Be Pitiful, Be Courteous!

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.1 Peter 3:8

As Peter continues to make his concluding remarks to husbands and wives, he urges them to “…be pitiful, be courteous.” Today I want us to delve into the meanings of these Greek words to see what Peter means when he commands husbands and wives to be “pitiful” and “courteous” with one another.

The word “pitiful” is the Greek word eusplagchnos. It is a very strange combination of the words eu and splagchnos. The word eu means well or good. It describes a person who feels swell or pleased about something. It depicts a positive emotional response to someone or to something that has been done.

One of the best examples of the word eu in the New Testament is found in Matthew 3:17. When Jesus came up from the baptismal waters of the Jordan, a voice spoke from Heaven, saying, “…This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The words “well pleased” are from the word eudokeo — which is the word eu, meaning great pleasure, connected to the Greek word dokeo, meaning to think or to imagine. But when these words are compounded to form the word eudokeo, it means, “I am more pleased than you could possibly imagine! I am supremely pleased!”

Now that we have looked at the word eu, the first part of the word eusplagchnos, let’s now move to the second part of the word to see what the word splagchnos means. The word splagchnos is the Greek word for the intestines or bowels. Paul uses the word splagchnos in Second Corinthians 6:12 to describe his deeply felt affection for the Corinthian believers. He uses the word splagchnos in Philippians 1:8 to describe the deeply felt affections of Jesus Christ. In Philemon 1:12, we find Paul using the word splagchnos when he says to Philemon concerning Onesimus, “Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels.” The use of the word splagchnos (“bowels”) in this verse tells us that Paul felt very deeply about Onesimus.

From the examples in the paragraph above, we see that the word splagchnos can describe tender emotions, or it may picture deeply felt feelings for someone else. But we also find that the word splagchnos (“bowels”) is used throughout the Gospels to express those moments when Jesus was “moved with compassion.” There are many examples of the word splagchnos being used exactly in this way. For example:

  • Matthew 14:14 says, “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.”
  • Matthew 15:32 says, “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude.…” As a result of this deeply felt compassion, Jesus fed the multitude of people who were following Him that day.
  • Matthews 20:34 says, “So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.”
  • Mark 1:41 says, “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.”
  • Mark 6:34 says, “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”
  • Mark 8:2 says, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.” Just as Matthew recorded in Matthew 15:32, Mark tells the same story in this text about how compassion moved Jesus to supernaturally provide food for His followers.
  • Luke 7:13-15 says, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”

In every example where Jesus felt compassion for someone or for a mass of people, there was such a movement of compassion from within Him that it surged out of Him to meet the needs of people. In some cases, that movement of compassion caused Him to provide food, to raise the dead, to deliver the demon-possessed, to heal the sick, and to provide teaching for those who were like sheep without a shepherd.

Forgive me for being so straightforward, but I want to tell you exactly why the Holy Spirit chose the word splagchnos (“bowels”) to describe compassion. Let me get very biological for a moment. What happens when a person’s bowels move? The movement of the bowels produces action, doesn’t it? Likewise, when the human spirit is deeply touched and moved by the need of another person, it causes a movement or a release of divine power to surge from deep within that person to reach out and meet the needs of that other individual.

This is the reason that every time Jesus was moved with compassion, it always resulted in a healing, deliverance, resurrection, supernatural provision, or some other action that changed someone’s life. You see, compassion always produces action. The force of compassion cannot leave a person in the sad condition in which he was found; it moves one to do something to change that other person’s situation.

We find the word splagchnos (“bowels”) in First John 3:17, where John writes, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother hath need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” The word “shutteth” is the Greek word kleio, which means to lock up or to tightly shut up. It pictures a believer who is deeply moved by someone else’s need. But instead of letting that compassion move him to action, this believer deliberately puts up a barrier and shuts off the flow of compassion.

The urge to be compassionate is so strong that this believer must deliberately harden his heart in order to shut off that force of compassion and hinder it from flowing forth from him to meet that human need. John describes this urge to meet someone else’s need as “bowels of compassion.”

But when these two words — eu and splagchnos — are compounded together, it means to be tender-hearted or affectionate. The second part of the word, splaghnos, pictures a person who is deeply moved. However the word eu, the first part of the word eusplagchnos, pictures a person who feels very positive about someone or something else. When compounded together, the new word means an inward feeling of delight and a deep desire that moves someone to do something for someone else.

Peter uses this same word in First Peter 3:8 when he tells husbands and wives to be “pitiful.” Peter is actually exhorting them to feel deeply for each other and to put actions to those emotions. Compassion always produces action.

If you deeply love your spouse, that love will move you to do things to help him or her in life, for real love cannot just sit idly by and watch the loved one struggle. Your deeply felt love for your mate will motivate you to get up and do something to help!

But then Peter follows this up by telling husband and wives to be “courteous.” The word “courteous” is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word tapeinophron. It is a compound of the words tapeinos and phren. The word tapienos means to be lowly, to be humble, or to exhibit humility and modesty. The word phren is the Greek word for the intellect or the mind. When these two words are used together, it means to be humble-minded or to be lowly-minded — a concept that goes beyond merely being courteous or polite.

It is just a fact that when we see someone else with a need, our flesh wants to rise up and say, “I’m going to quit being so merciful and compassionate! That person can just grow up! I am finished intervening to help every time he struggles!”

In moments when our flesh is tempted to be judgmental toward our spouses, we must resist the temptation to act high and mighty and condescending. Instead, we must choose to be humble-minded, to come down to a level where we can be understanding and release a flow of compassion to help instead of becoming our spouses’ judge!

This is what Peter means when he tells husbands and wives to be “pitiful” and to be “courteous.” Now that you know the way you are supposed to relate to your spouse, what are you going to do?

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, I want to be moved with compassion toward my spouse! Help me to truly feel compassion for what my spouse is going through, and teach me how to let mercy flow from my spirit to strengthen him (or her). I know that my spirit is filled with everything my spouse needs in moments of difficulty, so I want to know how to release those good things from my spirit to strengthen and edify him (or her). Holy Spirit, please help me be moved with compassion toward my spouse. Teach me how to esteem and to treat him (or her) as more important than myself.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that I am filled with compassion and that I let that force of compassion flow from my heart to my spouse. I am the strongest source of blessing and encouragement in my spouse’s life. I deliberately think of ways I can be a blessing to him (or her), and I speak words of blessing that will bring the strength and encouragement my spouse needs from me.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Can you remember times when you felt a surge of compassion flow from your heart toward your spouse? When you released that compassion and let it flow from your heart, did you become a source of great strength and encouragement to your mate?

2. Have there been moments in your marriage when that flow of compassion wanted to operate through you, but you refused to allow it to flow toward your spouse? Be honest.

3. Can you recall a time when you were the recipient of divine compassion flowing from another person? What effect did this flow of compassion have on you and your situation?