Power of Empathy
Read This Week: 1 Corinthians 8
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:9, 11-12 NIV
One of the most undervalued and underused emotions in life is empathy. Empathy is knowing about someone and balancing that knowledge with love and wisdom. It is the ability to understand and sincerely relate to another’s feelings while handling them with discernment and compassion.
In 1 Corinthians 8, we see Paul addressing the more mature and stronger Christians in the church, those who had more knowledge, experience, and a better understanding of their freedom in Christ. He is talking to them about activities that they have the freedom to do but require empathy toward others that are weaker. Paul wants them to be empathetic in their liberty because others can’t handle it in the same way.
In essence, Paul is saying that in our lifestyles, activities, and freedoms, we should look out for one another because everything permissible to do is not always helpful. What is good for one person may be risky for someone else. He wants us to be mindful, not proud of our ability to do certain things in front of others.
Paul writes in verse 9, “Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” The phrase stumbling block means spiritual destruction. In other words, if we fail to empathize with someone in their weakness when we exercise our freedom, it could cause that person to be destroyed by our actions. That’s why freedom and empathy must go together. We simply can’t do what we want without considering others. The strong should always look out for those who are weaker.
Living as an empathic person means to follow the example of Jesus. He was empathetic to others. He understood them, felt their pain, and was sensitive to their situations. He was God but did not use his power to take advantage of or lead people astray. That’s why Paul said when we fail to regard others in our freedom and do damage to their lives, we not only sin against them but we sin against Christ.
Empathy and wisdom can prevent this from happening. Being empathetic to one another makes us more aware of our actions and how it will affect someone else. Having empathy in our knowledge and freedom is limiting ourselves for the sake of others and their spiritual wellness. Empathy can keep someone from being destroyed. Empathy is selfless. Empathy is powerful. Empathy is love.
We represent not only our selves, we represent God and the family of God, and people are watching. It’s so important to help others and not cause them to stumble by our actions. Leading by example, encouraging to do good, helping others to meet and get to know Christ is our good work, responsibility and true joy.
Lord, please help me to be a good example and inspire not for evil, but good.
This is such a good word and prayer for us all, Ken. It is a privilege out of God’s good pleasure to be examples of his love, grace, kindness, and peace. I know that I often fail to realize the weight, responsibility and as you said, the true joy of living for the glory of God and the good of others. It is our good work and reasonable service to Him and even the smallest of acts done in His name can make the biggest difference.
In 1st Corinthians 8, the following is what I heard from God. The goal of the Christian life is not knowledge but love. You all possess knowledge. Knowledge can puff you up, but love builds up. Do not build up others to sin. Your actions can never be based only on what you know to be right for yourselves. You need to consider what is right towards your brothers and sisters in Jesus. You don’t want to cause someone else to think less of Christ because they follow your example. You will answer to Me for your actions, but you will also answer to Me for how you treat your brothers and sisters. You cannot sin against them, without offending My Son, Christ Jesus and endangering your own soul.
What it means to me, as we go into a new year, I can’t continue to do what I want, without considering others. I need to be more aware of my actions and how they will affect someone else. I have to remember as a Christian, my actions should show others, God, in me, through the choices I make and the way that I love others. My words need to build up and not tear down. I am so grateful it’s a new year, and I want my spiritual life to grow stronger and deeper.
This is a great word based on God’s truth, Kathy. Our awareness as followers of Christ to those around us must be heightened and sharpened as we go through daily life. The awareness that God gives us through His Holy Spirit and through the gift of empathy is invaluable. It must also be accessed, applied, and expressed through love as you so plainly laid out. We can’t simply be aware without application. That’s where the love of Christ comes in. That is the goal.
May God fill us with His love and empathy this year and beyond when it comes to how we live, behave, speak and interact with other people whether they be in our family, community, workplace or church.