By Randy Roper, preaching minister
April 15, 2021
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5).
Philippians 2 is one of those passages that doesn’t just stomp on toes, it cuts straight to the heart. Paul’s instructions and the Christ hymn he includes (2:6-11) should be carefully contemplated by genuine disciples of Jesus.
Every phrase, every sentence, every directive is an appeal to humbly look outside ourselves and see others. Not to see their flaws or their faults, but to see their true value, and to convey that value through our words and actions.
Looking outside ourselves can be difficult. Many of us suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness. Put another way, we have a condition in which close objects (namely self) appear clearly, but distant objects (namely others) are blurred. We struggle to see beyond self—to look beyond our own viewpoints, experiences, values, beliefs, freedoms, desires and needs.
Having the mind of Christ, as Paul instructed, means feeling what others feel and seeing what they see. It means having an orientation toward others. As Paul put it, we value others above ourselves and look to their interests above our own.
Jesus constantly cared about others. He personified empathy. He knew what it was like to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When his friends mourned the death of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” with them (John 11:35). When he encountered a man not willing to trade worldly wealth for discipleship, Jesus was surely disappointed, but he still “looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). Jesus truly is the high priest who empathizes and sympathizes with us (see Hebrews 4:15).
Do you have the mind of Christ?
Empathy was one of the interesting variables I studied in my dissertation research. In a nutshell, I discovered that while empathy does, in fact, mitigate aggressive behavior and contribute to positive actions, empathy isn’t necessarily easy to activate in individuals. Other studies have shown there are many variables that affect our willingness to show empathy.
I read an article recently that cited emotional exhaustion as one of the barriers to showing empathy. That is, when our emotional energy tank is running on empty, we may find it more difficult to express empathy or compassion to others.
That phrase got my attention. Does anyone else feel emotionally drained from the events and fallout of the past year? Maybe that explains why there seems to be so little empathy and so much volatility these days. We are exhausted.
Our emotional reserves are depleted, leaving little or nothing left to invest in others. To hear others. To walk with others. To feel for others.
To compound the situation, many of us have been somewhat isolated from others due to quarantine efforts and safety precautions. Less social interaction may have dulled our ability to see others. As the saying goes, “Out sight, out of mind.” Maybe our empathy muscles have atrophied over time.
Emotional exhaustion and empathetic atrophy.
Most of us probably haven’t thought in these terms, and maybe some of us don’t want to admit it, but the diagnosis may be spot on. If so, our ability or willingness to walk alongside others in compassion and understanding may have diminished.
Scroll back up and reread the passage from Philippians 2. Resist the urge to point out, in your own estimation, who needs to hear this teaching, and just ask yourself some important questions: How am I doing with the things mentioned in the passage? Am I putting others’ interests in front of my own? Am I valuing other people’s perspectives and needs above my own? Am I reflecting the mind of Christ?
Let today be a day of renewal. A time to start flexing your empathy muscles. A time to look outside yourself and refocus on Jesus so you can focus on others.
Will you join me in humbly asking God to nurture in us a spirit of empathy? It’s so hard to see others when we either can’t or won’t look beyond self. Now is not the time to build walls and draw lines. Now is the time to scale walls and cross lines so we can feel for and with each other.
Now is the time to stand together.
Grace & Peace,