“Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)
In this one verse we are told to be both sympathetic and compassionate. Here’s my question: What is the difference between sympathy and compassion? Don’t they both mean to feel sorry for someone? Why repeat the same instruction twice in one verse?
I looked it up, and sympathy and compassion have different meanings. Sympathy means, “to have feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Compassion, on the other hand, is, “the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.”
I’m not too great at math, but here’s an equation we can all understand: Sympathy + Action = Compassion.
If you fell into a pit, would you rather have someone feel sorry for you or have someone reach down their hand to help you out of the pit? Their sympathy doesn’t help you, but their action does.
Sympathy is a feeling. It’s fine to feel sorry about someone else’s pain. But compassion is more than a feeling. It may start with sympathy, but it doesn’t end there. Compassion includes action that changes someone else’s situation.
We saw it with the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The priest and the Levite may have felt sympathy for the man lying half dead on the side of the road, but they had no compassion. The Good Samaritan saw the same situation but took action to help because he was moved with compassion.
Y’all, compassion makes us move. It pushes us to do something.
When Jesus felt compassion, somebody’s life was getting ready to change.
- He saw a widow weeping as she went to bury her only son. Jesus was moved with compassion and the widow’s son was raised from death to life. (Luke 7:13)
- Jesus felt compassion for a hungry crowd. He turned a few loaves of bread and fish into a meal for thousands, and the hungry were filled. (Matthew 15:32)
- Jesus was moved with compassion when a leper asked for healing. Jesus reached out and touched the man, and what was unclean became clean. (Mark 1:41)
Jesus’s life on earth was marked with genuine compassion. He repeatedly helped the hungry, the poor, the grieved, and the sick. Just like Jesus, our lives should be marked by compassion.
Compassion without action is just feeling sorry for people. People don’t need our sympathy, but they desperately need our compassion.
Dear Lord, please open my eyes to see those around me in need of compassion. Let my heart be moved with a desire to help people. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. Use me to show Christ-like compassion in a world filled with people in need. In Jesus’s name, amen.