Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep

Romans 12v15: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.
 
The first eleven chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans are packed with key ideas about human nature, death, salvation, the Jews and so on. He shows our need to understand what the Bible tells us about these things and he also shows us in chapter 6 that baptism is necessary for salvation. In verse 4 Paul explains how that just as Jesus died for us and was resurrected, we must associate ourselves with him by doing the same through the symbol of baptism.
 
The ‘amen’ at the end of chapter 11 signals the point at which the letter begins to talk about the more everyday matters of how to live the kind of life God wants us to live. In chapter 12v1 we are told to ‘present your bodies as a  living sacrifice…which is your reasonable service’. What that means is that because God has given us the opportunity to live forever in happiness with him, it is only fair and reasonable that we live our everyday lives now in the way he wants us to-that is how we can be a ‘living sacrifice’. He carries on in verse 2 to say that we can only do this by studying the Bible and keeping its messages in our hearts, resisting whatever temptations we may face. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’.
 
He then describes Jesus’ true followers as ‘one body in Christ, and individually members of one another’ (v5). In Colossians 1v15, Jesus is described as the head of this body. In the same way that the brain knows what the body needs to do and the body does it, so we must do what Christ commanded us. Sometimes in our lives we need to make big decisions, and those decisions can often be complicated or confusing ones. At such moments the commandments of Christ can become of immense value to us. God doesn’t get confused, he knows what is best for us and so in many situations the words of Scripture make our lives much simpler and happier than they might otherwise be. If we are to be part of this body then we must, like parts of a body, work for the good of each other. This is what verse 5 meant when it said about being ‘individually members of one another’. So hopefully by looking at the Biblical context of our commandment we can now understand the spirit of it a bit better.
 
‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’. Jesus did both of these things. Read Luke 10v1-24. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus sends seventy of his followers out in pairs to preach the Gospel to the town and villages of Israel. He sent them out with a dynamic sense of purpose, if a town listened to the message they were to engage with the people there and heal the sick. But if another town was to reject the message, they were to wipe the dust of that town off their shoes and crack on to the next town. We too need to show such energy and enthusiasm for the things of God. Then in v17 they return, overjoyed with the success of their mission, and so ‘in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit’ and gave a wonderful prayer of thanks to his God. Jesus was a serious man but he knew how to rejoice with those who rejoiced about the things of God.
 
‘Jesus wept’. To hear anyone crying his a sad thing, but to read of the most loving, sinless man that ever walked the earth crying is a very sad thing indeed. It is worth then seeing why he was crying. He was crying outside the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus but many factors were involved in producing his tears. One, was of course, that his friend had died. Although he knew that he would soon raise Lazarus from death, Jesus was still human and death is death. As the watching Jews said ‘See how much he loved him!’ (v36). Jesus may have been upset as the time of his own death was not far off. He was happy to go and do the will of his Father in dying but seeing the tomb of Lazarus would have been hard. As would seeing the wailing Jews around him. In those days, if someone like Lazarus’ sister Mary was weeping in grief (v33), it was customary for others to join her in weeping. This custom was a bad one however, as they felt no connection to Mary, the wept at the same time as her but not truly with her. Their falseness upset Jesus, reminding him of the shallowness that much of Jewish society had descended into at that time. But most of all Jesus wept because Mary wept. He loved her like he loved Lazarus (v5), and she knew him for who he was, the powerful Son of God (v32). His tears for her were real. So we can see from Jesus’ life the commandment that Paul wrote in Romans is also Jesus’ commandment. ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.
 
One last point to consider is what, if for any reason, we find it hard to empathize with someone’s situation? What if weeping or showing lots of joy would make us like the unhelpful ’mourners’ at Lazarus’ tomb? Well sometimes we just have to do the best we can. That might involve finding someone else to help who might better equipped than we are for the situation. Or sometimes we just have to be there for people. Sometimes that is all that’s required of us. We know this because of Mark 14v32-42. In these verses we read of Jesus mentally preparing himself to face his fate in the Garden of Gethsemane with James, Peter and John. All he asked of them was to stay awake (v37). He didn’t need them to give him advice, how could they understand how he felt? But he just wanted them to be there for him. So let us be there for others, and if we can, ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

Love your enemies

Matthew 5v44: ‘Love your enemies…do good to them that hate you’.
 
This commandment came as part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had just completed a tour of the villages of Galilee, in which he had preached the Gospel message and healed many sick and tormented people. He then took his disciples up a hill, and was followed by a large crowd of people who had come from all over Israel and beyond to hear his words (Matthew 4v23-5v1).
 
The words he spoke on that hill are some of the most famous in the English language, and have become a cornerstone for much that has been good in society ever since. They are straightforward words, deceptively so since Jesus rarely spoke in the kind of jargon that intellectuals today speak in. On closer inspection though, the Sermon on the Mount isn’t quite as simple as it seems. It may be plainly spoken but it is challenging to live up to, as it challenges all the weaknesses of human nature. Nevertheless they are worth listening to as Jesus’ words are wonderful words of love that if heard and acted on will lead to a much happier and more Godly life. They counteract the causes of the problems our world faces. They speak of forgiveness overcoming revenge, kindness overcoming selfishness and peace overcoming division. 
 
So we come to the commandment in Matthew 5v44 to ‘love your enemies’. It is worth taking a moment to pause and consider the idea. 
 
A few questions may arise. One might be, what does loving your enemy actually mean? The rest of v44 gives the answer. ‘Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you’. So loving your enemy means taking practical steps to help them. Often the fact that people don’t like us can stop us from doing much to help them. But as this verse acknowledges, we can always pray for them, which in some ways is the best thing we can do for anyone.
 
A second question might be why do we need to love our enemy? One beneficial result will be that much of life’s bitterness will disappear as we go around with less anger in our hearts.  The last verse of this chapter gives a deeper reason however. Verse 48 reads ‘be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’.  This highlights one of the key teachings of the Bible, that we must develop our characters throughout our lives to make them closer to being like God’s character. As verses 46 and 47 remind us, most people love those who love them, their family, their friends and so on. Now, we know that God is love (1 John 4v8). With that in mind, back in Matthew 5, verse 45, we read of God that ‘He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’. So if we want God’s love to shine through us then, we need to try and let the sunshine of our love fall on people we don’t get on with as much as on those we do.
 
As in all things, Jesus’ actions matched his words. If ever we have problems acting out the commandments of Christ we can look to the Bible, and often to the life of Jesus himself, to inspire us in carrying them out. We have been considering the commandment to love our enemies. This takes determination to do, it does not come naturally to us. So let us consider Jesus on the cross. The soldiers watching over him were a large part of his tremendous suffering. Yet in the famous words from Luke 23v34 he prayed for those soldiers who persecuted him saying ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’. Let us follow his example then and try to be perfect even as God is perfect.