Compassion is so needed today. It is one of the important characteristics of the Christian life. Compassion has the power to change lives by altering the relationship between people and even whole communities. Our Lord is a fine example of compassion that we should emulate as his followers.
Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman in John 8 is a fine starting point for understanding compassion. The text (John 8:3-11)(1) presents an unidentified woman who has been caught in the actual act of adultery. While there is some question of the motives of the Pharisees, it does appear that she is guilty. It is also true that their statement of the Law of Moses was correct. If guilty, she should be stoned (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).
Note carefully what Jesus does. First, he does not rush to a decision. He pauses. He waits. Second, Jesus gave her mercy just as he does us today. Mercy was the one thing she needed most at the moment and Jesus gave it to her. Her accusers slinked away when confronted with their own weaknesses and sin (c.f. Matthew 7:1-5). Third, Jesus does not condone or make light of her sin. Adultery was, and still is, sinful. At the end, Jesus told the woman to go and “sin no more” (John 8:11). Third. These three things together demonstrate true compassion for another and give us an example for life.
To Be compassionate, do not rush to condemn another
It is so easy to be horrified at someone else’s sin that we rush to attack and condemn them while sins of other names flourish in our own lives. Before the mouth runs ahead the godly mind must first discover the best path to confront the sin. A time of reflection will often produce a better route of action and lessen the repercussions of rash statements. You show compassion when you pause to think.
To Be compassionate, give mercy in an amount equal to your own need
Compassion and mercy are common needs. It is not within our duties to grant eternal forgiveness and mercy from eternal punishment. But in terms of this life we should be willing to be merciful and compassionate to others. Let us not be so fast to exclude those who have sin that seems so foreign to us. Jesus told the church in Thyatira that he had given a woman “time to repent” (Revelation 2:21). If Jesus, in his perfect knowledge, gave someone time to repent, shouldn’t we, with our imperfect and sometimes unbalanced knowledge, give a sinner time too?
To Be compassionate remember that sin is still sin. Do not approve of any sin.
Sin separates from God (Isaiah 59:2). Sin brings death (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:22-24; Romans 6:26). Jesus was clear. This woman’s life was not right. Adultery was wrong. He did not leave her to think that his compassion and mercy was an approval of her present lifestyle. Refusing to approve of sin is perhaps the hardest part of the John 8 example. It is so easy to condone instead of confront sin. We say we do not like confrontation and conflict. But we must stand where the Lord stands and speak where he speaks.
I would like to know what happened to this woman. Did her life change? Did she become a follower of Jesus? Was she among the 120 on the day of Pentecost when the church began? We cannot know but her encounter with Jesus teaches us volumes about compassion.
- The text is enclosed within double brackets indicating that its origin is questioned by most scholars. Many of those same scholars however note that the passage is obviously very old and that there is nothing here which opposes or contradicts other Biblical teachings. There is also no new teaching or doctrine set forth.(↩)