The Who, Why and How of Empathy

by | Jun 12, 2014

God's Hand - (200x200)“What is the biblical model, motive, and method for empathy and compassion?”

That’s the question I asked last week as we began our study of these two relational qualities.

This week I’m going to let you to answer these questions for yourself.

Before doing so, let’s review two definitions:

  • Empathy is generally defined as the ability to discern and vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of another person, or more simply, to feel what others feel.
  • Compassion, which builds on empathy and literally means “to suffer together,” is a deep concern for another person who is suffering, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering.

Now, based on the following Scriptures, how would you answer these three questions?

What (actually, who) is the model for empathy and compassion?

“’With everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:8).

“[God] will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11).

“When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14).

“And when the Lord saw [the woman who lost her son], he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

What is the motive to develop empathy and compassion?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:1-2).

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

What is the method for empathy and compassion?

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the wounded man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33-34).

“And [the prodigal son] arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20)

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).

“For you had compassion on those in prison” (Heb. 10:34).

These Scriptures outline the “who, why, and how” of empathy and compassion. Clearly, these two qualities are not optional for those who follow Christ; they are rooted in the very character, conduct, and commandments of God himself.

Think about that this week and ask yourself, “How can I reflect God’s empathy and compassion toward those around me.”

Then join us next week as we explore some practical ways to deepen your capacity to reflect these God-honoring, relationship-transforming qualities.

– Ken Sande


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© 2014 Ken Sande

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