gives the man medical attention and takes him to an inn. The good Samaritan cared for his neighbor, a phenomenal act of compassion.

The Compassion of Our Heavenly Father

Our greatest example of compassion in the Bible is our Heavenly Father. Psalm 86:15 says, "But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."

Several times in God’s Word, we see the image of God protecting the Israelites in the shadow of His wings, like a mother bird protecting her hatchlings. For example, Psalm 57:1 says, "Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wing until the disaster has passed."

God’s compassion is infinite and eternal. In fact, his compassions are new every morning. They never fail (Lamentations 3:22-23). God comforts his people with compassion.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, exemplified compassion during his ministry on earth. One of the most poignant examples of compassion in the Bible is when Jesus showed compassion at the grave of Lazarus. When Jesus saw Lazarus’ friends weeping, he wept alongside them (John 11:33-35).

Over and over, our Lord Jesus Christ felt compassion on people, healing them and comforting them. He saw the large crowd as sheep without a shepherd and he came to give them purpose and shelter.

As the Son of God, Jesus possessed more than we can ever imagine. Even so, he gave up everything, voluntarily and selflessly sacrificing himself for us so that we can have eternal life. In that sacrifice, we see the greatest example of compassion in the Bible!

Responding to the Compassion in the Bible

The stories of compassion in the Bible should motivate us to put compassion into action.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day asked Jesus, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:36-39).

This means that compassion is not just an attribute of God, but also a quality of his people.

1 John 3:17 says, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" This means that love is not in words or speech. It is displayed in actions and in truth. He says that love is active, not just felt, thought or spoken.

When others may keep their distance from those who are suffering, godly compassion prompts us to act on the behalf of the hurting. When we see people who are poor, lacking basic necessities, or are fatherless, we are called to show mercy through compassionate action.

As we consider the compassion God has shown to us, we can respond with compassion to those around us.

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." — Ephesians 4:32.

1 Peter 3:8 is one of the most well-known Bible verses about compassion: "Be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble." We can practice compassion in everyday life.

How to Act Compassionately

Every day, millions of children in poverty around the world experience compassion from God’s family as they participate in our Child Sponsorship Program.

At the child development centers run by our frontline church partners, children in poverty receive health care, food and clean water, learn income-generating skills, and most importantly hear the gospel and have the opportunity to give their lives to Christ.

When you sponsor a child, you are personally connected with a boy or girl who will know your name, cherish the thought that you care for them, and benefit from your compassion.

Through your prayers, financial support and letters, you can show a child in poverty how valuable he or she is and how much God cares.

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