1 Peter 3:8—Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Yesterday we discussed the need for local churches to be places of unity. Next, Peter commands us to “have . . . sympathy.” This is a command to feel what others feel. This is an intentional decision to step into the feelings of another and feel them as your own. This is what Paul has in mind in Romans 12:15 when he writes “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” You’re stepping into the feelings of another person and you’re adopting those feelings as your own.
But here’s the thing: if you’re a member of a local church, you’re going to have a lot to rejoice about and a lot to weep about. You just might find yourself like Paul who said in 2 Corinthians 6:10 he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
This is dancing at a wedding and weeping at a funeral in the same month. It’s rejoicing in the first steps of a baby while mourning the terminal diagnosis of a longtime member. It’s celebrating with one member who just got a promotion while weeping with the one who just got laid off. It’s praising God with the sister on one side who is growing leaps and bounds in her walk with Jesus while your brother on the other side is trapped in chains he feels he cannot break. It’s welcoming a new family into membership while you grieve over the excommunication of another. It’s celebrating with one wife when her husband finally repents and believes, while you keep praying for another wife who’s husband will not believe.
So how do have this kind of sympathy for one another? Let me suggest two steps. First, you have to know one another. You cannot step into the feelings of another person if you don’t know that person. Church, this is why we often say your Membership Directory is your second most important book behind your Bible. These are the people that God has called you to love. You need to get to know them. This is why we’ve deliberately designed our Fellowship Groups in such a way that you’re not hanging out with the same group of people over and over again. We want you to be with people you don’t know well, and then after a few months and you’ve got to know them we want you to start all over again!
Here’s a piece of homework for you, PBC member. Get your directory and circle every person or family that you don’t know. Maybe it’s one, maybe it’s ten, maybe it’s forty. Circle those names and then make a plan to try to get to know one new person or family every month. Invite them to lunch after service. Have them over for dinner or dessert. Schedule a playdate with your kids. You cannot show sympathy for people you don’t know.
Here’s the second step to showing sympathy. If you want to step into the feelings of another person, you have to learn to bite your tongue. Here’s what I mean. The next time in Fellowship Group someone speaks up about the hard time they’re having with an annoying boss at work, what are we often tempted to do? Talk about the time we had a boss just like that! Or, if we suffer from “Tommy Topper Syndrome” we tell a story about the time we had it even worse! That sort of thing is a barrier to sympathy. Instead of stepping into the feelings of another person, we just point the spotlight back on us! So let’s learn to listen. Let’s learn to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
We should expect the local church to be a place of sympathy.