Tuesday, February 23, 2016

NTDS (77): Empathy

Heb 13:3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. NIV

In the 13th chapter of Hebrews, the writer is summing up several areas of Christian behavior. He prefaces these with the general statement, “keep on loving each other as brothers.” He will then give many examples of what this love looks like.

The examples in verse three are particularly important, not because of the specific acts suggested, but because they delve into the attitude of our hearts when we attempt to be obedient to biblical instructions.

The writer shows us two areas of ministry that the church must be involved with. One is to remember (I believe he is speaking of remembering in prayer and in visitation), those who are in prison. In context, the prisoners spoken of here are most likely Christians that had been imprisoned for their faith.

That may not be on our heavy on our hearts, because we might not personally know anyone who has been incarcerated for their faith. Certainly though, we know that there are thousands of Christians around the world who face this kind of persecution.

We are also to include in our remembrance, those who are mistreated and suffering. This could be speaking specifically of the many Jewish believers who had been thrown out of their synagogues, excluded from doing business and ostracized from their communities for following Jesus, but I believe it also applies to all believers who are being mistreated. I am certain we can all think of people like that.

I think it is safe to say that when we hear of these situations, we might quickly offer up a prayer for them. That is good, but the author tells us that we need to do something more. In the first scenario, we are taught that as we remember those prisoners, we should picture ourselves in their place, as if we were in a cell with them. In the second, we should put ourselves in the position of one who is suffering. If it is one who has been shunned, think of yourself as being shunned. If it is physical suffering, think of yourself as one in physical pain.

What the writer is teaching us is that we need to  “empathize” with those who are suffering, especially those whose are suffering for their faith in Christ. Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings.”

Be honest, if you were in prison with another believer, do you think your prayer for comfort, peace and deliverance for them might be a little more fervent? If you were living on the streets, being ridiculed, going hungry, strictly because you confess Jesus Christ as Lord and another homeless believer came up to you and asked for prayer, do you think you might be a little more apt to entreat the Lord heartily for help, rather than just pass by? I know I would.

Empathy is one of the great qualities we seen in our Lord. Matt 9:36
says about Jesus, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
 Heb 4:15 tells us that, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Because Jesus lived among men, He could look upon them and place Himself in their situation. He was filled with compassion for their sufferings and continues to see us in the same way. We are told to have no less empathy, no less compassion than He had towards those who were suffering.

I am sure that most of us could say that we fall short in our ability to empathize with other people’s situations. That is, until we find our self in the same or similar circumstance. Then, all of a sudden our ability to empathize becomes much greater!  But God, by means of the Holy Spirit, can give us the empathy we need at all times, so that we may truly minister to people. That ministry blesses God because it comes from the heart, rather than from obligation.

I pray that God would help all of us, by the power of His Spirit, to have a heart of empathy for those who are suffering, in Jesus name, Amen.

God bless you,

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