rejoice with those who rejoice (12:15a)
In a much more positive vein, Paul next counsels us to rejoice with those who rejoice. At first thought, that principle would seem easy to follow. But when another person’s blessing and happiness is at our expense, or when their favored circumstances or notable accomplishments make ours seem barren and dull, the flesh does not lead us to rejoice but tempts us to resent.
The person “who rejoices at calamity” displeases God and “will not go unpunished” (Prov. 17:5). But it is distinctively Christian to rejoice in the blessings, honor, and welfare of others—especially fellow believers—no matter what may be our personal circumstances. As always, Paul followed his own counsel. Just as he had formerly told the Corinthian believers that “if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26), he later assured them, “My joy would be the joy of you all” (2 Cor. 2:3).
weep with those who weep (12:15b)
It is also distinctively Christian to be sensitive to the disappointments, hardships, and sorrows of others, to weep with those who weep. That is the duty of sympathy, empathy, entering into the suffering of others. Compassion has in the very word the idea of suffering with someone. God is called a compassionate God (Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). He is so compassionate, so tender toward His people, that “His compassions never fail” (Lam. 3:22). James speaks of Him as being “full of compassion” (James 5:11). We see this compassion, sympathy, and tenderheartedness of God in the tears of Jesus over the grave of Lazarus. He mingled His tears with those of Mary and Martha (John 11:35). Reminding us that we should reflect our Lord’s character, Paul said, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).
Surely one of the most touchingly profound testimonies to God’s heart of tender sympathy toward His children who weep is found in Psalm 56, where the writer implores the Lord, “Put my tears in Thy bottle” (v. 8). The Lord stores up our tears as treasures. If we are to be like our Father and His Son, we, too, must enter into the sorrow of others.
A lovely illustration of that attitude is seen in a custom practiced in ancient Jerusalem. When the great temple built by Herod stood on the temple mount, it had only one entrance, located at the base of the southern wall, the remains of which are still recognizable today. Farther east on the same wall was the exit. The people would enter through the opening that allowed them to go through the wall, ascend the stairs to the temple area, and then exit by the other passage. Huge crowds flowed in and out in steady streams. There was one exception, however, to that pattern. One group of worshipers was to go the opposite way, entering by way of the exit and leaving through the entrance. As they bumped into and squeezed by each other, the two groups came face to face. The sad faces of those who were experiencing sorrow could be seen by those going the opposite direction, and, in those brief moments, the grief could be shared.
In addition to weeping for those who do weep, we should, like Jeremiah grieving for sinful Israel (Jer. 9:1–3) and Jesus looking out over unbelieving Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44), also weep for those who should weep but do not.
15 One charge follows another without any apparent connection as Paul next calls on his readers to share one another’s joys and sorrows. This is not merely a matter of empathy with others; rather, it presupposes the unity of the members of the body of Christ. As Paul expressed the point in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored [lit., “glorified”], every part rejoices with it.”
12:15. Identity with others in their joys and sorrows is evidence of love flowing from one who is a living sacrifice. These are admonitions that Paul had made in his lengthy writing on body dynamics in 1 Corinthians 12 (cf. v. 26). He also touches the subject in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 and Galatians 6:2.
15. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
One way of proving to ourselves that our hearts are in the right place is to identify with other persons, so that we not only weep with those who weep but even rejoice with those who rejoice; and this not only with fellow-believers but with all those with whom we enter into a relationship of relative closeness, be they believers or unbelievers. If we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27), this should be possible. But never will it be possible for us truly to identify with the other person, whether believer or unbeliever, unless by God’s sovereign grace the truth of Christ’s taking upon himself our guilt and misery is by the Holy Spirit deeply impressed upon our heart and mind. The result will certainly be the advancement of the glory of God (Matt. 5:16), the entrance into our heart of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7), and perhaps even the winning of the neighbor for Christ (1 Peter 3:1).
The opposite of rejoicing is being filled with envy (Titus 3:3); and over against weeping stands gloating (over). Note sad result (Prov. 17:5).
15 χαίρειν μετὰ χαιρόντων, κλαίειν μετὰ κλαιόντων, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”—an example of the imperatival infinitive, much used by Homer; also Phil 3:16 (BDF §389). This is first of a sequence of exhortations where Paul draws on the maxims of traditional Jewish wisdom (see Form and Structure). Here the closest parallel is Sir 7:34: μὴ ὑστέρει ἀπὸ κλαιόντων, καὶ μετὰ πενθούντων πένθησον, “Do not fail those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn.” See also Job 30:25 LXX; Philo, Jos. 94; T. Iss. 7.5; T. Zeb 6.5; 7.3–4; T. Jos. 17.7. For later rabbinic parallels see Str-B, 3:298. As with the echo of Jesus’ teaching in v 14, it is the sentiment which is traditional rather than a particular form of words. And as so often with wisdom material, it is not particularly distinctive of Jewish and Christian thought. Here cf. particularly Epictetus 2.5.23: “Where a man may rejoice with good reason, there others may rejoice with him” (see also Michel, n.27). The parallel with 1 Cor 12:26 and Phil 2:17–18 suggests that Paul had the internal relationships of the Christian congregations particularly in view, but there is no reason he should not have had wider associations in view as well (TDNT 9:369 n.93; Furnish, Love Command, 106; Cranfield; Wilckens). There was certainly some ambivalence within earliest Christianity on the degree to which Jesus encouraged his disciples to feel a sense of solidarity with the poor and oppressed; cf. particularly Matthew’s handling of the first beatitude (Matt 5:3//Luke 6:20) and of the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31–46). But Paul’s other counsel on social relationships suggests an openness to the nonbeliever which would encourage a broader application of his words here (cf. 1 Cor 10:27; 14:23–25). Such genuine empathy (feeling with; cf. particularly Gaugler) with those benefiting or suffering from the ups and downs of daily existence would be seen as distinct from the Stoic ideal of ἀταραξία, “impassiveness” (Käisemann). For χαίρειν, see also on 12:12. Paul uses κλαίω elsewhere only in 1 Cor 7:30 and Phil 3:18. For the contrast with eschatological overtones, cf. John 16:20 and Herm. Vis. 3.3.2; also Luke 6:21, 25.
15. Rejoice with those who rejoice, &c. A general truth is in the third place laid down,—that the faithful, regarding each other with mutual affection, are to consider the condition of others as their own. He first specifies two particular things,—That they were to “rejoice with the joyful, and to weep with the weeping.” For such is the nature of true love, that one prefers to weep with his brother, rather than to look at a distance on his grief, and to live in pleasure or ease. What is meant then is,—that we, as much as possible, ought to sympathize with one another, and that, whatever our lot may be, each should transfer to himself the feeling of another, whether of grief in adversity, or of joy in prosperity. And, doubtless, not to regard with joy the happiness of a brother is envy; and not to grieve for his misfortunes is inhumanity. Let there be such a sympathy among us as may at the same time adapt us to all kinds of feelings.
Ver. 15. Rejoice with those who rejoice, &c. [χαίρειν μετὰ χαιρόντων, κ.τ.λ. On the infinitive as imperative, see Winer, p. 296. Meyer fills out the sentence thus: χαίρειν ὑμᾶς δεῖ.—R.] Χαίρειν, the infinitive as an imperative, to be supplemented mentally by a corresponding verb; see Sirach 7:33, 34. Ver. 14 defines the proper conduct in relation to personal antipathy; ver. 15, the proper conduct in relation to personal sympathy.
12:15 Empathy is the capacity for sharing vicariously the feelings and emotions of others. Our tendency is to be jealous when others rejoice, and to pass by when they mourn. God’s way is to enter into the joys and sorrows of those around us.
12:15 rejoice … weep: Because believers are a body, when one part hurts, everyone feels the pain; when one is joyful, everyone can rejoice. Christians cannot be indifferent to the suffering or joy of their fellow believers (1 Cor. 12:25, 26).
12:15 — Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Both rejoicing and weeping imply genuine, heartfelt emotion. This kind of keenly felt connection happens only when we choose to get deeply involved in the lives of other believers.
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