A second element of true compassion is genuine moral outrage. In fact, spagkhnozomai, the Greek word translated “moved with compassion” in Matthew 9:36, conveys the idea of “a yearning in the gut or bowels.” In other words, what the Lord was feeling for the multitude involved a visceral reaction (i.e., “He was moved with compassion for them”). This word has been translated too weakly in our modern Bibles, in that spagkhnozomai is a very strong word conveying a powerful emotional feeling. It does more than describe plain pity or common compassion; it describes an emotion that moves one to the very depth of his being. This word describes the compassion the forgiving King had on the servant who was unable to pay his debt (Matt. 18:27), the compassion that compelled the father to run to his prodigal son to welcome him home (Lk. 15:20), and the compassion of the Samaritan who rescued the wounded traveler on the Jericho road (Lk. 10:33). As already mentioned, it is the same word used to describe the Lord’s reaction upon seeing the multitude in the wilderness as being scattered sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36). It is the same word used to describe His reaction to the leper who came to Him for healing (Mk. 1:41), the two blind men who cried out for mercy (Matt. 20:34), and the bereaved widow of Nain whose son had died (Lk. 7:13). In each case, we are confronted with the deep visceral reaction that is always characteristic of authentic compassion.
Spagkhnozomai also hints of a controlled, mature anger at the forces at work in a fallen world that seem to entrap men and women in the most unfortunate of circumstances. We must remember that Jesus, who was Himself the Creator (Col. 1:16), created this world to be a paradise; but by sinning man messed everything up. Consequently, this world is not what the Lord intended it to be, and when the One who knew how He had intended it to be experienced how things really are, He was naturally and honestly moved with deep moral outrage at the devastating effect man’s sinfulness was having on the nature of things.
All this is made even clearer when one considers another word used to describe Jesus. This word is embrimaomai, and is used twice by John to describe Jesus’ reaction to the death of His friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:33,38). The NKJV says, “He groaned in the spirit” (v. 33) and “groaning in Himself” (v. 38). Frequently, these verses are interpreted in view of verse 35, which says, “Jesus wept.” And given what was happening, tears were certainly appropriate. Jesus was touched emotionally by the real sorrow of Martha and Mary, but there is more here than mere sympathy. Embrimaomai, according to Strong’s, means “to have indignation: to snort with anger.” Standing at the tomb of Lazarus, a friend He knows He will soon raise from the dead, Jesus is seized with deep moral outrage and indignation. Why? Because all the order, beauty, harmony, and fulfillment the Lord had created into His creation was now nothing but fractured disorder, raw ugliness, and complete disarray. At this tomb of His friend, God in the flesh came face to face with a death that symbolized the evil, pain, sorrow, suffering, injustice, cruelty, and despair of a world lost in sin. Yes, there can be no doubt that He was moved to tears for His friends, but surely He was also moved by the outrageous abnormality of death itself. Man was not created to die. Instead, he was created to live. But sin had changed all that. Things were no longer like they ought to be, and Jesus was outraged by it all.
While in the flesh, God’s Son experienced genuine moral outrage. It is further informative to view this same characteristic as it was exhibited in the lives of other individuals who are recorded in the Bible. For example, the newly appointed King Saul, before becoming corrupted by his position of power, was a man of principled character. When he heard about the outrageous thing that Nahash, the Ammonite king, had dictated to the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead (viz., he would permit them to surrender only if they permitted him to put out their right eyes), Saul became outraged with anger and indignation (1 Sam. 11:6). In examining this episode, there can be no mistaking the relationship between the inspiration of God’s Spirit and Saul’s anger or moral outrage, in that it was not just God approved, it was God-inspired as well.
Later, as Israel’s national decadence produced social injustice and inhumanity, the moral outrage of Amos is absolutely searing: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring wine, let us drink!’” (Amos 4:1). These contemptible recipients of the prophet’s moral outrage were the people who sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6). They were the ones who turned justice into gall and righteousness into wormwood (Amos 6:12). They rightly deserved his righteous indignation. For Amos to have reacted any other way, would surely have been a sin!
Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that moral outrage is not something reserved for those who reside in the flesh. God, who is Spirit, experiences outrage at man’s injustices to his fellow man and was outraged there was no one who felt compelled to set these injustices right. In Isaiah 59:15b-16a, the prophet says: “The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.” The Hebrew word translated “wondered” in this passage conveys the idea of being stupefied and outraged. Therefore, genuine moral outrage is not just the reaction of one who is being pressed by the difficulties of living in a fallen world, for even God Himself experiences it, and so should the Christian. In the midst of all the pain, cruelty, violence, and injustice of this world, we ought to be moved with moral outrage and compelled, with God’s help, to do something.
God, by virtue of the immutability of His moral character, is eternally opposed to evil and is, in turn, outraged by its dreadful effect. Consequently, the Christian, who is called upon to be like God (1 Pet. 1:15-1 6), can never be neutral toward immorality without betraying his faith. Once again, we see this truth demonstrated in the earthly life of the Son of God. Jesus, who came to do His Father’s will, and, in doing so, is our perfect example, was so outraged by the effect of sin in regard to His Father’s house that He, on two different occasions, drove the money changers from the Temple (Jn. 2:14-17; Lk. 19:45-46). On seeing Jesus in action, His disciples, who were decidedly not as critical as some of His disciples might be today, remembered that it had been written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (Jn. 2:17; Psa. 69:9).
Without this same moral indignation (viz., the outrage that wells up in the gut as a result of morally outrageous acts), the Christian remains a non-combatant in the moral battles presently raging on this planet between what is right and what is wrong. It is, indeed, unfortunate that many of us who call ourselves Christians today no longer know how to be morally outraged by what is going on around us. What spiritual life remains in such folks is being strangled by a society that has cut itself off from God. Ignorant of the demands of God’s word and, thus, lacking in discernment, these have not realized they are choking on the truths that they, themselves, have betrayed. They have seen the moral issues of our day reduced to political platforms and have ignorantly thought themselves free to choose one over another.
What this generation desperately needs is the authentic compassion that is exhibited by knowledgeable Christians who are truly and genuinely outraged at the appalling injustices taking place all around them.
Be this as it may, for it to be authentic biblical compassion, there is one more element that must be a part of the mix.