“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he has compassion…” Matthew 9:36 ESV
Compassion is one of those words. You know it when you feel it. It’s like pity; it’s like empathy. The closest word is probably sympathy. But what you are not likely to hear is that compassion is the joining in suffering. If I am compassionate toward you, presumably I am joining with you in your suffering. It goes beyond my mental acknowledgement of your burdens, beyond my feeling sorry for you.
At the very least, I must join you in your suffering at the heart level, at Christ joined us in our suffering on every level. Though we can never do for one another what Christ has done for us, the principle still applies. I cannot be adequately compassionate toward you unless
1) I love God,
2) I love you as God loves you, and
3) I count the cost and join you.
It is easy for those who read the larger context of the verse above to focus on the call of Christ to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest” and completely overlook the compassion that preceded Jesus’ words or, worse, to assume that we already have that compassion that God requires. God will indeed send laborers, but those stay and continue to harvest until the harvest is complete will stay only if they love both the Lord of the harvest and the harvest itself and only if they have counted the cost of being in the harvest. In other words, they will only stay if their hearts have been touched by Christ-like compassion.
Do you have the compassion of Christ for His harvest? Perhaps what God requires of us first, even before we think about praying and sending laborers into the harvest, is that we love what He loves. We must love His people as the Bride Groom loves His Bride. Do you love the church, the Bride of Christ? If so, have you counted the cost of loving her? Will you suffer for her just as He has suffered for you?
God calls us to labor in His harvest. Some He calls as shepherds, but it is His flock. Count the cost. In compassion, go into the fields, for they are ripe for harvest.
Lord, touch our hearts with deep-seeded Christ-like compassion for Your harvest!
Pray for all those who labor in the Lord’s harvest. It is hard work, and without God, the task is insurmountable. But with God, all things are possible.
Grace and peace.
Authored by Edward Yee, a 3rd year student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte. He is pursuing a Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and a Master of Arts in Religion in Church Revitalization