Envy Those Who Rejoice, Rebuke Those Who Mourn (not)

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” — Romans 12:15

Most of us immediately will recognize and acknowledge that the Bible says envying those who rejoice is sinful rather than godly behavior, but most of us honestly believe they’re doing what the Bible tells them to do when they rebuke those who mourn for mourning. We think they’ve cried long enough, that it’s time for them to pull up their bootstraps, stop “dwelling” on that, and move on.

I’ve even heard well-educated pastors who ought to know better say that we should rebuke brothers and sisters who mourn longer than we think is proper. The problem with that is it is quite arrogant of us to presume to know how long a mourner should weep when we aren’t going through what the mourner is–even if we’ve been through our own sorrows. We have no way of knowing what is in their heart, whether they’re wallowing in misery or pouring it out to God.

That’s why the Bible doesn’t tell us to take it upon ourselves judge whether someone has mourned long enough. It says to mourn with them and weep with them for however long they’re mourning. Even if you’re rejoicing in your own life, don’t demand the mourner stop mourning and rejoice with you. That’s not your job. What you’re called to do is to mourn with them.

That said, “rejoice with those who rejoice” also doesn’t have a clause after it saying, “unless you are in mourning.” When we’re in mourning, and a blessing comes to Sister Pollyanna as it always does, and she’s rejoicing and excited about it again, we may be sure  that Paul’s thorn in his side was a Pollyanna. We can react with anger and jealousy and resentment and punish our fellow believer for being blessed when we’re hurting.

That is not only wrong, it is our own wrong attitude that is hurting us not our Sister Pollyanna. Mourning does not make it any less a sin for us to be envious, jealous, and bitter toward those who have what we lack. It is not Sister Pollyanna’s job to walk on eggshells around us to avoid setting us off. We’re the ones using our sorrow and pain as an excuse to wallow in a sin that ranks up there right beside adultery, murder, and idolatry. We’re the ones responsible for our own attitude and our own behavior, not Sister Pollyanna.

She probably isn’t really a Pollyanna at all. She may have suffered long and hard herself and has finally gotten victories that she should rejoice in and thank the Lord for. We have a scriptural duty to rejoice with her, though we will need to first acknowledge our stinky inclinations to God and ask him to give us the strength to obey this command and genuinely praise God with her.

She should also acknowledge to God any times she’s lacked compassion and ask him to give her the strength and wisdom to know when to put an arm around us and when to weep with us and let us know she understands we’re going through a hard time right now and that she’s praying for us.

Keep in mind, these are not exclusive states, I promise. It may feel impossible right now to both rejoice and mourn, but God can give you the grace, compassion, and love to both cry and pour out to God your own heartbreak and to genuinely celebrate and praise God for the blessings of others.  God has brought me to a place where I can be genuinely happy for friends who get pregnant and rejoice with them even while I’m mourning the children we couldn’t conceive. When a mother loses her baby after conception, I am able to cry with her rather than wallow in a perverse, irrational envy that she got to know her child at all. It takes time and prayer to get there, but you will.

Lord, wherever we are today, give us  the wisdom, strength, humility and compassion we need to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Show us any wrong attitudes in our hearts toward either those who weep or those who rejoice. Enable us to feel safe confessing our faults to you and seeking from you the grace and power we need to walk in your ways whether it a season of joy or sorrow. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.