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True Sympathy

February 1, 2018

Many people feel sorry when they see or hear about someone who is in financial or physical trouble. Such periodic feelings of sympathy sometimes lead to words that express sorrow–or (less often) to random acts of kindness. True sympathy, however, is a way of life that regularly (not randomly) pays attention to those in need and acts by giving things that are needed.

In James 2:15-16 a Christian sees a Christian brother or sister who is in trouble, dressed poorly with little to eat. The sympathetic words of response seek to comfort the downtrodden one: “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” But such words of sympathy are only a substitute for what is really needed: giving the one in trouble the things they need (warmer clothes, more food). So James asks: what do such words of sympathy really profit?

False sympathy profits nobody, including the one speaking false words to those in need. And the worst result of false sympathy is the future judgment before God. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). Yet for the one who shows mercy and acts on behalf of the needy–showing true sympathy–that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”

A faith that simply believes in God and Jesus (and their acts of mercy), yet has no works of mercy and love is a faith that is false. It is in fact dead (2:17). Only those who serve the royal law of love and mercy (2:8) will be judged by the law of liberty (2:12), which blesses those who act, who do what Jesus’ love requires (1:25). Those who show true sympathy, who actually help by giving the things needed, will be the ones who receive God’s final mercy in the end.

As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).


From → Book of James

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