"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
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Polls on the BBC regularly suggest that the nations favourite poem is "If…" by Rudyard Kipling though there are some indications that this may be changing.
The poem evokes the stoicism of Victorian Britain — it is a celebration of that stereotypical English "stiff upper lip" attitude to life. We like the poem because we still seem to admire the ideas that it displays.
A couple of its more famous lines are written on the wall of the players’ entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon:
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…"
The poem ends with the words:
"you’ll be a Man, my son."
In Kipling's thought world then a real man is emotionally unaffected by what goes on round about him. A real man is somehow aloof and detached.
Our own society has been much influenced by such thinking. For many years it has been frowned upon for a man to cry in public for example and we have taught our boys that "Big boys don't cry".
But is this as it should be? How are Christians called to live out their lives of discipleship?
Paul in ch.12 of Romans has turned from a detailed description of Christian doctrine to write about what kind of effect such teaching ought to have upon Christian living. Let me remind you once more that Paul is not here telling us how to become a Christian – that has been covered in the earlier chapters of his letter – but rather how, having become a Christian, a person should now live.
The words of our text are simple and straightforward this morning – let me read them again to you before we proceed to think some more about them:
Rom.12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
Commenting on this verse Stuart Olyott has written:
"You should not have a cool detachment from other people's joys and sorrows, but fully share in them. Take them on your heart as if they were your own."
The Christian's life is to be dominated by love – Jesus emphasised this when he insisted that the greatest commands of the law were those concerned with love – love for God and love for one's neighbour. He also made it clear that love was to characterise his followers as they related to one another:
It is not possible how oneself constantly aloof and to love at the same time. As another older poet put it:
"No man is an island,
Entire of itself…"
So, Paul writes, since the Christian has been renewed by God's grace and has benefited so wonderfully from God's love he is in turn to be involved in the lives of others. In context there is a primary reference to his fellow believers – the Christian has a responsibility towards other Christians. However this does not mean that he is free to adopt a different pattern of behaviour towards those who do not believe, after all Jesus taught his disciples how they were to behave:
Mt.5:44 + Lk.6:27 "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,"
No Christian is, then, to detach himself from others, either from their joys or their sorrows, but rather he is to enter into them, actively participating in them.
Perhaps before going any further we should say that this is not be taken as a "busybody's charter". Some people are naturally more private and more reserved than others. If they prefer to keep their joys and sorrows to themselves it is not our task to try to wheedle it out of them.
What we must do is to ensure that we are ready and willing to enter into another's joys and sorrows when do encounter them. I wonder whether sometimes people share what they well consider their vulnerabilities to us because they think we're not genuinely concerned about them. Our indifference – real or perceived – is not a virtue!
Easy to say – is it easy to do?
The fact that Paul wrote to the Romans telling them about the need to live this way suggests that it is not obvious that Christians will get this right!
If you were to stop now and to take a good look at yourself, how would you rate your performance? Some of us will find that this comes more easily to us than it does to others – our temperament can help or hinder us – but temperament can't be used as a cop-
I wonder which do you find easier to do – is it easier to rejoice with those who rejoice or to weep with those who weep?
As Christians we are called to do both.
What are some of the reasons that make might make this hard for us?
We are by nature self-
We may not be sufficiently confident in God and so try to protect ourselves in a little isolated cocoon.
We may well experience a certain amount of envy/jealousy – though we don't like to admit it!
According to Paul in his letter to Titus living lives dominated by envy was the common lot of the unconverted man and while radical changes have been brought about in the Christian's life nevertheless old habits die hard:
Titus 3:3 "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another."
What a changed lifestyle he calls for in Christians in his letter to the Romans!
We may find envy lurks deep within and surfaces when someone else is rejoicing. Instead of sharing wholeheartedly in his joys we may find ourselves asking why such blessings why such success was afforded to that person but not to me! If we do not deal with envy we will find it nigh on impossible to rejoice in anything other than a hypocritical manner.
Pride may well also play a role if we are not careful. Do we rejoice more easily with someone who has perhaps has followed our advice or looked to us for help? Do we rejoice in the success of those who have rejected our counsels or turned to others for help?
Pride can also reveal its presence when things go badly for someone else causing him/her grief. Do we find ourselves thinking something along these lines: "they brought it on themselves" and "I didn't bring it on myself".
It can be very easy to develop some wrong attitudes.
When some else is rejoicing because of blessings bestowed isn't it easy to feel somehow disappointed that it didn't happen to me. We may acknowledge the graciousness of Almighty God but still wonder what they have done to deserve the blessings they're enjoying. Yes, we may acknowledge God's graciousness but still feel that we have done more to deserve blessing than others!
We can even find ourselves deep down rejoicing over the mishaps of others as if somehow their misfortunes are a judgment passed upon them, passed perhaps because they didn't do things our way.
As Christians we are to take ourselves in hand when we discover these unworthy attitudes growing within us. The type of weeping and rejoicing with others that is commended is not that of the hypocrite who merely plays a role but feels nothing, cares nothing, experiences nothing.
A Closer Look at Rejoicing
Rejoicing is a hallmark of true religion in the Bible being something that is required of God's people in both the OT and the NT.
Deut.12:12 "And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God,"
Phil.4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice."
And in Jesus series of parables on the subject of lostness – the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Sons (The Prodigal Son) – rejoicing is a prominent theme with others being invited to join in it:
Lk.15:6 "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’"
Lk.15:9 "And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’"
Lk.15:32 "It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."
It is in the context of these parables that Jesus declared that there was joy amongst the angels when a sinner was saved.
If you want to look at a good example in the Bible of the type of entering into the joy of another, then look no further than the Elizabeth and the birth of her son John the Baptist:
Lk.1:58 "And her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her."
But all the time you are rejoicing don't forget that this world is passing away. Don't allow the joys and benefits of this world so to occupy you that you have no time left for laying up treasure in heaven.
A Closer Look at Weeping
When it comes to the way we live our lives as Christians we probably give less thought to weeping than we do to rejoicing. Yet weeping, the expression of genuine and real sorrow, is a very real part of our human experience. And so we should not be surprised to find that the Bible has something to say to us about the expression of our sorrow in tears.
Job's sorrows led his friends to weep with him – their weeping with him was way more honourable and helpful than their subsequent counsel would be!
David in the Psalms described how he sought to sit with those who suffered:
In turning to the NT we find Jesus too weeping with friends before a grave. This is an interesting episode. Jesus knew full well what he was going to do. He knew he was going to restore Lazarus to life – weeping would soon be turned to joy. In such circumstances we might have expected him to reason with them, explaining why they didn't need to mourn. But that is not what he did! Instead he wept!
Most of us, I imagine, try to shield ourselves from pain and we don't find it easy to deal with the pain of others. We are fearful that we won't be able to do or to say anything to help and being reduced to that condition is itself painful for us and so we shy away. But that is not the Christian way. Paul does not tell the Christians in Rome to provide answers for those who weep he simply says "Weep with them."
This is what real Christian living is all about.
Do you notice how practical it all is?
Do you see how real it is? No pretence is made that life is fine all the time – human existence is made up of both joys and sorrows and the Christian is called upon to live in this real world where people not only celebrate but where they also hurt deeply.
Our world today trivialises life – problems could be easily dealt with, things aren't that bad it tells us. While I was thinking about this message I saw some astoundingly empty advertising from the Government's Tax Office. This is what it said:
"I found inner peace when I did my Tax Return online before Jan.31st."
The inner peace of a grieving friend will not begin to be touched by he/she doing tax returns online. But then again their grief won't be helped much either by a stream of words, even well meant words, there are times when the very best thing to do is simply:
"to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep"
And may the Lord help us to do so.