I think that as mothers, we have a pretty good handle on what empathy means, but I think that putting it into practice as a Christian wife, mom, and friend has its challenges. In order to truly grow in empathy, we must understand and share the feelings of others in a way that they see the compassion of Christ in us.
Empathy in the Bible
Empathy in the Bible can be understood in the context of God’s compassion for us. He gives us the ultimate example. The Bible also tells stories of people showing empathy for one another and encourages acts of empathy that are motivated by a deep, caring love. Once we understand God’s empathy for us, then we have a desire to spread His love, compassion, and empathy to others.
Understanding God’s Compassion (Empathy) for Us
As a father has compassion on his children,Psalm 103:13-14 NIV
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
God sending His son,Jesus, is our best example of empathy. He was born in the flesh so He could experience our every human condition. Hebrews 4:15 NIV says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
We can be confident that Jesus has complete empathy for what we go through in our lives and wants to help us through it. He came up against it all-felt every emotion, pain, sorrow, troubles, temptations, dealt with relationships, and had times of celebrations. He loved us so much that He wanted to save us from the sin He saw in the world and He died to rescue us. No greater love, compassion or empathy has ever been shown.
The Gospels are full of stories of Christ showing compassion on people who need it. He supplied food when needed, healed the sick, and showed kindness to people from all walks of life. Examples are found in Matthew during his many interactions with crowds of humans:
- “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 NIV
- “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14 NIV
- Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matthew 15:32 NIV
- “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.” Matthew 20:34 NIV
Scriptures to Help Develop Empathy for Others
Empathy can be viewed as God’s love in action. The apostle John puts it this way: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18 NIV) The true measure of our empathy for others, and so too the love of God in us, is how well we love others.
- Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:13-15 NIV
- Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV
- Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 NIV
- Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8 NIV
- Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4 NIV
How Can We Learn to be Empathetic
The first step to learning empathy is accepting God’s empathy for you. Jesus tells us to love God first and then others as we love ourselves. We can’t fully understand the scope of God’s love and how to pour it out on others until we accept that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for our sins and wants to forgive, restore, and heal us.
Second, we must pray and ask God to grow us in empathy for others. Remember, God made all people in His image and has a great love for all nations and peoples. We must look at Jesus’ example and read the commands in scripture on how to treat others. When we let the scriptures inform us, they will transform our behavior.
Last, we need to be humble enough to accept correction and learn from others. If we are convicted by a certain behavior or pattern of thinking, no matter how “socially acceptable” it may be in the world, we need to stop immediately. If another person is offended by our speech or behavior, we need to be willing to listen and examine whether or not we are truly looking to “value others before yourselves.” (Phil 2:2 NIV)
Signs of Empathy
These are actions based on love found in the scriptures we discussed earlier. Empathetic people tend to be kind in speech and deed and quick to forgive offenses.
- good listener
Signs of a Lack of Empathy
These are actions opposite of love and mentioned in the scriptures as things to stay away from as believers. A lack of empathy usually stems from ignorance or stubbornness.
- critical of others
- blame others rather than consider any fault
- quick to anger
- lack of social awareness
Teaching Children Empathy
The best way to teach our children empathy is probably to same way you’ve heard from me a million times-model it yourself! Treat them with empathy and let them see you treat others with empathy.
Correct their behavior quickly and specifically when you see them showing lack of empathy. Be sure to point back to scriptures and give an example of an alternate action or reaction.
Last, never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray that your children will have the fruit of the Spirit and be empathetic towards others. Pray that their example will lead others to Christ.