Rejoice With Them That Rejoice
How To Cultivate Sympathy

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 66b of 83

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15).

[We have been considering one of the apostle Paul’s directives on how we may deepen the bond of love that unites the people whom Christ purchased with His blood. We have thus far considered what exactly it means to rejoice and to weep with one another. In this second instalment of our study, we must consider how we may cultivate true sympathy so that our obedience to Paul’s instruction may not be merely superficial but flow out of genuine love even as Christ loves us. —JJL]

2.   How can we Cultivate Sympathy?

To cultivate genuine sympathy in joy and sorrow, there are two things that you must carry out, namely: Think, and do.

What are you to think? Here are five things for you to think about.

a. First of all, it is needful for you think about how you would feel if you were in the position of your brother or sister in the Lord.

The apostle to the Hebrews exhorts us to do so. He says in Hebrews 13:3—

“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

When we remember those who are bound, we must put ourselves in their shoes and think of the darkness and inconvenience of the cells. We must think of the chains, the torture and the deprivation they experience.

When we remember those who are suffering affliction in the body, we must think of what it would be like if we were suffering the same thing in our body.

And so, if you would weep with someone who has just lost a loved one, then you must think of what it would be like if it were you who have lost the loved one. Remember how Jesus wept (Jn 11:35)? Why did he weep when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the grave? Surely, He was weeping in sympathy with Mary and Martha!

Let us learn to do the same. Put yourself in the shoes of the person and think for a moment. If you are in his or her situation, would you be happy? Or would you be weeping in your heart?

This exercise may seem trivial, but let us remember that we are all made different. For example, you may think it is a small thing to fail your examination because you are used to failing; but it may not be so for someone else. She may be deeply grieved just because she did not score an ‘A’.

Or you may think that it is no big deal for you to have your father say thank you to you; but for someone else, it may be the most exciting thing to happen!

Therefore, always try to think about how someone would feel in a particular situation that providence brings about. And then seek to enter into his joy or his grief.

b. Secondly, in order to be sympathetic to the brethren in the church, you must think of them as members of your own family. Remember that the church is not just a gathering of people. It is a family. You may not see each other that often, but you are a family; and you are to treat one another as family members.

Therefore, the apostle Paul says:

“Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; 2 The elder women as mothers; the younger [women] as sisters, with all purity.” (1 Tim 5:1-2)

Now, because it is a reality that we are not so close to each other due to the little amount of time we spend with each other, it is necessary for us to make a deliberate effort to treat each other as family members.

I believe such an attempt will contribute to developing sympathy towards one another. Therefore, think of what you would be expected to do if it was your family member involved.

Someone in the church is hospitalised. Does it matter to you? But if he is your brother whom you love, does it not matter to you more? Will you not go to visit? Will it not be expected of you to visit?

A couple in the church has just had a newborn child. You may not know them very well and you are tempted to do nothing and say nothing? But if they are your brother and sister-in-law, does it not matter to you more? Will you not go and visit, or will you not at least go up to congratulate the couple and share in their joy for a moment? Will you not be expected to do so?

Such expectations are sometimes good, for they help us to relate to one another in the church. And make no mistake: God does expect us to relate to one another as members of the same family!

c. Thirdly, in order to cultivate sympathy, you must think of your own sinfulness. Paul says:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal 6:1).

Unless you know your own sinfulness, you can’t weep with them that weep, especially when the weeping is due to some faults.

Someone is mourning because he fell into a particular sin, which has in turn let to his being isolated by his family. How do you weep with him unless you know that you could have fallen into the same sin yourself?

Only when you agree that it could have been you, will you be kept from self-righteousness as you talk to someone who is weeping for sin.

d. Fourthly, if you would cultivate sympathy in joy and sorrow, you must think about what the Lord Jesus Christ did for you. You deserve nothing but God’s wrath and curse, but the Lord Jesus suffered and died for you in order to reconcile you to God. He not only empathised with you, but took upon himself your guilt and was punished on your behalf.

That being so, would you not seek to do as He did, to lay down your life for the brethren?

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3:16) says the apostle John.

Only by doing so, will you be able to relate with one another with the compassion of our Lord which was exhibited as He spoke to the adulterous woman (Jn 8:1-11) or to the immoral woman who washed His feet with her tears.

e. Fifthly, you must cultivate sympathy by thinking of practical ways in which you can show you are weeping with them that weep and rejoicing with them that rejoice. Remember that sympathy is not only an emotional response, but a choice of the will.

Though you may not feel like weeping with someone or rejoicing with him, you can still do it. Otherwise Paul cannot command it. Indeed, often the feelings of love, compassion and empathy for others, grow out of our choice to act in a way that edify and benefit them.

What I am saying is: Sometimes you may not feel like rejoicing or weeping with someone, but if you would do something, the feelings would follow.

The word of God is always the seed and root of obedience. Feelings are sometimes the lower stem, but more often than not, it is the flower of obedience.

Feeling is to obedience what a little dog on a leash is to its owner walking him. Sometimes it walks ahead, and sometimes it trails behind.

Therefore, think of what you can do to sympathise with your brethren. Think of what you can do to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Will it be a hug? Will it be a high five? Will it be a word of encouragement? Will it be a phone call? Will it be a card? Will it be a gift? Will it be a visit? Will it be an offer to help? Will it be actually lending a hand? “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) says Paul.

So then the first thing that you must do to cultivate sympathy and compassion is to think. Think about how you would feel in the situation; think about what you are expected to do if he were a family member; think about your own sinfulness; think about what the Lord Jesus did for you and would have done in the situation; and think about what practical things you can do to show your sympathy.

You must be transformed by the renewing of your mind, therefore you must think if you wish to rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep.

But not only need we to think to cultivate genuine sympathy, we need secondly, to Do. What are we to do? Here are five things we ought always to do, apart from the practical things that we should be thinking to do.

a. First, we must ask after the welfare of one another. Not everyone is comfortable to share his or her joys and sorrow openly, therefore if you would rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, you must be prepared to ask after your brethren.

Remember to ask each other “How are you?” But do not ask and then walk away as if “How are you?” is a greeting. No, no; you must ask and you must listen.

Someone once told me of how another person asked him: “How are you?” He said “Not good!” But the enquirer simply said: “Glad to hear that” and walk off. What was the problem? The problem is that many people use “How are you?” as a form of greeting, not as a means of showing concern. This is sad! Let us learn to ask after each other out of genuine concern. And let us listen to the answer carefully.

Conversely if you are asked “How are you?” you must learn to answer as honestly as possible. If every time you are asked “How are you?” you say ‘fine,’ then you can see how this whole exercise of asking after one another would become meaningless.

But now, take note that I am not saying that if someone says “I am fine,” that you should immediately reply “You are not telling the truth!” That would be extremely hurtful! What you need to do is to learn to ask more questions to show genuine concern.

b. But secondly, apart from asking we must learn to expressed our sympathy in words. Sympathetic weeping and rejoicing must not only be in the heart, or else it will contribute nothing to the bond of love. It must be expressed in words.

The apostle Paul sets a good example in this respect for we see how often he tells the church he wrote to about his love for them. For example, he told the church at Philippi “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:8).

c. And thirdly, we must pray for those who share with us their joys and sorrows. Whenever someone shares with you his burden or joy, one very appropriate thing to do, would be to bow down with him in prayer.

This can be tremendously encouraging, and so we must not be shy to do so. In fact, we should learn to pray over the phone if necessary.

Have you, beloved brethren, rejoiced with those who rejoice in your prayers? The apostle Paul tells the Philippians, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil 1:3).

Shall we not learn from his example? Have you prayed for and with those who weep? If the Lord Jesus called upon the disciple to pray with Him in His hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:37), should we not learn to pray with and for those who sorrow?

d. Fourthly, to weep with them that weep, or to rejoice with them that rejoice, we must seek to relate to one another in such a way as to lighten their burden and heighten their joy.

Is someone sorrowing? You must seek to share his burden by dealing with him gently and tenderly as our Lord did (cf. Mt 12:20)! You must be very careful not to be like Job’s friends by rubbing salt to his wounds.

Is someone rejoicing? You must seek to double her joy by rejoicing with her. You must be very careful not to dampen her joy by callous remarks.

e. But fifthly and finally, to cultivate sympathy of sorrow and joy in the church, we must learn to share. We must learn to share our burdens and our joys.

A burden shared is halved and a blessing shared is doubled. Joy divided is doubled, sorrow divided is halved.

If you want others to share, you must learn to share. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Mt 7:12).

If you do not share your burdens and joys with others, do not expect others to share with you. Because if you never share your burdens and joys with others then, others will wonder if you would think it is burdensome to listen to their sharing!

And if no one in the church is willing to share his burdens and his joys, we will never learn to weep with them that weep and to rejoice with them that rejoice.

So may I encourage you, dear reader, to share your joys and to share your burdens? I know some things are very private and hard to share about. But learn to share as much as you can. Begin by sharing with those you know better. Then share with those who ask you how you are. Then, if you are able to, learn to share when you are gathered for prayer with others.

I know that you may feel very vulnerable if you share your burdens and joys openly. But we are a family. We ought not to feel this way.

You may perhaps have shared your joys and burdens in the past, but the effect had not been altogether encouraging. No one seemed to care about your good news. No one seemed to be bothered to pray for you or to share in your burdens.

But let us try to put that behind and let us start again to cultivate sympathy in the church by doing what we can! We have a duty to share our joys and sorrows. Telling the church of the blessings we received is a good way. We have a duty to share in the joys and sorrows of others.

Remember that we are joined together as a family and as the body of Christ. The apostle Paul says:

25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor 12:25-26).

We must no more be private Christians. There are no private Christians. Our life must affect the lives of others in the church; and the lives of others in the church must affect us.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim