Romans 12:15 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
Paul wrote Romans as an epistle to the Romans before he went to Romans, touching on many theological doctrines for the sake of the Roman Church that was struggling with the cultural divide between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles. Romans 12 has three main topics, the Christian lifestyle, gifts, and love. Roman 12:15, as part of the passage on love, discusses empathy, as Paul urges the Romans to share in each other’s misery and joy.
Let us first consider the requirements before one is able to genuinely rejoice or mourn together with others.
- a genuine concern about the other person, in other words, love for the the other.
- If you do not care, nothing would matter.
- first-hand knowledge of the affairs of the other, in other words, a close contact kept with the person.
- There is no way you can react if you don’t even know what has happened.
- a discerning mind that remains calm despite emotional circumstances
- to know what to rejoice in, the good and the praiseworthy, but not the sinful acts masked in a sheet of false righteousness.
- to know what is genuinely worth mourning, and not fall for the other’s self-pity.
Which is the hardest? Basically, you’ll need to know what has happened to the other person before you can discern, and usually, you’ll need to be interested in the other to be able to know what has happened. Jesus commands in John 13:34 – Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. In Romans 12:10 Paul asks us to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Note the weight of the word he used – ‘devoted’ – the words used here by Paul was used nowhere else in the Bible, a keen and deep affection, that of parent-child ties.
Analysis: Above yourself
A couple of verses before 15 says, be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. That could be applied in many situations, but let us try to look at its relevance to verse 15 – rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. What if at a time of suffering and hurt for you, you receive news that your good friend is getting married? Are you able to put down your misery and truly partake in his or her joy? What if you receive news of your good friend’s father’s demise on your wedding day? Are you able to put down your personal joy and truly partake in his or her grieving? To what extent should we honour somebody above ourselves? To what extent should we put aside ourselves? It’s a really troublesome thought. Do you abandon your wedding just to be there for your grieving friend? That’s kinda extreme, no?
I don’t know the answer, I’ve never met that specific situation before. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. This reminds us of Romans 12:4-5, where Paul describes the Church as one body. Perhaps when we try to seek for the answer to my earlier question, we can think of our neighbours as part of ourselves. What if a member of your family met with an accident on your wedding day? If that’s the case, your subsequent reactions will probably be easier to make – if it’s a serious accident, you’ll probably abandon the wedding (likely with great understanding from all parties involved); if it’s a minor accident, you may even continue the wedding after a little panic. Still, how many of us would do that for just any neighbour? That’s when point 1 from earlier comes into play again – your relationship with your neighbours.
There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance [Ecclesiastes 3:4]. When people we care about are in grief, are we able to be like Job’s three friends who, when they heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. [Job 2:11-13] Irregardless of the nasty conversation that went back and forth between the three friends and Job later on, they were genuinely grieving with Job in his time of misery. Regardless of the theological flaws of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, their empathy for a friend in suffering is something that we can all learn from.