Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
This command is part of a long list of exhortations from Paul found in Romans 12. Contextually, all these statements are built around the theme of unity in the body of Christ, that we must all exercise our own spiritual gifts for the sake of the larger church. As the unified people of God, we must not only engage in these giftings, but also live out the corporate life of faith we have in a host of other ways. We must who hospitality; rejoice in hope; outdo one another in showing honor; and we must rejoice with those rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Very practical stuff here. Practical, but difficult, and not just because your personality might not be emotional. It’s difficult to truly rejoice with those who rejoice, and to truly weep with those who weep. A big part of the reason it’s so hard is because way in the back of our hearts, behind all the congratulatory smiles and the consolatory tears there lurks that little thought we’re too ashamed to own up to.
It’s the thought that…
- “I know you’re thrilled your church is growing but I bet it’s full of shallow people.”
- “I know your kids look perfect but I bet you’ve got a pile of dirty laundry in the back room.”
- “I know you think you’ve got problems but you should see what I’m dealing with.”
We slap high fives or buy the Hallmark card, but we aren’t really rejoicing or weeping, and that’s because somewhere down deep inside of us we compare the success or failure, the joy or pain, of a given person at a given time with our own. And ours is more. Or at least it should be.
We are, in other words, enslaved to ourselves, and that enslavement constrains us. We are shackled by our own comparisons and as a result, we are incapable of the true, gut-level, authentic emotion that comes with truly and purely being happy for someone, or truly and purely weeping with another. What can break these chains? What can unshackle us from ourselves for the sake of others?
It is only the gospel.
The gospel frees us from this compulsion. The reason the gospel frees us in this sense is because in the gospel, as Paul would say earlier in Romans 12, we find a renewal of our minds. Practically, that means our minds are renewed in the way we view other people.
- We no longer view them as threats to us.
- We no longer see them in competition with us.
- We no longer see them as tools to be used for our own pleasure and advancement.
And what’s left at the end, is just people. Men and women created in the image of God, in need of the same grace, and justified by the same Savior. And at that moment, when we see people for themselves, apart from what they might give or take from us, we are free to truly and completely love them. We can, at long last, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Michael Kelley is the Director of Discipleship at LifeWay, and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life