Weeping and Rejoicing Together
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
With everything else that is going on today, I’m going to take a break from Romans and preach a simple sermon on our 2022 theme, “Love One Another.” For the sake of context, I’d like to read vv. 22–26, but I especially want to focus on vv. 25b–26 (read).
Throughout the year, we’ve emphasized Christ’s command to “Love one another,” and this morning, I especially want to challenge us that loving one another demands sharing each other’s joys and sorrows. Notice again the weighty demand of v. 26. This is a powerful verse, and it is especially significant in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 and particularly Paul’s description of the church as a body.
I. The Image of the Body
“One Body” (vv. 12–13): God says that when you get saved you don’t merely gain a relationship with God; you also gain a relationship with his church. We are “one body.” Of course, the one body is the universal church. So, I am one with every believer in Christ from Pentecost until the Rapture. It’s an incredible reality.
But I can’t practically obey the commands that follow, including our text, toward the entire universal church. Afterall, many of these saints are dead or not even born yet. Others are on the other side of the world, and we can’t enjoy a meaningful relationship.
Therefore, Paul’s primary concern in 1 Corinthians 12 is the conduct of the Corinthians within their local church. And the primary application for us is life within our local church.
So, today, we just baptized several people, and in a few minutes we will receive them and several others into membership. They will become part of the “one body” which is Life Point.
It’s a powerful image, and it’s a reminder that Life Point is not merely an event we attend once a week. It’s is not merely a performance by a few that others attend like they would a concert or a conference.
No, we assemble as a body. Romans 12:5 says we are “members one of another.” This fact adds tremendous weight to membership vote we will take, and we should be excited to welcome our new members into the body. And this body imagery also adds tremendous weight to the challenge of vv. 24b–25. God says that as members of the same body we must exercise…
“The Same Care for One Another”: Once again, church is much more than an event. The NT describes us as a temple, a building, a family, and a body. Therefore, we enter each other’s blessings and needs, each other’s joys and sorrows. We feel their weight the same way we do our own joys and sorrows.
A. Carson says, “As in a body, the pain of one member is the pain of all. If you smash your finger with a hammer, you may exclaim with equal appropriateness, ‘I hurt my finger!’ or ‘I hurt myself.’” The whole body feels the joys and sorrows of its members, not just that one part. Why? Because we are one body. With this in mind, let’s zero in on the first challenge of v. 26.
II. Suffering Together (v. 26)
This verse describes a skill that our culture is losing rapidly. We don’t know how to handle suffering and to help others through it. If someone is struggling, our first impulse is to send them to a professional because we have no idea how to help them.
We also live increasingly isolated lives. Therefore, we don’t know how to relate to people and to minister to them. And we don’t share the same sense of community obligation as past generations. For example, I guarantee that you don’t go to nearly as many funerals as your grandparents did.
Beyond that, there is nothing that our culture values more than happiness. We want to look good and feel good. Therefore, we have little room for grief, and we do everything we can to avoid it. And when sorrows come, people drown them in drugs, alcohol, antidepressants, work, fun, etc.
And the church is often not much better. Carl Trueman states prophetically, “The psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene…I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of psalms are taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken. In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society…Perhaps …we have drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that we simply do not know what to do with such cries and regard them as little short of embarrassing…A diet of unremittingly jolly hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party—a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. By excluding cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. It has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, and generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical.”
Trueman is especially concerned with worship, but his words apply to all of life. As servants of a sovereign, good, and wise God, we don’t need to be slaves of temporal happiness or be terrified of sorrow. Instead, we must learn to face it.
From there, we must learn to practice v. 26a. Along similar lines, Romans 12:15 commands us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Paul wasn’t spitting fluff when he said this. No, he exemplified it. “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern” (2 Cor 11:27–29)?
Paul didn’t insulate himself from the pains and disappointments of life with sinners. He didn’t prioritize “self-care”; he prioritized love. He cared deeply, and he felt every victory and every defeat very personally.
For example, when you get a virus, it typically only attacks a small part of the body, but it doesn’t just affect that one part. Your whole body feels achy and lethargic. You feel the effects everywhere. That’s what our text is saying should happen in the church when one member suffers. We all share the pain because we are a deeply interdependent body.
But of course, the point of this is not simply to make all of us sad and gloomy. Rather, we share each other’s sorrows in order to spread the load and prevent any one member from being crushed by the weight of his or her burden. This fact raises an important question. How can we minister well and effectively lighten the load of those who are hurting? There are many practical tips we could discuss, but I’d like to emphasize 5.
Break the ice by acknowledging the pain. There have been many times when I have struggled to address someone else’s grief. I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to unnecessarily pick a bleeding scab.
I was really helped by this statement from Nancy Guthrie. It’s specifically about ministering to people who lose a loved one, but the principle applies to many scenarios. “When someone you love has died, it’s as if a hurdle has been placed between you and every person you know, and that hurdle stays in place until your loss has been acknowledged in some way. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or a long conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a while since the loved one died. It doesn’t have to be anything brilliant. Sometimes a simple ‘I know what has happened, and I’m so sorry,’ or even a nonverbal hand on the shoulder or squeeze of the hand, will knock down that barrier” (Nancy Guthrie). That’s simple but really helpful advice.
Focus on listening rather than fixing. Because we are so uncomfortable with sorrow, our first impulse is to fix it. We want to say the perfect thing to make it go away. We try to crack a joke. Or the worst is when we argue that it’s not really that bad or this person should be happy that they don’t have it as bad as you do.
Job’s friends didn’t get much right, but they got it right in Job 2:13, “They sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” Yes, at some point we must address bad theology and sinful responses, but start by entering the person’s sorrow and sympathizing with it.
Emphasize God’s virtues and be careful about explaining his ways. Because we are fixers, we often feel the need to justify God’s ways by claiming to know his purposes. We can speculate, but we don’t know the mind of God, so be careful about saying stuff like, “God needed another angel.” It’s trite. And when we claim to know that God is judging or correcting, it’s often presumptive and offensive.
Instead, focus on anchoring people’s minds in basic, concrete truths about God. God is sovereign, God is wise, God is good, God is near, God is faithful, and God proved his love in the cross. The psalms confirm that this is where we must run in times of sorrow and that God’s character is the best gift you can give to the suffering.
Pray together. This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but then we don’t do it. But I don’t think I’ve ever had someone say “no” when I’ve asked to pray with them. Usually, they are very grateful. Stop and pray together. It’s a wonderful expression of love, and God answers prayer.
Commit to long-term ministry. We tend to do okay at confronting the initial crisis, but we aren’t so good at seeing it to the end. The hardest part of grief or a huge trial is often after the attention fades. So, be intentional about not forgetting people’s long-term trials. Put anniversaries and birthdays in your calendar and reach out. Build a plan to stay with it.
There is no organization on earth with more potential to sustain people through suffering than the church. If you are hurting, put yourself in the way of ministry. Don’t sit at home and gripe that no one cares. Get involved and love others. You will receive far more than you give. Then let’s all commit to pursuing those who suffer and to sharing the load with them. The 2nd challenge in v. 26 is about…
III. Rejoicing Together (v. 26b)
At first blush, this challenge may sound easy. Who doesn’t love to rejoice with those who rejoice? But there are two big threats to this command.
Danger of Self-Absorption: We are very skilled at filling our lives with stuff and distractions. It’s great to be busy, and we should enjoy God’s blessings. But it’s a problem when there’s little room for big affections for God or big love for others.
Sadly, we can be so busy and so consumed with ourselves that we don’t even notice other people’s joy or we have little capacity to truly rejoice with them. Guard yourself carefully against the danger of self-absorption.
Danger of Envy: We sometimes ask rhetorically, “Who doesn’t love a wedding?” The answer is someone who desperately wants to be married but is still alone.
For Heidi and I, the command of Romans 12:15 to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” hit home when we struggled with infertility. We wanted a child so badly, and it seemed like every Sunday someone would announce they were expecting. Our instinctual response was envy, not rejoicing. We aren’t alone. We all are tempted to envy other people’s blessings instead of rejoicing in them. Social media exasperates the problem because people use it to show off their new car, new job, beautiful vacation, or sexy figure. We don’t rejoice with them; we envy them.
It’s a scientific fact that Instagram is devastating many teenage girls’ sense of security and confidence because envy turns all those beautiful images into a magnifying glass on their imperfections. So, how can we intentionally choose rejoicing instead of self-absorption and envy?
Cultivate selfless love. Verse 25b drives v. 26. When I love the body with the same care that I have for myself, I will weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. So, cultivate selfless love. More specifically…
Choose your focus. You will love what you meditate on and what you invest in. If meditate on God, and you pursue God, you will love God. If you meditate on people, and you invest in people, you will love people. And if you meditate on yourself, your image, and everything you want, and then you invest all your energy in pursuing these things, you will be absorbed with yourself. Your choices determine your passion.
Where is your focus? Are you investing in yourself or in others? Are you cultivating envy or genuine love? If you are going to live v. 26, you must intentionally choose your focus and your passion because it won’t happen accidentally.
Choose your steps. Sometimes, it almost hurts to rejoice with someone. It feels unnatural and even painful. Make the choice anyway. Go hold your friend’s baby that you want for yourself. Have fun at the wedding that you wish was yours. Say, “I’m happy for you,” even though you don’t feel it. It’s not hypocritical to choose what you know is right because you want to do what’s right even though you don’t feel it.
When you make that choice, and you keep making that choice, the right emotions will generally follow. The goal is that we have “the same care for another.” So, choose to obey v. 26, and God will graciously build that love. A 2nd way we can cultivate a culture of rejoicing is to…
Steward your blessings well. 1 Timothy 4:4–5 say of the joys of life, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” So, enjoy God’s blessings, but make sure that you see them through the lens of Scripture and a heart of gratitude to God.
You don’t deserve them. It’s all grace! So, make an intentional choice when you speak of God’s blessings to humbly give glory to God that he gave you something you did not deserve. Boast in God, not in yourself. Urge people to look at God, not to look at you.
Not only will you honor the Lord; you will help others rejoice well alongside you. Consider those who might be tempted to envy your blessing. Don’t ignore them; love them and include them in your joy by making it about God, not about you.
Loving one another demands sharing each other’s joys and sorrows. This is a wonderful testimony of love and a wonderful grace to each other. Let’s do it well for God’s glory and each other’s good.