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Sermon: "Mercy, Empathy, and Humility"--Romans 12:14-16

Updated on November 1, 2016

The Apostle Paul

Mercy and Empathy

  1. Dedicated Christians Must Show Mercy and Empathy

The first sub-point here tells us that we show mercy by blessing our persecutors (v. 14)

Bless—From eulogize; literally, to speak well of someone

One writer has well said, “The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him into a friend.”

How do we do that?

Jesus said, “Love your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The Lord illustrated this trait from the cross. He cried out, “Father, forgive them . . .”

Stephen, the martyr, also showed mercy, praying, “Do not charge them with this sin.”

The first thing we have to admit is that this type of behavior—blessing enemies-- is foreign to normal human life. It seldom happens, because human beings can’t do this without help from God.

Secondly, we have to develop a different mindset. I’ll try to help you here, but I don’t have this skill mastered. The ideas are simple to state, but difficult to implement.

First, we’ve got to know deep down that we are children of the King, the Loving and Holy Creator. It is in our true nature to bless people, even enemies.

Second, when we’re persecuted in any way, we’ve got to allow the Spirit to control our lives. The key will always be the Spirit of God.

TS: (Besides blessing them, Paul warns us not to curse them.

What does Paul mean by “curse”? Asking God to punish them. Sort of like the “sons of thunder” (James and John): Shall we call down lightning from heaven . . .?

The earliest NT book recognized inconsistency in how we use our tongue. James 3:9 says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.”

Because human beings have been made in the image of God, we must not wish ill on them. We won’t experience capital punishment, but we will rightfully suffer a social stigma. Think of the Westboro Baptist Church.

On the other hand, there are curses delivered against individuals by holy men. These curses don’t express revenge, passion, or impatience; they predict God’s retributive justice. The Lord will not condemn this kind of speech.

Turn to Deuteronomy 27.

We won’t read this lengthy passage; I just want to point out the activities and attitudes for which God would curse Israel:

(1) Image making (v. 15)

(2) Disrespect for parents (v. 16)

(3) Stealing (removing neighbor’s landmark/boundary) [v. 17]

(4) Lack of compassion/love for disabled (v. 18)

(5) Injustice perpetrated on the defenseless (v. 19)

(6) Incest/Adultery (vv. 20, 22-23)

(7) Sexual perversion (v. 21)

(8) Lack of love/ covetousness (v. 24)

(9) Taking bribes to murder (v. 25)

(10) Unwillingness to confirm the Law (v. 26)

The United States is not God’s people. However, can you see from this list why our country might be experiencing difficulties at the present time?

In the NT, Paul warns the Galatians about false teachers. He rightly delivers a curse, an anathema, against these preachers.

Turn to Galatians 1—Verses 8-9 read: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”

Yes. From the cross Jesus graciously prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive them . . . .” However, from His glorious Messianic throne He will one day say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . .”

TS: (Only God (or His spokesmen, the prophets and apostles) have the authority to deliver curses; we do not. Ok, let’s move on to the second point.

Besides showing mercy, Paul urges us to demonstrate empathy by rejoicing with those who rejoice (v. 15)

Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorrow for someone’s loss (for example); we can stay somewhat detached from the situation. Empathy, on the other hand, involves entering into the person’s world and feeling the loss or, in this particular situation, joy with him.

Paul places rejoicing first in the text, perhaps because it requires more love to rejoice with those who are rejoicing than to weep with those who are weeping. For example,

When we see someone getting ahead in life while we stay stuck in the same rut, can we still enter into that person’s joy and wish him well? Or do we allow bitterness to seep in and sour our spirit?

One early Church leader wrote: “It is natural to sympathize with sorrow, but it requires a noble soul to rejoice in others’ joy.”

The apostle also tells us to weep with those weeping

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). You remember the circumstances, I’m sure. Professional wailers came into the home of Mary and Martha after Lazarus’ death.

While not demeaning the motives of professional wailers, we just can’t say for certain that their hearts were truly grieved for the loss. Jesus, however, truly sorrowed for Lazarus. I believe He also felt grief for the suffering that sin has caused all humanity.

1 Corinthians 12:26 states the point clearly: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

TS: (Besides showing mercy toward enemies and empathy toward everyone, we should also learn to develop the right mindset toward other Christians in order to maintain unity in the assembly).

The third major point this morning is that dedicated Christians must cultivate a humble mind.

Paul writes that we must have the same mind as other believers (v. 16a). Turn with me to Philippians 2:2-4

“. . . fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."

How can we show a humble mind?

We can become good listeners. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. We can stop talking over others and dominating conversations as though the other person has nothing important to contribute.

Listen to Romans 15: 5-6:

“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Do you see here how like-mindedness—having the mind of Christ--builds unity in the body and how having division destroys it?

TS: (Not only must we have the same mind as other believers, but we must also avoid exalting ourselves.)


We must not be high-minded (v. 16b).

All of us must be willing to admit to being sinners and to having intellectual limitations. When we fail to take off our masks in these areas, we fall into spiritual pride.

Turn to 1 Corinthians 4. Paul exhorted the Corinthians, starting with the last part of verse six, “not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on the behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

If you would now turn over to 1 Timothy 6, you’ll see where Paul gave further instruction about this matter. Verses 17-19 read:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world—by the way, we Americans (even the less well-off among us) fall into this category-- not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

I was privileged to know a man many years ago-- a wealthy man, but a godly one--who once wore on his jacket a dollar bill with wings. He used to quote Proverbs 23:5-- “Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” I think we can all attest to that.

TS: (Next, Romans 12:16c reads: “Associate with the humble.”

We must be willing to fellowship with the less gifted among us.

Galatians 2 tells us about the focus of certain leaders in the Jerusalem church. Paul wrote:

“They—Peter, James, and John-- desired only that we—Paul and Barnabas-- should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”

We have to keep in mind that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ; we belong to the same spiritual “forever family.” For this reason, we are obligated to care for one another. Let’s also not forget the widow, the single mother, and other unmarried people.

Perhaps we may have difficulty in this area; the early Church apparently did. Turn to James 2:1-4

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts.”

An early Church leader (Chrysostom) said, “Bring yourself down to their humble condition, ride or walk with them; do not be humbled in mind only, but help them also, and stretch forth your hand to them.”

TS: Finally, we have to learn how to think soberly about what we have to offer others.

We must not be wise in our own estimation/opinion (v. 16d)

Let me read three Proverbs that deal with this subject.

Proverbs 3:7—“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil.”

Proverbs 26:12- “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 28:11--“The rich man is wise in his own eyes, but the poor who has understanding searches him out.”

What do these verses teach us about the character of this type of human being?

People who walk according to the flesh are prone to self-deception. They think they can get away with doing bad things. They think they know better than most people.

However, if you gain true spiritual understanding, you will be able to avoid this way of thinking.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”

We learn most from those who are empathetic with our needs. The self-satisfied “wise” man can’t help others with his knowledge.


I don’t know how all of these actions and attitudes in Romans 12 interconnect or even if they do, but quite a few seem to. I believe that we need divine help if we’re going to accomplish any of them; I’m convinced that we can do none of these things in our own strength.

Unless the Spirit of God teaches us, we won’t give as we ought. Unless the Spirit transforms our lives, we won’t bless enemies. Our jealous nature won’t readily rejoice with someone else’s promotion; we won’t consider others (especially those less gifted with this world’s goods and talents) as more important than ourselves. Unless God brings us low, we won’t humble ourselves so that others would want to learn from us. We can and will do none of these things unless the Spirit enables us. Let’s submit ourselves to Him right now so that we can.

© 2014 glynch1


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