Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice; Weep with Those Who Weep
2 Thessalonians 1:3 | We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
What a joy it has been for me to watch your love for one another abound and grow in this season of trial. Like the furnace that burns the dross and leaves the precious metal, your godliness is showing, and it is beautiful. Now, I want to call on you to excel even more in your pure love for one another.
Romans 12:15 | Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
You are doing a great job at weeping with those who weep. You know what it means to enter into the sorrows of your fellow members and help carry their burdens, even in that uniquely quiet, Canadian way. You’re not showy about it. In fact, most of it I only hear about much later and usually secondhand—the best kind of gossip.
When members have suffered, you have cried with them, sent them text messages full of hope and empathy, written cards, delivered meals (a LOT of meals!), and done what might be best—prayed. I love being the member of a praying church. Prayer itself is a kind of declaration of faith. When we pray, we are actually spending our time seeking God on behalf of another, instead of just doing all those practical things. Oh, the practical things are great and important, but they are not most important. You seem to have that figured out.
I wonder if some of our strength at weeping with those who weep comes from living in the West? We are not lacking much, and our lives are comparatively easy. Perhaps our ability to weep with those who weep stems in part from our ability to tap into lots of resources with which to help? Or maybe it’s just our all-too-familiar experiences with suffering? None of us gets through life without troubles and trials. Either way, this church does a good job of weeping with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 | Rejoice with those who rejoice…
Now, this second bit of authentic love seems to me to be a bit more complex. To rejoice in someone else’s joy sounds great—until yet another girlfriend announces her engagement and you haven’t gone on a single date in three years. I mean, you are happy for her, you really are. But it’s not easy to enter into her joy.
Imagine being at a professional hockey game for one of those free giveaways, a really good giveaway like a new car, something you really want. And they call the Blue Seats (your color!), Section 321 (your section!), Row B (your row!), and, finally, Seat 32. But you are Seat 33. Does your heart soar with delight for the total stranger who’s been stealing your armrest all game? Are you overflowing with joy that he—not you—won the new car?
Rejoice with those who rejoice! He’s rejoicing. Are you?
I mean, if it had been a dude in the Red Seats, Section 481, well, that distance probably would have eased the disappointment. And that’s precisely my point. The closer people are to us makes our rejoicing with them more difficult.
We’re all experts at jealousy and envy. Isn’t it interesting how we don’t have to practice those in order to be good at them? We know how to want what others get and how to angrily hope they lose what they got, even if we never get it! Our deceitful hearts can even launch into full on “discovery mode,” searching out everything we can come up with that’s wrong with the “winner” in order to justify our hate and anger and disappointment.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
This really is the heart of love, isn’t it? When she gets engaged, when he wins the car, the loving heart looks with a bountiful eye and discovers deep happiness in the good of another. Love requires total self-forgetfulness and other-centeredness.
Romans 12:9 | Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Paul begins his grocery list of attributes of genuine love in Romans 12 with an odd pairing. He says that authentic love starts with a heart that actively despises evil and clings to what is good. In other words, before we can show our love outwardly, we have to pay attention to the focused affections of our heart. To put it starkly, if you are looking at pornography, you will have a harder time loving the saints. Pornography is evil. It must be utterly rejected and despised. You must wash the lust and sexual immorality out of your life like a surgeon scrubs her hands before surgery.
This makes sense because God is love. And all his acts toward his own flow out of this endless love. He loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to die for his people. Our self-existent, self-giving God gave all. One might say that to love is to want what is best for the other. More than that, it is to be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that best for the other.
If we are clinging to what is good—God, his Word, etc.—and rejecting outright what is evil—the world, our flesh, and the devil—then we will be in the right posture to look at the dude sitting too close and say, “Congratulations, man! You won the car!” And to say that with authentic joy in our hearts. You will be able to look at that newly engaged sister and say something similar. And mean it. Even though you might be a tad sad as you do.
Proverbs 14:10 | The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.
Did not our Lord himself know sorrow in the joy of laying down his life for us? On this side of the Jordan, all love seems to carry with it the scent of sorrow.
To really love another is a spiritual exercise. It requires massive internal commitment to kill every visible sin, to resist every temptation, to cling to every good, and to reject every evil. This love flows out of death: death to sin, to self, to the ways of Satan, and to our own sullied desires. But it’s beautiful to behold.
When you truly rejoice with the sister who is rejoicing, you’re declaring to the world there is a God and he is your ultimate satisfaction. Brothers and sisters, abound in this love! Grow in it. Seek it. Practice it. Risk failing at it in order to do it. Pray to God, trust his grace, and open wide your heart to your fellow brothers and sisters.
As you do, “the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV). And you will learn by experience that it really is better to give than to receive.
2 Corinthians 13:14 | The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
With much love for you,