Romans 12:14–15 (NKJV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
The word “Christian” means Christ-like. This passage describes that better than any other. Since being Christ-like can’t mean things like “raise people from the dead,” it must refer to normal human behaviors like these.
Except that these behaviors aren’t so normal, especially the first one. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. That sounds crazy, though Jesus clearly commanded it.
“But I say to you who hear; Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you.” — Luke 6:27–28 (NKJV)
If you want to learn to be more Christ-like, it’s probably best not to start with the most advanced skill. Verse 15 is less intimidating. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. That sounds simple, even obvious, yet few of us do this consistently. Are you really happy for someone else when they get something good and you don’t share in it? How about a promotion?
The opposite is much more common—schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misfortunes of another). That word became popular when Martha Stewart went to prison. People weren’t happy about justice; they were happy that Martha got taken down a peg. They resented her success simply because she was successful.
That’s pride, and it’s everywhere. We’re at our worst when nothing more than pride is on the line. You see this in amateur sports. Guys playing softball act like it’s life-or-death. Henry Kissinger noticed this kind of pride in university politics. He quipped that it’s, “so vicious because the stakes are so low.”
We’re overly competitive; it’s part of our sinful nature. That’s what Paul is commanding us to throw off in this passage. The essence of “Christian” behavior is avoid being self-focused. That’s unnatural and, from a worldly perspective, stupid.
But it’s the goal.
Our competitive, self-promoting nature gets in the way of growth in Christ. No one wants to be unpopular, but trying to be popular doesn’t work. Just forget about yourself and focus outward. Easier said than done, right? That’s why verse 15 is such a good starting point. Still you can’t just throw a switch and become more empathetic. You have to work at it.
Be ever mindful of the goal, so that you catch yourself whenever you’re resentful of someone else’s good fortune or unconcerned about their misfortune.
And of course, ask God to help you see your errors. Effort is not the key to becoming more Christ-like.
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