“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:2).
Because we too are human beings, God makes it possible for us to empathize with others who might be enduring hardship.
The Apostolic Confession, an ancient church confession, says, “If any Christian is condemned for Christ’s sake to the mines by the ungodly, do not overlook him, but from the proceeds of your toil and sweat, send him something to support himself, and to reward the soldier of Christ.” You can see from this quote that the early church took seriously its responsibility to help people who were suffering persecution. To obtain money to free a fellow believer, some early Christians even sold themselves into slavery.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever have to face such extreme measures. But we can definitely learn from the heart attitude that prompted such an action. The point is, we should do whatever we can to understand what others are going through. We don’t necessarily have to experience the same starvation, imprisonment, or harsh treatment that they are enduring in order to sympathize. Being human—“in the body,” as today’s verse says—and suffering our own hurts and hungers should be enough incentive for us to help others.
You can have loving empathy for someone in at least three ways. First, you can simply “be there” as a friend to encourage the other person when he is in trouble.
A second way to show empathy is by giving direct help. The Philippians shared with the apostle Paul in his affliction by financially supporting his ministry in other places (Phil. 4:14-16). In this way they also encouraged him spiritually.
Third, you can give empathy through prayer. Paul’s closing words to the Colossians, “Remember my imprisonment” (Col. 4:18), were an appeal for prayer. It was the only means remaining by which the church could effectively support him.
If we have Christ’s example, who is not “a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15), how can we possibly ignore the hurts of others, especially those of fellow believers? Instead, sincere empathy should be a regular part of our service for the Lord.
Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for a greater alertness and sensitivity to those you know who might be hurting.
For Further Study
Based on the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10:29-37, what are the essential attitudes and actions of a good neighbor?
From Strength for Today by John MacArthur