Feeling sorry for someone who is suffering or in pain is a natural human response. As Christians, we are called to have compassion for others. However, some believers wonder if there is a point where feeling sorry for someone can become sinful.
In this post, we’ll explore what the Bible teaches about having sympathy for others, and examine how to balance compassion with enabling harmful behaviors.
- Feeling sorrow for those who suffer is not inherently sinful, but reflects Christ’s compassion.
- We must be discerning in our sympathy, ensuring we don’t enable sin or codependency.
- True empathy requires taking action to alleviate suffering, not just emotional reactions.
- Striking a balance means showing understanding while exhorting others toward godliness.
- The Holy Spirit guides us in wise sympathizing that leads people to salvation.
What Does the Bible Say About Sympathy?
Scripture makes it clear that part of reflecting Christ is having compassion for those in need. Jesus was often “moved with compassion” when He saw suffering and reached out to help (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, Mark 1:41). He calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). So feeling sorrow at hardship is not ungodly, but rather a glimpse of God’s own heart.
The Bible also shows righteous people mourning over sin, evil, and the pain of others:
- Jesus wept over the sorrow of Lazarus’s family (John 11:35).
- Paul was depressed over unrepentant Corinthian sin (2 Corinthians 2:1-8).
- Jeremiah cried over Israel’s apostasy (Lamentations 1:16).
Furthermore, God is described as sympathizing with our weakness:
So the capacity to feel sorrow shows God’s image in us. Sharing in the emotions of others reflects Christ and builds compassionate connection.
The Dangers of Unwise Sympathy
However, the Bible also warns that unchecked empathy can lead to ungodly enablement of sin. Proverbs tells us:
Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; for their heart devises violence, And their lips talk of troublemaking. (Proverbs 24:1-2)
While we should mourn over sin’s effects, taking pleasure in or affirming evil is wrong. Paul cautions:
And do not have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11)
Wise sympathy requires discernment, recognizing that some suffering comes from unchecked sinful choices. Enabling perpetual self-pity or irresponsibility is not truly loving. As Proverbs says:
Through laziness the building decays, And through idle hands the house leaks. (Proverbs 10:18)
Blanket affirmation is not the answer. Instead, we must exhort one another toward maturity in Christ:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…but exhorting one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Balancing compassion with accountability is key to building godly character.
What Sympathy Should Lead To
Many confuse real empathy with merely feeling sorry for someone. But Scripture shows that godly compassion compels action, not just emotion.
Jesus embodied this by healing the sick and feeding the hungry along with sympathizing. The Bible exhorts us:
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
When we see a need, we should seek real solutions in addition to comforting. Just as Jesus came to redeem humankind from sin and death, true sympathy aims to lift others from suffering into salvation and life.
Guidance From the Holy Spirit
Thankfully, we are not alone in learning to properly empathize. God gives us the Holy Spirit, who produces the fruit of Christlike compassion in believers (Galatians 5:22). As we walk in the Spirit, He guides us into sympathy that honors God and helps others.
The Spirit also reveals where someone may be using victimhood to justify willful sin. He gives us discernment to know when to comfort and when to exhort instead. We can rely on the Spirit’s wisdom to show us how to sympathize as Jesus would.
Balancing Empathy and Accountability
When wondering if you should feel sorry for someone, consider these principles:
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on when to sympathize or correct.
- Be discerning about whether they are repentant or defiant in their pain.
- Caution others about sins that may have contributed to the suffering.
- Remind them of Christ’s forgiveness and power to overcome.
- Focus on solutions more than just commiseration over circumstances.
- Set boundaries if the person tries to manipulate you with perpetual self-pity.
- Encourage responsibility while being patient with sincere efforts at growth.
With the Spirit’s help, you can learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) in a manner pleasing to God.
Jesus as Our Guide
As in all things, looking at Jesus provides the perfect model for balanced empathy. Consider His response to various forms of suffering:
Physical Pain: He healed multitudes graciously, moved by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 14:14, Luke 6:19).
Bereavement: He wept with Mary and Martha over Lazarus’s death (John 11:33-35).
Poverty: He had compassion on the hungry, miraculously feeding them (Matthew 15:32).
Sin: He rebuked self-righteous Pharisees for their pride (Matthew 23:13-33).
Willful Foolishness: He refused to praise enabling co-dependency (Luke 7:36-50).
Jesus combined deep sympathy with uncompromising calls to repentance. He is our standard for godly empathy.
What Mature Sympathy Looks Like
When you encounter suffering, consider Jesus’ model. Ask yourself:
- Is there a physical need or injustice that needs addressing?
- Is the person sincerely repentant and wanting to change?
- Does he/she need accountability as well as comfort?
- Am I enabling unhealthy dependence or sin patterns?
- How can I both understand their pain and guide them to godliness?
Our goal must be Christlike maturity for ourselves and others. The Bible reminds us:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
While we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), our ultimate aim should be equipping others to carry their own loads. Our sympathy should be a means to this end.
Helping Others Grow Through Suffering
God often uses suffering to draw us closer to Himself and mold Christlike maturity in us. As believers, we can allow God to redeem pain to bring about growth:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
When sympathizing with others, we can point them to this truth. Help them process hardship through the lens of Christ’s redemptive purpose. Pray together that God would use the difficulty to increase faith and dependency on Him.
With the Spirit’s guidance, our empathy can encourage others to surrender their suffering to God for His glory. This allows them to walk through the fire and emerge refined and renewed in the image of Christ.
Feeling sorry for someone in pain can reflect Christ’s compassionate heart. However, godly sympathy requires Spirit-led discernment to avoid enabling sin. As we comfort others, we must also exhort them towards maturity in Christ.
Just as Jesus combined deep empathy with unwavering morality, we must point people beyond emotional commiseration to finding redemption in Him. Our role is to help others process their suffering so that they are drawn to Jesus rather than withdrawal or self-pity.
With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, our sympathy can become a catalyst for real transformation. Just as Jesus’ suffering accomplished our salvation, the tears of those we comfort can water seeds of spiritual growth. As we wisely “weep with those who weep,” we play a part in God’s work of bringing redemption out of pain.