“As holy people…be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient” (Colossians 3:12 GWT).
In real fellowship people experience sympathy. Sympathy is not giving advice or offering quick, cosmetic help; sympathy is entering in and sharing the pain of others.
Sympathy says, “I understand what you’re going through, and what you feel is neither strange nor crazy.” Today, some call this “empathy,” but the Bible word is “sympathy.” It says, “As holy people…be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient” (Colossians 3:12 GWT).
Sympathy meets two fundamental human needs: the need to be understood and the need to have your feelings validated.
Every time you understand and affirm someone’s feelings, you build fellowship. The problem is that we’re often in such a hurry to fix things that we don’t have time to sympathize with people. Or we’re preoccupied with our own hurts. Self-pity dries up sympathy for others.
There are different levels of fellowship, and each is appropriate at different times:
• The simplest levels of fellowship are the fellowship of sharing and the fellowship of studying God’s Word together.
• A deeper level is the fellowship of serving, as when we minister together on mission trips or mercy projects.
• The deepest, most intense level is the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 10:33-34). This is where we enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens. The Christians who understand this level best are those around the world who are being persecuted, despised, and often martyred for their faith.
The Bible teaches us to “share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT).
It is in the times of deep crisis, grief, and doubt that we need each other most. When circumstances crush us to the point that our faith falters, that’s when we need believing friends the most.
We need a small group of friends to have faith in God for us and to pull us through. In a small group, the body of Christ is real and tangible even when God seems distant.
This is what Job desperately needed during his suffering. He cried out, “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14 NIV).