Humanly speaking, compassion is a psychological and emotional sympathetic response to others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate their discomfort.
Spiritually, in relation to the biblical gifts of the Spirit, compassion seems to be most closely associated with the gift of helpers (1 Corinthians 12:28), the gift of mercy (Romans 12:8), the gift of aid (Romans 12:8). Each of these gifts is identified in their respective texts as a special equipping for believers by the Holy Spirit.
Helpers — Perhaps this is what is implied in Acts 20:35 “We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” There are always those among us who are especially “needy;” the nature and intensity of the need is not easily defined, but those with this gift seem to be strongly drawn to such persons and situations, and they find themselves fitted and able to relieve or mollify or satisfy the need they encounter.
Mercy — Merciful acts ought to be performed with cheerfulness. Often those needing merciful attention are in situations of danger or great threat. Consequently, these acts in the early church (and today as well) exposed the giver to association and possible identification with the circumstances which bought about the persecution or condemnation requiring mercy in the first place. Therefore an element of courage also seems integral to the exercise of this gift.
Aid — Here zeal is called for. Two possibilities exist to understand this gift. First, it is perhaps merely a synonym for the gift of administration/government. Second, it may be an entirely new gift but closely akin to mercy.
The gifts of the Spirit are outlined in four places in the New Testament: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:7-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11.
Their purpose has been defined as “distinctive, divinely originated endowments to serve the Triune God for the common benefit of his people, the Church.”
Regarding to giving of comfort in the most generic sense, the passage in
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 is unsurpassed in its instruction:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassionand the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”