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.