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Empathy

Romans 12v15-16

12th July 2019

We've been thinking about Paul's encouragement to love everybody, in Romans 12:9-14. How does that work out in practice? It must include loving people who are going through a time of extreme emotion:

Romans 12v15
Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn.

In the light of verse 14, which exhorts us to bless those who persecute us, surely this includes our enemies. We should rejoice with our enemies who rejoice, and mourn with our enemies who mourn (when they allow us near enough to do so) as well as with our friends.

If your next door neighbour kept you up all night with a loud party until five o'clock, and the next morning, his car won't start, do not snigger. Pray for his car to start. Really love those who don't really love you. And your unkind, thoughtless neighbour will, sooner or later, experience profound loss of a loved one, or a job, or his health. You might be the only genuinely loving person he knows. He will need you.

And some very unpleasant people are behaving badly because they need you. I recently read this: "The children who need love the most, ask for it in the least loving of ways". If a child is being really obnoxious, it's often because he needs more love, not because he needs more criticism. And that's true for adults as well. Now and again, you do have to ask people to stop behaving badly, but what people need is love, not criticism.

The one thing Christians can offer is love. We want to offer wisdom, but people don't want or need wisdom nearly as much as they want love. We must start with love.

Your unkind, thoughtless neighbour may one day experience joy, over a promotion, or a birth, or a marriage. He may experience joy over something really unimportant, like the result of a football match. And he will need someone to rejoice with. No matter how much he's hurt you, don't refuse to celebrate with him. It might be the start of a real friendship.

To be able to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, we must be able to see things from the other person's perspective. Love is not just making people cups of tea and driving them to the hospital. It's getting inside their brains and seeing what saddens them, and what frightens them, and what excites them, and empathising. "Empathy" is a very trendy word, but it's a good word. Help others to know you love them by showing them that you understand how they feel.

If someone is rejoicing, don't try to calm them down. Dance with them. If someone is mourning, don't try to cheer them up. Cry with them. Because that's what they need. They need another human being who feels whatever it is they're feeling.

And Paul says:

Romans 12v16a
Live in harmony with one another.

Churches that are not in harmony with one another don't do any good. We invest huge amount of time, effort and money in our local church because the local church is important. The world needs the church. Without the church, the world will never hear the gospel, they will never find Jesus. And the best way to mess up local church is to refuse to live in harmony with your brothers and sisters. Pick fights. Tell them they're getting it wrong again. That'll ruin church. But if you want to reach the lost, if you want to glorify God, if you want to get the Gospel out, be one in heart and mind with each other, even when the other person isn't quite as smart as you are. Empathise with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Whenever you can, do things their way, for harmony's sake.

Romans 12v16b
Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

In my church, we're all of low position. None of us is very posh. It's easy for us to be humble, because we've got a lot to be humble about. But if you were born into money or status or influence, please resist the temptation to be proud about it. Never think you're better than someone else. More to the point, never think they're worse than you. Always be willing to associate with anybody, because they need Jesus as much as you do, and you need Jesus as much as they do.

A healthy church is a harmonious church. And any one individual Christian with a bad attitude can spoil it. Don't be that person.