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What the Bible Says about Compassion

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


People often mistake sympathy, empathy, and compassion to be the same emotion. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Compassion is different from sympathy.
  • Compassion is different from empathy.
  • Compassion is different from pity.
  • Compassion is more than merely feeling sorry for someone who is suffering.

Compassion: Definition

The dictionary defines compassion as pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

When you think about the term "compassion" it should remind you of "co-suffering" because it involves "feeling for another." Compassion is a prerequisite to empathy which is feeling for another and putting yourself in that person's place. The result of real compassion is doing something to eliminate another person's suffering.

Where there is no action, there is no compassion.


Sympathy, Empathy, or Compassion?

Compassion is different from sympathy. The word compassion is in the Bible about 46 times. Throughout the gospels, we read about Jesus having compassion on those who were suffering and he helped them.

It is easy to distinguish sympathy, empathy, and compassion from one another.

  • Sympathy causes you to feel sorry for someone without lifting a finger to help. You might know about a situation, talk about it and say, "I'm sorry" and that's all you do.
  • Empathy is putting yourself in the place of the person who is in trouble and suffering.
  • Compassion takes it to a deeper level. It is the final stage that moves people to act. Compassionate people have a strong desire to help the person who is suffering.

A very good example of all three emotions includes this situation.

You might feel sorry when you see a man on the street who is not wearing shoes. That's sympathy. If you imagine yourself in that man's place, that's empathy. If you give the man your shoes or buy him a pair, then that compassion. Compassion always results in some action to help someone in need.

A person who gives advice at a time when a person is suffering is not compassionate. Neither is he compassionate if he interrogates the person about how he got in trouble. A compassionate person does what he can to help a person get back on the right track.


Jesus' Trifold Formula for Compassion

Jesus is the perfect example of showing compassion. He never saw a need and did nothing about it. His way of showing compassion came in three parts.

  1. Jesus saw the sick.
  2. Jesus had compassion on the sick.
  3. Jesus healed the sick.

One must do what Jesus did in order for compassion to take place. We must see the need; feel the need as if it is happening to us, and then do something to eliminate the need. The true test of compassion is the action you take to get rid of the suffering of another.

  1. First, recognize the need.
  2. Second, feel the need in your own consciousness.
  3. Third, do something to fix the need. Just don't see it and talk about it.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is it when you see a need and do something about it?
    • Sympathy
    • Empathy
    • Compassion
  2. What is it when you see and need and merely feel sorry for someone?
    • Sympathy
    • Empathy
    • Compassion
  3. What is it when you put yourself in place of someone who is suffering?
    • Sympathy
    • Empathy
    • Compassion
  4. What type of card can you purchase and send to someone?
    • Sympathy
    • Empathy
    • Compassion

Answer Key

  1. Compassion
  2. Sympathy
  3. Empathy
  4. Sympathy

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