(1 Corinthians 19-23)
It is highly possible that the greatest quality of all that any person needs to exhibit to spread the gospel of the Lord, apart from faith, love and hope of course, is to show empathy towards their fellow man.
The apostle Paul knew this and was perhaps one of the greatest ambassadors of empathy that ever lived. This section of scripture clearly shows how through the application of pathway, Paul spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men, and still today his words ring true.
Empathy is one of those human emotions that makes us human. It separates us from th animals, and in Christ, it separates us from the world. It is essential to people who work with people in all areas of life from nursing to sales, from customer service to the ministry and from counselling to politics. It is at the root of humanity and how we connect to one another. Without empathy there is no connection. It's that important.
Empathy and Love
It is evident when you look at empathy that it is an aspect of love, specifically God's love.
When we love another person and show them the love of God, then we are able to show empathy when it is right to do so.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. With sympathy we feel for someone else when they are suffering, grieving or hurt in any way. But in empathy we feel WITH that person as though we too are going through the same suffering and pain.
And that is the key to connection. We can and do easily connect with someone who says or shows by their actions that they have “been there too.” When you have “walked a mile in another person's shoes” you can understand what they are going through. You know what they are feeling for you have felt it also. You also know that there is a path that must be followed and an end that will be reached.
This is the situation for those in Christ who work in ministry as evangelists and pastors and such. Any ministry that works with people or brings people into the flock needs empathy.
Paul shows his empathy as he reached out to the people he preached to. He knew that if he was to win people to Christ he had to come to them on their terms. He had to be sure that those people could recognise something of their own situation in Paul, but that there was something better also. Look at what he says.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Paul became like the people he was reaching out to so that he could meet them halfway where they were at. Whether they were under law or not, Gentiles or not, weak or strong, it didn't matter. Paul took on the necessary aspects of who and what these people were so as to win them to Christ.
But there was one stipulation running through all of these things he did. Whatever he had to do to win these people, he did it within the requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ that would lead to salvation. Paul did not break the laws or do anything wrong in his attempts to win these people, but instead he acquainted himself with them and became enough like them so that they would be at ease with him as he preached the words of Christ.
Is it any different today in terms of how we should approach others? Sales course focus heavily on empathy towards others to try and sell products because people buy from people they trust and who are like them. There is a saying that says, “Know you, like you, trust you.”
When a person gets to know another person, they will like them if they are similar to them and will come to trust them. And in the spreading of the gospel as with all ministry to others, trust is essential.
We cannot effectively minister to people where there is no basis for trust. And this is where empathy comes in. It is by empathy that we gain people's trust so that they “know us, like us and trust us.” And it is important that we do not betray that trust but build on it by giving them what they need: the words of the Lord that is the gospel of peace and the path to salvation.
It is when ministers abuse the trust of those who come to them that the church gets a bad name and people turn away from God. It is so crucial that we do not betray trust, not just for our own salvation and walk with Christ, but more so for the sake of those who come to us seeking guidance.
Empathy is the key. Empathy is one of the foundations of love and the two do not exist without the other. Find the path of empathy and use it to help others, build trust and build them up in Christ Jesus.
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