“What manner of men ought ye to be?” Jesus queried the Nephite twelve, and answered his own question: “Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Nephi 27:27.)

What manner of man was he then? In his interpersonal relationships, how did he function? In his interaction with repentant sinners, with honest seekers, and particularly with those that suffered, how did the Savior behave?

In All Their Afflictions, He Was Afflicted

There is a word that describes the Savior’s involvement with those that suffer. It is a word that is used frequently in the scriptural text to characterize him: the word is compassion. The word is defined as “a suffering with another; hence, sympathy; sorrow for the distress or misfortunes of another, with the desire to help.” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second Edition, [New York City: Prentice-Hall Press, 1979], p. 369.) The reality of this attribute of our Lord is confirmed by a statement he made to the Prophet Joseph in Hiram, Ohio in November of 1831. Christ, speaking of his people and himself said, “In all their afflictions, he was afflicted.” (D&C 133:53.)

“When you are in pain, I am in pain,” he seems to be telling us. “When you sorrow, I sorrow.” That simple affirmation of mutual suffering, of compassion, provides a new light on the meaning of the phrases in Matthew 25:40 and 45: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” or “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

An insightful passage from Alma 7 shows us the scope of the caring of Christ and the depth of his compassion.

And [Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh. (Alma 7:11.13.)

Christ suffered not only for our sins and to break the bands of death, but also to help us with our afflictions, our pains, our sicknesses, our infirmities. And this that he might know from personal, mortal experience (even though “the Spirit knoweth all things”) how to succor us in our need. He went forth among the children of men combating affliction, pain, sickness, and infirmity wherever he found it.            

The Compassion of Christ

As Jesus travelled throughout the cities and towns of Galilee during his first ministry there,

There came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (Mark 1:40-41, emphasis added.)

When Jesus heard of the death of his cousin John, he “departed thence by ship into a desert place apart.” {Matthew 14:13.) But the people heard of it and followed him on foot.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14. emphasis added.)

On a mountain near the Sea of Galilee, Christ acted in behalf of multitudes that had been with him for three days.

Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint by the way. {Matthew 15:37, emphasis added.)

Jesus then multiplied seven loaves and a few fishes, and fed four thousand men, and the women and children with them.

Leaving Jericho one day, Jesus and his followers encountered two blind men who, when they were informed that Christ was passing, cried out to him. The multitude tried to quiet them, but they cried even more. This was an opportunity that the blind men could not let pass them by.

And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?

They say unto him, Lord, that our eves may be opened.

So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him. (Matthew 20:30-34, emphasis added.)

On the American continent, Christ spoke to the assembled survivors of the destructions there and asked.

Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you. …

And he did heal them every one. (3 Nephi 17:7,9, emphasis added.)

Christ confronted misery in a diversity of forms but always with compassion. The examples above are cited because the accounts utilize the word, but clearly Christ was always moved with this compassion when he encountered those who suffered. And he acted in their behalf. The pattern of his mortal ministry dramatizes emphatically for us the “manner of men” we ought to be if we intend to be his disciples.

Tell No Man

Christ’s ministry was the ministry of a teacher.

If you were to ask, “What did Jesus have as an occupation?” there is only one answer. He was a teacher. …The Gospels say so. Of some ninety times He is addressed in the four Gospels, sixty times He is called “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], p. 17.)

His mission was to teach the gospel and thereby establish the Kingdom. To accomplish that, at the onset of his ministry, Christ surrounded himself with disciples who would obey him and serve him, and who could succeed him in the work of his ministry when he was gone. Often throughout the few years allotted him for his mission, Christ sought isolation for himself and time alone with these men, in order that he might more effectively prepare himself and them for the events to come. (See Matthew 8:18; Matthew 10; Matthew 17:1; Matthew 24:3 through Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:30-31; Mark 6:45-46; etc.)

But it was always with the utmost difficulty that Jesus found seclusion. Once word of his power began to circulate, he was mobbed in almost every locality.

After the feeding of the five thousand, Christ sent his disciples by boat to Bethsaida, and he went into a mountain to pray. (Mark 6:45~46.) He then walked on the sea, joined his disciples, and went with them to Gennesaret.

And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they [the inhabitants of this land] knew him,

And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was.

And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole. (Mark 6:54-56.)

Christ went from Gennesaret to the borders of Tyre and Sidon, “and entered into an house and would that no man should know it; but he could not be hid.” (Mark 7:24.) And so it was, from town to town and from city to city: the multitudes assembled and appealed to him, and “he could not deny them; for he had compassion on all men.” (Mark 7:22-23, JST, emphasis added.)

He could not deny them because of his compassion. If he had been willing to pass by sickness and suffering in silence, the multitudes would have diminished, and his time alone and with his disciples would have multiplied.

Still Christ’s priorities were clear. The message mattered more than the marvelous works. Thus he frequently implored the recipients of his miracles to “tell no man.” In Mark 1:41, Jesus, “moved with compassion,” cleansed the leper, and then said to him, “See thou say nothing to any man.” (Mark 1:44). If the Savior had simply left the man alone, no such message would have been necessary. But Christ came to combat misery. He could not ignore it.

While Jesus was in his home in Capernaum, two blind men came and begged him to have mercy on them. He healed them “and straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.” Of course they could not do that. Everyone who knew them would notice the change, and these recipients of the miracle would have to answer questions. They “spread abroad his fame in all that country.” (Matthew 9:28-31.) Again, there is an easier way to ensure that no one knows of the miracles, and that is to forbear performing them, but this the Lord could not do. His compassion impelled him to reduce the misery of the people whenever he found it.

In Matthew 12:14-16 we are told that “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; and charged them that they should not make him known.”

“Please,” he seems to be saying, “give me respite from healing bodies so that I can concentrate on healing souls.” And yet there is never a time in the Gospels when Christ turns away from one who is in pain or misery and seeks his intervention. At times Christ acts without any invitation at all, simply because of his willingness to oppose misery and provide joy.

The Widow of Nain

The day after healing the servant of the helpful and worthy centurion, Christ traveled south from Capernaum toward Mount Tabor and the small village of Nain set on its slopes. He was followed, the record says, by many of his disciples and a crowd of others. This occurred but a brief time after the healing of the leper (Luke 5:12~16) when Jesus instructed him “to tell no man,” but now, followed by a multitude, and meeting in the way a multitude from Nain who were participating in a funeral service, Jesus was moved by only one consideration: the grief of a widow whose only son had died.

There is no indication that she even recognized the Savior. If she did, she made no appeal to him for assistance, for amidst all of his miracles, the Savior had never yet raised the dead.

But moving at the head of his following, Christ encountered the widow, bereft of her only son, consumed by a mother’s grief. “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” (Luke 7:13.)

He touched the bier, and those that carried it stopped, waiting, wondering. The lane swarmed with people; those who had seen the miracles of the Savior, or had heard the rumor and word of them. If Jesus truly desired a measure of anonymity from the crush and confusion that so often accompanied him, this was not the time for a miracle of this magnitude. But there was that matter of his compassion . . .

“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.” (Luke 7:14,15.)

Who can describe the joy of their embrace, or the reverent awe with which they watched as the Savior moved through the gate and into the city?

What Manner of Men?

We must now return to the question with which we began: “What manner of men ought [we] to bel” We ought to be like the Savior was. We ought to oppose misery and supplant it with joy whenever and wherever we can. Nothing less will do.

“But what difference can I make,” we ask, and the question is a sobering one. We inhabit a world saturated with misery.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland related the following in his talk in the October 2014 General Conference:

A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach, she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. “What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,” she would say on another occasion. “But if we didn’t do it, the ocean would be one drop less [than it is].”9 Soberly, the journalist concluded that Christianity is obviously not a statistical endeavor. He reasoned that if there would be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety and nine who need no repentance, then apparently God is not overly preoccupied with percentages. (Ensign, November 2014, p. 40.)

Confronted with the scope of need in the world, how can we make a difference? Two answers suggest themselves: First, we can care. Numbers mean nothing here. Any heart soft enough can stretch to accommodate a multitude. Are there three or four billion souls in the world whose lives are infected with some sort or misery? We can care about them and pray for them and love them. And if another billion are added, we can care for those too. And second, we can serve where we are.

This is what I am called to do . . . I must help whomsoever asks for my help. That’s my duty: to help other people with the problems in their lives. Not that you could do everything. [The world] was full of people in need of help and there had to be a limit. You simply could not help everybody; but you could at least help those who came into your life. That principle allowed you to deal with the suffering you saw. That was your suffering. Other people would have to deal with the suffering that they, in their turn, came across (Alexander McCall Smith: Morality for Beautiful Girls).

“There are millions who suffer,” Peter might have said to the Savior as they stopped to heal a man diseased. “There are lepers on every hand. Healing this man won’t make any difference.” And the Savior might have responded, “But this man came into my life. I will do what I can.”

There are millions of widows and orphans and criminals and the hungry and sick abound and children cry in the darkness and do not understand. Most of that will continue, at least until the Millennium, no matter what we do. But even if we can do nothing else, we can care about all of them, and we can serve where we are. We can ensure, to the extent that God has given us the means and ability to ensure, that there are none who hunger in our neighborhoods, that there are no widows or orphans who suffer in need and silence because no one notices; that there are no friends or associates who abide in any kind of misery that could be alleviated by our assistance. To that extent, at least, we can be like the Savior.


This article is adapted from chapter 3 of the author’s book, Misery and Joy.