Picking up where we left off yesterday, let’s think more, with B. B. Warfield as our tutor, on the matter of how Jesus experienced and expressed the emotion of compassion.
The compassion of Christ is sometimes both anger and sorrow mixed together into a sigh. Obstinate sin drew a different form of compassion from Jesus than we usually associate with the word. Warfield had Mark 8:12 in mind when he described the reaction of Christ to the “malignant unbelief of the Pharisees” as “a sigh in which anger and sorrow both had a part….We may…place the loud wailing over the stubborn unbelief of Jerusalem and the deep sighing over the Pharisees’ determined opposition side by side as exhibitions of the profound pain given to our Lord’s sympathetic heart, by those whose persistent rejection of him required at his hands his sternest reprobation.”
The compassion of Christ is built on the foundation of love. Let us not think for a moment that Jesus finds happiness in judging even the most hardened sinner. “It hurt Jesus to hand over even hardened sinners to their doom…because Jesus’ prime characteristic was love, and love is the foundation of compassion. How close to one another the two emotions of love and compassion lie, may be taught us by the only instance in which the emotion of love is attributed to Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 10:21).”
The compassion of Christ is a deep longing to do good toward those who are not good. Speaking of the manner in which we humans usually love, Warfield says “there is ordinarily some good to be found already in those upon whom we fix our benevolent regard. [Whereas] The heart of our Saviour turned yearningly to the rich young man and longed to do him good (emphasis mine); and this is an emotion.” Warfield does not mention this, but we are, of course, reminded of Paul’s description of the love of God in Romans 5:8.
The compassion of Christ toward sinners flows from His love for God. “We are surprised to note that Jesus’ love to God is only once explicitly mentioned (Jn 15:31); but in this single mention it is set before us as the motive of his entire saving work and particularly of his offering of himself up.” And later, “The motive of Jesus’ earthly life and death is more commonly presented as love for sinful men; here it is presented as loving obedience to God.”
The compassion of Christ is moved by His benevolent love for pitiable sinners like us. “The love of man which moved Jesus to come to his succor [relief] in his sin and misery was, of course, the love of benevolence. It finds its culminating expression in the great words of John 15:13…. ‘Friends,’ it is clear, in this definition, are rather those who are loved than those who love.”
The compassion of Christ is rooted in self-sacrificial love. Self-giving love is the highest virtue. To love God, and to be loved by God, is the “Christian’s greatest reward…(John 15:21).” If biblical compassion truly grips our hearts then it will bear the fruit of self-sacrifice, giving of ourselves out of love for the eternal well-being of others.
Here is one HUGE takeaway for counselors: Love for God is the living spring of obedience. Read this quote a few times and let it sink in: “As his [Jesus’] love to the Father was the source of his obedience to the Father, and the living spring of his faithfulness to the work which had been committed to him, so he declares that the love of his followers to him, imitating and reproducing his love to them, is to be the source of their obedience to him, and through that, of all the good that can come to human beings, including, as the highest reach of social perfection, their love for one another. Self-sacrificing love is thus made the essence of the Christian life, and is referred for its incentive to the self-sacrificing love of Christ himself.”
Tomorrow, before moving on to Jesus’s anger, we will take a peek at how the emotion of love affected Jesus’s friendships.