If someone could bottle and sell empathy, they’d probably win the Nobel Prize, find the solution to world peace, and put divorce lawyers out of business! When I empathize with someone, I’m identifying with them through imagining what they’re experiencing. I’m crawling into their skin to view the world through their eyes and I’m vicariously experiencing their joys and sorrows, pain and happiness, pressures and disappointments.
When I put myself in my enemy’s shoes, compassion and understanding are birthed.
This month we’ve been studying the book of Colossians and today we reach the rich section of the book that gives us the picture of what it looks like to live out what we believe. There is a long and descriptive section (vv. 12–17) that begins with the invitation to adorn ourselves with compassion. So today, I’m focusing in on that beautiful virtue before we tackle our study questions.
James 4 describes love’s royal law as an action of empathy. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” At least nine times this love law is repeated throughout Scripture, spanning both testaments. The same principle is reiterated in the golden rule as we are commanded to treat others in the way we’d want to be treated.
Empathy births compassion and compassion is the necessary ingredient for loving the unlovable.
The Apostle Paul had experienced numerous betrayals during his ministry. This letter was probably written during his first Roman imprisonment. While in prison, Paul is urging his fellow believers to walk the road toward thankfulness.
Compassion is the first step down that road. Watch that progression as you work your way through this passage:
[box]So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12–17)[/box]
Notice the progression, there are five couplets:
- Compassion which bears the outward display of kindness.
- Humility which bears the fruit of gentleness.
- Patience which is lived out through forbearance.
- Receiving Christ’s forgiveness provides the grace to forgive others.
- Love provides the perfect element for unity to flourish.
At the conclusion of these five couplets, peace is ruling the heart and thankfulness is occurring. The action of thanksgiving is mentioned three times within three verses. Gratitude is the culmination of the process that began with compassion. This is the pathway from ashes to beauty.
This is the pathway to lead us to the very heart of God.
Are you willing to ask the Father to fill you with compassion for others? Even for those who’ve caused you deep pain?
Will you “put on” the gracious beauty of compassion?
- Verses 12–21 is what I’ve called “The Template for Family Relationships.” I encourage you to take this portion of chapter 3 and walk through this as a family study. Look up the meanings of words, talk about how to apply the instructions in this passage, challenge and encourage one another to live out this passage.
- How are you described in v. 12?
- List what we are to “put on” as God’s chosen ones. Which of these are also listed as a “fruit of the Spirit” (see Gal. 5:22–23)?
- How do each of these relate to one another? Which one of these is listed as the most important? How would practicing that one most important attribute that “binds everything together in perfect harmony” make a difference in family relationships? (see 1 Corinthians 13; 1 Peter 3:8)
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