Have you ever heard something good that happened to a friend but rather than being excited and celebrating with her, you compare your success or want what she has? It seems pretty common, and unfortunately, it was my mindset this week. It is an ugly place to be. Not much love for a sister. Not much willingness to be for her. Not much thinking about anyone but myself.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Christian friendships should be marked by the fullness of life — climbing into the pit of despair with one another and delighting together when there is good news. These relationships are for-each-other relationships. When my sister hurts, I hurt. When she rejoices, my heart is gladdened. Christian friendships bear the beauty mark of other-centeredness, and this other-centeredness is always the result of finding an identity that isn’t in what you have, accomplish, or do.
The context of this command in Romans 12 is worship and Paul argues that worship is always a communal act. You present your body as a sacrifice in relationships with real people in everyday life, and this is our spiritual worship. When Paul exhorts believers to celebrate their different giftings (12:3-8), to love one another genuinely (12:9-10), and to live in harmony (12:16) he is hammering in that Christian worship happens in community, not just in personal time with God. So when you find yourself in my situation of not wanting to love your sister genuinely and with affection (12:9-10), you and I have a worship problem.
Worshipping the Lord together
When a good friend of mine got engaged, I was ecstatic. But I remember after talking through the details of how he proposed and dreaming about a wedding, she turned to me and said, “Thank you for being excited with me.”
Rejoicing is an act of worship. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). It is always about God because every good and perfect thing comes from Him (James 1:17), and we get to praise Him for what He has done. When my friend got engaged I didn’t tell her good job for her accomplishment. No, we celebrated what God had done and was doing.
But if she hadn’t shared her news, she would be preventing me from worshipping with her. She would be withholding joy that God had given her and an opportunity to declare what God was doing. Sometimes we withhold because we think that another person won’t want to rejoice with us. Sometimes it’s because we feel it is selfish to ask people to celebrate with us. But perhaps what is selfish is thinking that our successes are our own and forgetting that God wants to bring Himself glory through the good things He gives us. In gospel communities, we are able to rejoice with one another because our accomplishments and good news are never about us. They are always about what God is doing.
Being Christ to one another
Sharing our suffering and weeping together is essential to community and worship. My default for difficult things is to not talk about them. Fortunately, my husband is the exact opposite, and he is slowly breaking me of my bad habit. When something hard happens, he reaches out to family, friends, and co-workers asking for prayer, asking for meals, asking for people to be in this with us. He understands gospel community better than I do.
Several years ago I suffered an ectopic pregnancy. My husband was leading a mission trip in Ethiopia so I found out the news alone with no way to contact him. It forced me to depend on community. A friend drove me to the ER, another to appointments, another brought me food, another checked in every single day. I was weeping and my community showed up to weep with me.
When we don’t share our hardships we prevent the body from worship through cooking meals, being present, and being Christ to us. Furthermore, not letting community into our sorrow prevents them from rejoicing when the Lord uses pain for redemption. It refuses the chance for others to see how God has provided, grown, and even blessed you. God wants all his work and glory to be on full display. Eugene Peterson says that all prayers end in praise. All weeping and sorrow will one day be turned into praise. When we don’t let other people join us in our sorrow, we will keep them from praising God for the work he has chosen to do through it.
Those months of recovery after my ectopic were painful, but they were the months I felt the most loved and cared for by my church community. They also taught me how to suffer with others. Most of us fear that we will burden others with our problems. But we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Jesus bore our burdens for us, and bearing burdens is one way we grow in imitating him. When we weep with those who weep, we participate in the work of Christ, our suffering King who wept with his friends.
Hebrews 12:2 says that it was for the joy set before him that Christ endured the suffering of the cross. It was the joy of knowing that we would be freed to love others more deeply than themselves that led Jesus to suffer. It was the joy of knowing that his Spirit would empower us to worship him rightly. It was the joy of knowing that one day He would wipe every tear and rejoice with his people in perfect worship at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 21:4). But until then, it is for the joy set before us to be conformed into his image, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice for the glory of our king.