Bowels of mercy
Anyone who’s really loved (or feared) knows that the heart is not the only emotional organ. Some of our greatest loves and our greatest fears are felt a little further south – in the guts!
So while we might be used to speaking of a sinking heart, the Scriptures are comfortable speaking of churning bowels!
Genesis 43:30 “And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother [Benjamin]”
Song of Solomon 5:4 “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.”
Jeremiah 4:19 “[The LORD says] My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me;”
Lamentations 1:20 “Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled”
We speak of gut-wrenching emotions. The King James Bible, in faithfulness to the underlying Hebrew and Greek, just takes that language one step further. And notice that all of these visceral reactions are right and good responses to the situation. You might call them healthy bowel movements. On the other hand, a lack of compassion is considered to be a nasty bowel complaint. So to the loveless Corinthians Paul writes:
“ye are straitened in your own bowels.” (2 Corinthians 6:12)
And John describes a loveless Christian who has “shutteth up his bowels of compassion.” (1 John 3:17).
Therefore there is great need for our sluggish bowels to be “refreshed.” Apparently Philemon was particularly good at this:
“For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” (Philemon 1:7)
“Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.” (Philemon 1:20)
What would it mean to be refreshed in this way? Well Paul speaks of a change that has already happened to the Christian. It’s foundational to our emotional renewal.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;” (Colossians 3:12)
The Christian is elect of God (that is, chosen – choice in the Father’s eyes). The Christian is holy (that is, special – set apart as His own). The Christian is beloved (that is, a child of the King and dearly loved).
Notice in all these things that Christians are what Christ is. Christ is the original and eternal Elect One. Christ is the original and eternal Holy One. Christ is the original and eternal Beloved Son. And, by faith, we come to share in His status and life.
Therefore, says Paul, since we are such a people, let us put on His bowels of mercies. Here is one more way we will share in Christ’s life – to share in His stomach-churning love. You see it is Christ who loves with a visceral, gut-wrenching passion.
Let me explain. There is a verb form of the Greek word for “bowels”. It means, most basically, to be moved in ones bowels, but the KJV translates it more idiomatically as “moved with compassion.” This word is used only in the Gospels and only to describe the emotional life of Jesus.
Matthew 9:36 “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them…”
Matthew 14:14 “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them…”
Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude…”
Matthew 20:34 “So Jesus had compassion on [the two blind men], and touched their eyes…”
Mark 1:41 “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched [the leper]…”
Luke 7:13 “And when the Lord saw [the widow], he had compassion on her…”
In addition to these Gospel accounts there are three characters in Christ’s parables that are said to be moved with compassion: The King of the Unmerciful Servant, The Good Samaritan and The Father of the Prodigal Son. We’ve seen previously how each of these are a pictures of Christ Himself. It is Christ’s character to be moved with pity in His innermost parts. Churned up inside. Profoundly stirred towards mercy and love.
And not only does Christ share with us His standing before the Father, He shares with us His “bowels of mercies.” When we love our brothers and sisters we are participating in Christ’s love for them. We are “moved with compassion” in the name of Jesus. That’s why Paul is able to say that he longs after the Philippians “in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:8) Paul loves with the very love of Jesus.
So please don’t think me rude, I’m only being biblical, but how are your bowel movements? You know what I mean. Are your bowels of mercies straitened and shut up? Or are you moved with compassion?
Return to the Lord Jesus by faith. See His compassion – perhaps read one of the Gospel stories from the quotes above. Allow yourself to be moved once again. As a chosen, holy and beloved child of God, Christ’s compassion is yours.