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The Biblical Teaching On “Sympathy” (3)

“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Gal. 6:2

“If there be therefore any consolation (exhortation) in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the  Spirit, of any bowels and mercies; fulfill ye my joy that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”  Phil. 2:1, 2

We have now arrived unto our concluding essay on the fascinating theme:  sympathy-empathy.  As we ponder this deeply, spiritual psychological perfection in God through His Son in the church we are deeply aware that we have by no means exhaustively written.  We have merely pointed out what we consider the basic teachings of Scripture on this matter.  We trust that our readers have noticed we are attempting to trace the sympathy which is present in the hearts of the justified sanctified saints to Christ the Head of the Church and thus to the fountain of life, as we sing our Psalter #94:

“The fountain of eternal life, Is found alone with thee

And in the brightness of Thy light, We clearly light shall see.”

We trust that we have satisfied the request of the Beacon Lights’ staff in having given enough food for reflective thought on this great theme.  It can be further discussed and digested in our churches, societies and homes.  Yes, even in our High Schools.

Hence, we now conclude this short series on a more practical experiential level.

You will have observed I trust, that we captioned this article with two texts from the New Testament Scriptures, to wit, Galatians 6:2 and Philippians 2:1, 2.  In these the Holy Spirit causes Paul as the master builder to place the truth of Christian sympathy firmly and exactly on the Chief Cornerstone, Christ Jesus.  What is the a-b-c in our Christian conduct is that we fulfill the law of Christ!  Take your Bible and read such passages as Matt. 7:12-14; Matt. 22:37-40; John 13:33-35; I John 4:16-21.  In all these passages we see the deep bedded, rock bottom principle of Christian sympathy, yea, empathy for the brother or sister in Christ.

Before we proceed to elicit the relevant instruction from these passages we ought to notice that the terms sympathy and empathy are very closely related in meaning.  They are synonym, are they not?  But we ought also to notice that there is the term antipathy.

Concerning these terms just a few words are in order.  All these terms are of Greek derivation.  In fact they all have in them the term “patheo” to feel, to touch, and in the passive voice to be affected, suffer.  The Greek prepositions “sun” and “em” and “anti” show attitude.  Hence:  sympathy is to suffer, to feel with and empathy to feel in and antipathy to feel against with the intent to oppose or even supplant.

Now in our subject we ought to notice that these Scripture passages deal also with our sinful flesh, which is always anti the work of the Spirit in our hearts (Gal. 5:16, 17) against the Spirit; in fact, it is down against, as is evident from the Greek proposition “kata.”  The flesh lusts against the Spirit!  It is exactly at this point that we need to be exhorted unto the godly walk of Christian sympathy:  to bear each other’s burdens.

There are two things which I would point out to you dear reader.  The first is that we are each to be concerned with our “neighbor” as Jesus points out so rebukingly in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:33:  “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was:  and when he saw him he had compassion (bowels of mercy) on him.”  He did not know this neighbor, but he knew whose neighbor he was!

The second matter which we must take to heart is that although Paul does not designate any particular kind of burden, he does speak of these as being experiences in the life of the fellow saint which is a heavy weight upon the soul of our brother or sister, which indicates that he is in need of our assistance.  It calls for the very best in us, extreme effort on our part, self denial which oozed from our reaching love (I Peter 1:22).  Is this not the deep compassion of Christ as Jesus expresses this in Matt. 11:28-30?  And is such not the implication of Psalm 37:1-11?  Here we are to take up our light cross and follow Jesus, as the Cross-bearer touched with our sinful and awful burden of sin.

Besides, I would point out to you that these manifold burdens of the brother are put in a certain class as the burdens which God in His providential love sends to this brother as he does also to us.  The definite article (ta baree) is very meaningful.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, it is said.  We are not simply to assist the brother, but we are to make the brother’s quota of burdens our responsibility.

Let us pursue this just a bit.  Let us notice that our bearing of the burdens of the brother is to be a total concern.  It must be a sympathy whereby we too are touched with the feeling of the brother’s weaknesses as he on bended knee seeks to cope with his burdens, be it the physical, mental, psychological or spiritual.  For love of the brother is a spiritual debt.  It is what Paul enjoins in Rom. 13:8:  “Owe no man anything, but to love one another!”  Yes, he that loveth another has fulfilled the law!!  This fulfilling the law is in this case the law of Christ.  It is the law which Christ came to fulfill by His Spirit in our hearts.  It is the law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2) which has made us free from the law of sin and death.  Hallelujah, what a liberty!

When Paul writes the fourfold “if” in Phil. 2:1 he is writing about this law of Christ as fulfilled in our heart by the Spirit.  See II Cor. 3:1-3.  If I can appeal to this newness of Christ in you, written not with ink on tables of stone, but written with the Spirit of the living God, then fulfill my joy in that ye be likeminded, all setting your spiritual affections and conscious spiritual endeavors to pay the one debt to your brother, which you pay in the coin of love and still ever owe.  O, blessed obligation of love.  A love debt which will be such that Christ’s law will be our endless blessedness and joy in heaven forever!!

Now if there be that law in your heart, Philippian saints, in which hearts God has begun a good work, then there will be love unbounding.  Yes, that will be the fellowship which the Spirit of Christ has wrought in your hearts, and there will be bowels of mercies.

Without mentioning the term “empathy” a term which the Bible does not employ in sixty six books of the Holy Book, here we see an empathy unlike any other.  Here we in love understand perfectly the heartaches, the sorrows, the disappointments, the pitfalls and the great sins of the saints for we have been there.  Daily we experience them.  And we are not on the outside with the wicked world full of hatred and antipathy toward the struggling saints, but we make, under God, their needs our care.

Here we see the image of God restored in the unborn children of God.  It is an infallible evidence that we are indeed Christ’s disciples.  And all men shall see that we are such.  Our sympathy-empathy is the new commandments of Christ in our heart.