Sympathy: Feeling With Others, Not For Them

Young woman comforting her friend outdoors

Pastor Fredric E. Piepenbrink

When we sympathize with others, we are led into action, following Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us.

“Sympathy is cold to the relation of distant misery,” wrote Edward Gibbon. In contrast to this “cold” tendency in human behavior, Hebrews 13:3 gives us a third “good old godly guideline” to live by: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Leads to Sympathetic Action

In my school days, a family from church lost everything in a house fire. My church donated food, clothing, cash, and shelter.

Today we often think of sympathy as a feeling of sadness for others because of their situation. We feel what they are feeling, suffer what they are suffering. And that leads to action.

Paul expressed true spiritual sympathy when he wrote, “To the weak I became weak. . . . I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul sympathized with others by putting himself in their situations. It led him to preach the gospel.

Jesus wept with Lazarus’ sisters. Then he did something – he raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus exercised his action-oriented sympathy with the sick, frail, possessed, and blind. He “went through all the towns and villages, teaching. . . preaching the good news. . . and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

Demonstrates True Faith

Why does God want us to sympathize with others to the point that we feel their burdens and do something about it? Paul tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The law of Christ is the law of love. Jesus gave his disciples and us the commandment to love one another as he loved us.

Jesus not only taught this law; he exemplified it. In the ultimate act of sympathy, Jesus saw our condition of sin and put himself in our place. He suffered what we suffered, felt what we felt. To this day we have Jesus to sympathize with our weaknesses because he gave his life for our lives. He paid for our sins and suffered our hell on the cross. The law of love was at work in Jesus’ life, and we fulfill it when we believe in him and follow his example.

Recognized on Judgment Day

Remember what Jesus will say on Judgment Day: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” That’s our King’s free salvation, the inheritance of heaven by grace alone through faith in Jesus. Now comes the recognition of faith by actions of true sympathy, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, . . . . I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then Jesus concludes, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.” (Matthew 25:36-40). What a motivation for sympathizing with others and then doing something about it. For every time we do, we do it for Christ.


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