by Jasmine Koh

As Christians, we are commissioned to spread God’s Word everywhere we go (Matthew 28:16-20). At some point in our Christian journey, I am sure we have been compelled to share advice or a viewpoint that was guided by our Christian principles.

In my little pen today, I want to talk about how important it is for us as Christians to always make sure our correction, instruction, or advice, while should always be built on scriptural fact, should also always be guided by empathy.

What is empathy? Empathy is not simply pitying someone, but rather using a good understanding of someone’s emotions and background to best approach a situation. In other words, being able to feel for someone and recognise where they are coming from.

As many of you may know, I currently go to school in the United States. Right now, I live off-campus in an apartment that sits right across the road from Planned Parenthood. For some that may not know what Planned Parenthood is, it is a government funded centre that helps people deal with unwanted pregnancies and other health related issues. Because of the nature of Planned Parenthood services, every single day on my walk to class, I see protestors out on the streets with signs that condemn people who get and support abortions to hell.

These protestors will yell and sit with signs telling anyone who enters the Planned Parenthood compound that there is a sure place in hell for them. While as Christians, we certainly do not condone some of the things that Planned Parenthood supports, is the hate speech getting the protestors’ message across? What good is spreading God’s Word if it is done without love?

The Gospel is Christ’s biggest gift of love for all men (Romans 5:8). Who are we to not constantly strive to show the same acceptance and love for all
our fellow friends, Christian or not. While we as Christians know we have a special Word to share with the world, the position that we hold makes it
even more crucial that our words are laced with wisdom and love (Colossians 4:6). What good are the protestors’ speech no matter how good their intentions when the words that were used were brash and insensitive (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

While the case of the protestors of Planned Parenthood may be one of the more extreme, many of us are guilty of doing the same things in everyday conversations. Sometimes, the effect it leaves may not be one that is reversible. For many of us that have been Christians for a long time, if not, our whole lives, our lives have always been guided by Christian principles. It is something that we hold very close to us and believe in wholly. However, we have to remember that it is simply not the same for

The most common example would be telling a non-believer who had something very unfortunate happen to them that it was “simply God’s will”. While we might say that with the intention to comfort, we have to stop and
think of how that will sound to someone that doesn’t even believe in God in the first place. A non-believer or even a new Christian, may not approach a situation with the same construction of thought as us.

How then can we practice empathy?

1. Think about the time and setting you are in (Proverbs 21:5)
Is the particular situation you are in a good time to give the advice?
While we may be excited to share God’s word through advice, considering the time and place you are in can make all the difference in whether someone hears your words as words of comfort or as simply taking the opportunity “to be preachy”. This doesn’t mean a difficult situation should suppress your want to share God’s Word! It simply means you might need to take a step back to evaluate when the best time to share will be.

2. Consider your relationship with the person
Imagine if you lived your life going down the street and telling every stranger you met how much wrong they are doing in their life. You certainly wouldn’t be very popular. If you noticed there was something about someone that you would like to mention but are not very close to, is there someone closer to them that might make the message more effective? Could you perhaps start building a relationship based off friendship and love firstly before attempting to correct?

(Editor’s Note: In the event that a brother or sister in Christ is sinning but one is not close to the person or comfortable enough to correct the person, then it may be advisable to inform the elders of the church so that the one
who is sinning may be corrected in the spirit of gentleness as per Gal 6:1. In reality, all members of the body ought to be close to one another as per 1 Cor 12:12- 27).

3. Consider what you know about a person
Even amongst the church, many of us have different opinions about different things. What may affect us, may not affect some one else the same way. That is the whole point of empathy. Where did they come from? What has their life been like and how has that affected them? Do you know if your friend may have gone through something traumatising? If yes, then it would be wise to tread more carefully when advising and correcting in
certain areas. This may be the toughest one to figure out since we may never know what some one is 100% thinking, but keeping this in mind can help us steer away from stepping on any potential wounds.

We cannot live our Christian lives being completely careless about how and to whom we are preaching and say it is simply up to them to accept the truth regardless of how it was shared to them. However, we should also not pretend to condone or sugarcoat any of God’s Word just to gain admirable favour. Having to guide with empathy should not mean that we use it as an excuse to prolonging the sharing of God’s Word but should rather be a driving force for us to truly analyse how best we can construct advice
and correction in a way that is most edifying and constructive for
their present need (Ephesians 4:29).

I implore all of us to be vigilant in sharing God’s Word and to constantly be in prayer for God’s guidance and wisdom. I hope my message has edified you in some way even in this time of social distancing and look forward to being with the congregation again soon.