Tenderhearted Compassion

By Mark D. Roberts

August 30, 2021

Scripture – Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.


Ephesians 4:32 urges us to be kind to each other, adding that we should be “tenderhearted.” The Greek word translated as “tenderhearted” can also mean “compassionate.” Many times, we lack compassion not because we’re hard-hearted people, but because we’re too busy, or too focused on the work we’re doing to see people as full human beings. Followers of Jesus, however, seek to imitate his tenderhearted compassion as we love others with Christ-like love.


After encouraging us to “Be kind to one another,” Ephesians 4:32 adds, “tenderhearted.” The Greek word translated here as “tenderhearted” 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.

Another English translation of eusplanchnos would be “compassionate” (as in the NIV). 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 soften 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, years ago a colleague of mine was a fairly regular source of aggravation to me. I could get pretty bugged with her and feel my heart speed up when I was dealing with her. As this happened, I tried to stop and remember that hers was a tough job. She was not making the policies that distressed me, but simply implementing what had been assigned to her. Plus, I heard that sometimes people got really angry with her when it really wasn’t her fault. Not a fun job at all! When I remembered this, with plenty of help from the Lord, I could begin to feel compassion for her and let go of my exasperation. Sometimes I could even offer her a bit of kindness, which made her life better and, in fact, made mine better too.


When have you experienced unexpected compassion from someone?

When have you felt unexpected compassion for someone?

What helps you to feel compassionate toward others?


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?


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.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Overcoming Workplace Negativity

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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