Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

 

After encouraging us to “Be kind,” Ephesians 4:32 adds, “and compassionate to one another.” The Greek word translated here as “compassionate” literally means “having good bowels” (eusplanchnos). Speakers of New Testament Greek located emotions, not in our hearts, but in the vital organs beneath our hearts (stomach, kidneys, intestines, etc.). If you’ve ever actually sensed emotions in your stomach, you’ll know why the Greeks did this.

black and white backside of child looking at brick wallAnother English translation of of eusplanchnos would be “tenderhearted” (as in the ESV and NRSV). Tenderhearted or compassionate people allow the feelings of others to touch their own souls. When people around them grieve, compassionate people feel sad as well. When others are needy, tenderhearted people sense that need. It’s easy to make the connection between kindness and compassion. When you feel what others around you feel, you’re better able to figure out what they need and you’re more motivated to act for their benefit.

Are you compassionate? Are you tenderhearted? Or are you too absorbed in your own life to feel what others are feeling? Are you too focused on the task at hand to pay attention to the people doing the task? In many cases, our lack of compassion for others reflects, not so much our hard-heartedness as our sheer busyness. If we stop to consider the people around us, and especially if we take time to pray for them, we will often sense the Lord softening our hearts toward those people.

Sometimes, however, we need more than time. We need to be intentional about feeling what the people around us feel, remembering that they are human beings who experience emotions just as we do. For example, a certain colleague of mine is a fairly regular source of aggravation to me. I can get pretty bugged with her and feel my heart speed up when I’m dealing with her. As this happens, I try to stop and remember that hers is a tough job. She isn’t making the policies that distress me, but simply implementing what has been assigned to her. And I have heard that sometimes people get really angry with her when it really isn’t her fault. Not a fun job at all! When I remember this, with plenty of help from the Lord, I can begin to feel compassion for her and let go of my exasperation. Sometimes I can even offer her a bit of kindness, which makes her life better and, in fact, makes mine better too.

Something to Think About:

When have you experienced unexpected compassion from someone?

When have you felt unexpected compassion for someone?

What helps you to feel compassionate toward others?

Something to Do:

Think about someone in your life, perhaps in your workplace, who often aggravates you. See if you can feel compassion for that person. Can you get inside his or her heart in a way that might help you to show unexpected kindness to him or her?

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for your compassion for us, for caring for us and even, through Jesus, experiencing what we feel. Help me, Lord, to be like that with others. Help me especially to feel compassion for the people in my life whom I find easy to resent. Give me a tender, compassionate heart . . . like yours. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
The Bottom Line: Friend or Foe? (Case Study)

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