On Weeping with Those Who Weep

We risk obscuring biblical wisdom and discernment when we turn biblical principles into new laws.

This is one way of describing my conclusion upon reading and interacting with a powerful quote recently shared by a fairly well-known evangelical pastor. 

Who the pastor is doesn't matter. Let's remove personality from the equation.

My aim was and is to wrestle with an important assertion he was widely quoted as having said concerning how Christians are to relate with those who weep. 

As a biblical counselor, this is well within my lane, so when someone says something about how we're to walk in obedience to God's word and minister to the hurting, I try to listen.

The quote went something like this:

The Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn't tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.

In a church age in which the so-called "Gospel of Nice" reigns supreme, this was a popular quote that made it's way all over the internet, and even onto the meme generator of a well-known Christian blogger.

Who was I to give the slightest bit of pushback? Well, being the contrarian that I am at times, I was happy to say, "Hold it right there!."

You see, the quote had me at "Weep with those who weep." But it lost me at, "Exercise no judgment" [my translation]. 

I'm a biblical counselor. I make what I hope are wise judgments about people, their sin, and their suffering all day long. Is it a true assertion then, that Christians are to exercise no discernment about why a person weeps when ministering to them?

In other words, does the Bible in fact call upon me and you to care nothing about the motivations of the heart when consoling a person who weeps?

Let's consider the text briefly. 

The quote appears to come straight out of Romans 12:15. In the broader passage, Paul is giving his audience, Christians at Rome, a variety of commands and principles concerning Christian ethics, that is, how they are to live in light of the Gospel.

The case seems fairly closed on whether Christians are to love one another, showing grace, mercy, and compassion to their neighbor along the journey of life. As we have freely received,  so we are to give (Matt. 10:8).

In the verse, Paul calls upon Christians to "Rejoice with those who rejoice," and to, "Weep with those who weep." This seems fairly straightforward, does it not?

The rub, for me, came when I considered the variety of life circumstances I counsel. 

On the one hand, was the man who came to me after having lost his wife to cancer. His suffering was real, but came at no particular doing of his own.

On the other hand, was the man who lost his wife because of an extra-martial affair. He was not mourning the loss of his wife, but the loss of his mistress.

Were these two men "weeping" as it were? Yes. Were both of them weeping for equally legitimate matters? Not in the slightest. This is a judgment that any reasonably mature Christian would make, and one that influences the course of counseling on a daily basis.

In the former case, one might respond with silence and words of encouragement. In the latter case, one might respond by calling the man to repent of his sin.

In the former case, the man bore no responsibility for his suffering. In the latter case, the man was solely responsible for his suffering as a direct result of his sin.

In both cases, the truth should be spoken in love (Eph. 4:15). 

But in the latter case, there is a risk of assuaging the guilty man's sin by weeping with him indiscriminately apart from wisdom, discernment, and, yes, a type of judgment. 

The risk in weeping apart from judgment is the inadvertent stifling of God's providential discipline in a wayward man's life.

The conclusion, therefore, is this: 

We do well to exercise judgment in weeping with those who weep, taking care to not become a stumbling block ourselves to those who are living or even thinking outside of God's will.

Romans 12:15 is not a verse that can be isolated from all the other passages of Scripture that teach us how to minister to those who hurt. 

For example, how does Romans 12:15 interact with 1 Thessalonians 5:14, where we're instructed to warn or admonish the idle? 

What if the idle person who needs warning is also weeping?

Finally, the interpretation applied in the pastoral quote at issue here, when applied to the first half of Romans 12:15, begins to wobble within the same verse. 

After all, would we indiscriminately and without judgment rejoice with those who rejoice?

Consider the man who rejoices over his sexual conquests.

Shall we rejoice with him apart from judgment?

Romans 12:15 gives us no specific instruction.

JW