Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
I’ve always thought the hard part of this verse is what comes after the comma. In fact most of my focus on this passage has centered around obeying the second half of this verse. We’ve all had experiences of insensitive people who refused to weep with us when we were weeping. Nobody wants to be that guy who laughs at a funeral.
Picture the scene.
A group of guys are hanging out enjoying a ball game. They’re surrounded by hot wings, big screen televisions, and other faithful fans. They are having a great time…at least until Melancholy Mark shows up. He’s the male version of Debbie Downer. Though everyone else is having a grand time Mark informs everyone that he just got laid off from work and he isn’t sure how he is going to pay his light bill.
The party comes screeching to a halt.
How Do We Apply Romans 12:15?
Now, don’t get me wrong these dudes are required by Romans 12:15 to mourn with Mark because he is mourning. To go on partying and downing chicken wings while their buddy Mark can’t pay his light bill would be insensitive.
But I’m not sure that stopping the party means that we are done applying this verse. What about Mark? Does Romans 12:15 have any bearing on him, to rejoice with those who rejoice?
I understand that rejoicing over chicken wings and a ball game is much less significant than losing a job. The two don’t weigh the same on a scale of importance. But I believe my larger point stands. Suffering isn’t always the trump card and when we find ourselves mourning it isn’t ours to play to bring others down to our level of gloom.
At various times you will find yourself on either side of this verse. When Paul tells someone to mourn with those who mourn he is speaking to someone that would not at present be mourning if it weren’t for the pain of his brother. Likewise, when he tells someone to rejoice with those who rejoice he is speaking to someone that would not at present be rejoicing if it weren’t for the joy of his brother.
This helps us see that we apply this verse based upon which side of the equation we are on. When I am mourning, my responsibility in this verse is to rejoice with those rejoicing. Likewise when I’m rejoicing, my responsibility is to mourn with those who are mourning.
What This Means For The Church
I’m convinced that this verse is exceedingly counter-cultural. There was once a time when the church and culture erred on the side of a faux joviality in the face of real suffering. I’m convinced that we live in a day and age when doubt has become a sexy virtue. And with it suffering is worn as a badge of honor and played as a trump card in relationships.
If I’m suffering then I play the Romans 12:15 trump card to get you to come down to my gloom. If you don’t do it then I can write you off as an insensitive jerk that barely models the weeping Christ.
But what I really should do is apply Romans 12:15 to my own heart and realize that even in the midst of my gloom I have a responsibility to celebrate a wedding, to be delighted in a baptism, to be overjoyed in discipleship.
We cannot follow our culture in this regard. To do so is to sacrifice the joy that Christ purchased on our behalf. It is to concede defeat and to live as if Christ didn’t come to destroy the works of the enemy. Yes, we still mourn. But our mourning is not as those without hope. Every ounce of mourning is tinged with rejoicing. Just as every bit of rejoicing this side of eternity is tempered with mourning.
When we find ourselves suffering let us not pretend that darkness trumps the morning. Instead let us be a people who fight for an already purchased joy in Christ.
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Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.
Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of five people we should pray for even though we might not want to:
1. Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing in the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
That’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority.
Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).
2. People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, too, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?
I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee, He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”
And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: Suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.
3. People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think of the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus: Bill Maher, Jon Stewart Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, just maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.
4. Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, brokeness or a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.
5. A person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness—the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts—is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in his image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.
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Over the past five years, I’ve been in the enjoyable position to receive most, if not all of the latest and greatest Christian books. This position has offered me the opportunity to grow in my knowledge and understanding of a great deal topics. Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in studying the history and how-to of preaching. This topic has fascinated me for a number of reasons. First, I began teaching the Bible as a teenager to other teenagers at my high school. Second, the more I taught, the more I realized that I needed to grow. Finally, while I’ve read over two dozen books on preaching and even been to seminary, I still find it amazing that I know so little about preaching. This makes me want to continue to grow as a preacher not only because of growing in my skill in preaching, and teaching the Bible, but also in my ability to clearly understand, and communicate the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus. It was for this, and several other reasons, when I heard about Unashamed Workmen How Expositors Prepare and Preach edited by Rhett Dodson, I was excited to learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of men like Dodson, Iain Duguid, Ajith Fernando, David Jackman, Josh Moody, Douglas Sean O’Donnel, and Richard D. Phillips.
As you can tell the book has quite a few contributors all with vast amounts of experience preaching, and teaching the Word of God. In chapter one Peter Adam answers the question, “What is God’s word for these people?” exploring the idea that preaching is a God ordained means to help instruct the people of God. After each author finishes his initial chapter, the authors provide a sample sermon in full manuscript form. This helps the reader understand the ideas they’ve presented.
In chapter three, Dodson looks at the importance of emphasizing the details in one’s sermon preparation for the purpose of delivering sound expository sermons. This is an important idea and one that readers shouldn’t pass over. We need to do the hard work of studying, and exegeting the Scriptures while trusting the Holy Spirit to illuminate His Word to us so that we can make much of Jesus. In chapter five Ian Duguid helps readers understand how to interpret the Old Testament. In chapter seven Ajith Fernando helps preachers and teachers of God’s Word understand the importance of sermon preparation.
David Jackman in chapter nine looks at “what seems odd” which may seem like a weird thing to do in a book on preaching. This is simply the practice of reading and rereading a passage in multiple translations jotting down on a piece “of paper, both the things that I find difficult about the text and the surprises I encounter. “Seems odd to me!” is one way of expressing these reactions to the text” (131). This is not a bad idea at all, and I can easily see how this would be of benefit to me, especially as I typically write out my notes on my laptop. Chapter eleven looks at finding the treasures in the text. In chapter thirteen David Meredith looks at the importance of planning, the process of sermon building, outlining the message and applying the Word. In chapter fifteen, Josh Moody looks at the hard work that goes into sermon preparation. Chapter sixteen calls preachers to pray throughout the sermon process. In the final chapter, Richard Phillips looks at how he prepares for a sermon.
Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach is an excellent book that will help young and seasoned preachers, preach the Word. Whether you’ve preached one sermon or several thousands, we all need to learn and grow. The best way to do that is to learn from those who are engaged in the work of preaching week in and week out, and from those who, though retired, from pastoral ministry desire to help preachers grow in their craft. Regardless of where you’re at in the preaching journey, this book has something for you. First, these seasoned expositors and preachers of the Word of God call preachers and teachers of God’s Word to His Word. That is no small thing since that is our charge which is so sadly being neglected today. Second, this book will help you to gain fresh insight into the mind of a preacher. This is especially important to those starting preaching. Such preachers need guidance and encouragement to continue on the path of preaching the whole counsel of God. Finally, you’ll gain insight and understanding into not only the mind of the preacher but the heart of these shepherds.
Preaching is not an information dump but has as its goal to see sinners saved by His grace, and the saints edified to the glory of God. Preaching the Word is no small task, it requires a love of God’s Word, His Church, and most importantly His people. Preaching requires care and love for people. Biblical preaching begins with a love for God and His Word with the goal of helping the reader see the truth of the text so their lives will be transformed through the preaching of the Word. This requires not only loving God, and the Word but the congregation, and the people in it. Such preaching is a powerful means God uses to awaken sinners to new life, and edify/equip the saints for His service. I highly recommend Unashamed Workmen. I believe this book will be a blessing to new and seasoned saints. Go pick up this book, I know I’ll be reading it again, and again.
Buy the book at Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach, WTS Books, or from Christian Focus.
Title: Unashamed Workmen: How Expositors Prepare and Preach
Author: Edited by Rhett Dodson
Publisher: Christian Focus (2014)
I received this book for free from Christian Focus for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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