Calvary Road Baptist Church



Because I am resuming my sermon series titled “The Great Harm That Is Done By Feeling Sorry For Someone,” after a seven week intermission to deal with other pressing matters and guest speakers, I think it is wise for me to spend a few minutes rehearsing some points already made. Of course, the messages can easily be reviewed on our church’s web site where all of my sermons can be found.

On August 10th I began the series by observing that there is no disputing even in the secular world that feeling sorry for yourself and the notion of self-pity is a dead end, and renders it almost impossible for an individual who wallows in self-pity to properly address life’s issues and problems. We then reviewed self-pity in the lives of Cain, Job, Elijah, Elijah’s servant Gehazi, and the very first person known to have felt sorry for himself, Lucifer.

On August 17th, just six days after funny man Robin Williams committed suicide as a result of feeling sorry for himself, we explored the relationship of self-pity to pride. Looking more closely at Lucifer’s self-pity, it became very clear to us that he is an extremely proud creature, feeling that the place God wanted him to serve was beneath his dignity as one so beautiful, so powerful, and so intelligent. His self-pity motivated his rebellion against his Creator whereupon he introduced sin into God’s creation. Lucifer, being the first sinner, created a template for self-pity’s proud response, that we saw in the life of Cain, in the life of the prophet Elijah, in the life of his servant Gehazi, and in the life of the patriarch Job. It is astonishing how very predictable pride is once it latches on to self-pity, using it as justification for sinning against both God and men.

On August 24th I once again clarified what I mean in this series by the words empathy and sympathy. Usually synonyms in our culture, I am spreading their meanings apart the one from the other by suggesting for our purposes that empathy and sympathy can be understood in this way: “Empathy is heartbreaking — you experience other people’s pain and joy. Sympathy is easier because you just have to feel sorry for someone.”



Use empathy if you’re looking for a noun meaning “the ability to identify with another’s feelings.”


DEFINITION: sympathy

Sympathy is a feeling of pity or sense of compassion — it’s when you feel bad for someone else who’s going through something hard.33


As well, we considered several figures introduced to us in God’s Word who would be sympathetic figures to most people these days; Rahab the harlot, the Moabite named Ruth, the man born blind, the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years, and concluding with the apostles rowing on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee. In each instance of these who would be candidates for sympathy in our day, in the cases of the women particularly because they would be seen by modern feminists as victims of male oppression, we noticed three things: First, they did not feel sorry for themselves. No evidence of self-pity whatsoever. Next, no one who knew them is recorded as feeling sorry for them, not that it would have helped them in any way. Finally, in those instances in which the Savior dealt with the individuals in question, be it the man born blind, the woman with an issue of blood, or the apostles suffering extraordinary physical strain and fatigue, there is no evidence to be found in God’s Word that He felt sorry for them. Why not? Feeling sorry for someone is a sin. My observations from my limited travels to the Third World, as well as my conversations with both missionaries and foreign nationals, reveals that this notion of feeling sympathy for others was not only unknown in days gone by, but is virtually unknown everywhere in the world outside of Western Europe and North America. Thus, my feeling that sympathy is a distortion, a hybrid outgrowth if you will, of the Biblical concept of empathy, which is itself an unknown concept in regions not powerfully affected and influenced by the gospel.

May I please illustrate so as to show most of you how sympathy has developed in our culture over the last fifty years? My illustrations this morning are confined to sympathy shown to animals. In Northern California during this summer’s heat and drought there was recently collected a large number of rattlesnakes captured from various suburban neighborhoods. What was done with the rattlesnakes? In days gone by a shovel or a hoe would have been used to quickly cut the heads off of the snakes, rendering them harmless and dispatching them without pain and without expense. Not any more. The snakes recently captured were gathered by animal control officers or snake removal specialists and removed to “a more hospitable habitat.” Why go to such expense? Because people feel sorry for the poor snakes. When one teacher’s career began shovels were scattered around the school property to deal with snakes, but things have now dramatically changed. Now we feel sorry for snakes and want them relocated, even though relocating them may very well result in their deaths by starvation.[1]

Another illustration: When there is an oil spill it is inevitable that some birds will get oil on their feathers, affecting their ability to fly, their ability to float on the water, and their ability to regulate their body temperature with the layer of dry feathers saturated with oil. Many birds will starve to death or die from hypothermia. What used to be done? A game warden would painlessly put them out of their misery with a shotgun if he came upon it. Nowadays? Huge amounts of manpower and money are spent capturing birds (which is not always easy), washing the oil off the birds, feeding the birds, and then letting the birds go where specialists admit they have no idea how many birds will then die anyway.[2] Why is this done? People feel sorry for the poor birds.

Another illustration: Horses have long been slaughtered for meat in such countries as China, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, France, Australia, and Brazil, to name a few.[3] However, in California it is against the law to sell a horse to someone who might fatten the animal up for slaughter and food in another country. Why? People feel sorry for ponies. In most Asian countries both dogs and cats are a normal part of everyone’s diet, but the Chinese restaurant where Applebee’s is now located here in Monrovia was shut down when it was discovered they were serving dog and cat to those who ordered it. Why? Americans find the idea of eating puppies and kittens repulsive, because folks feel sorry for them. Not the starving people mind you; the sympathy is reserved for the puppies and kitties.

Another illustration: On a very cold morning almost forty years ago a guy I knew in Whittier started up his car, only to hear a horrible howl and thumping that caused him to immediately turn the engine off. When he opened the hood he discovered a cat on his engine to stay warm at night was caught between a pulley and fan belt when the engine was started, with most of its skin torn off its body. When he called the police to tell them he asked if he should quickly and mercifully dispatch the suffering cat. He was told no, only animal control was legally allowed to do that. So, he had to wait for almost three hours to go to work, three hours during which time the cat suffered horribly, before being killed (we call it euthanized nowadays). Because people feel sorry for animals the net result is quite commonly the animals are made to needlessly suffer.

A final illustration: Someone known to me had a dog that contracted parvovirus and became very sick. Up to 91% of the dogs that contract parvovirus ending up dying.[4] When the vet told her that her dog was almost certain to die and needed to be put down immediately she grieved, and she waited. She felt so sorry for her dog that she could not put the animal down, so the dog took a week to suffer terribly and to die. Why? Because she felt sorry for the dog.

I know I have run the risk of incurring the wrath of you pet owners this morning, but illustrations of sympathy for animals and pets enables us to consider two things: First, we can examine how this thing called sympathy, which is a perversion of the Christian virtue of empathy, has swept the country during our lifetimes. There is no way your grandfather or grandmother would have spent a thousand dollars at the vet’s on a sick dog. Why not? Even dog lovers back in the day had not so spiritually degenerated to the place where they were motivated by sympathy to spend such large amounts of money on a pet. Second, we can observe how very selective sympathy really is. The commercials run on television to raise awareness of the plight and suffering of animals evokes great sympathy from people. Oh, how they hate to see a puppy or a kitty suffer. Let me be quick to point out that I have never tortured or delighted in the suffering of any animal, and am flatly opposed to cruelty to animals. Yet many who are sympathetic to animals have no concern for unborn children, are indifferent to suffering youngsters, and really do prefer the company of small animals to the company of human beings. Does it tell you something about a woman who prefers the companionship of a small dog to the company of a grandchild?

I could provide more complex illustrations of how real people are made to suffer longer because folks feel sorry for them, but the point that I seek to make is that feeling sorry for anyone or any thing doesn’t really do them, or do it, or do anyone, any good. At least no more good than would result from a complete absence of sympathy. Why do I advance this notion that feeling sorry for someone doesn’t do them any good, feeling sorry for a suffering animal doesn’t really do the animal any good, sympathy as I have defined it does no one any good at all? Because sympathy is actually a perversion of a wonderful Christian virtue that is found nowhere else in the world except among Christians; empathy. Empathy is wonderful. Empathy is good and kind and gentle and generous and brokenhearted over suffering, with pets as well as with people. Sympathy, however, feeling sorry for others, is a product of the wicked and Luciferian sin of pride.

This brings us to the fourth main portion of our series,




You heard me right. I said that if you feel sorry for someone your sympathy for another human being is the product of pride. Empathy has to do with feeling someone’s pain, grasping the difficulties associated with their suffering, being moved to pray for someone who is suffering, and exhibiting kindness and generosity toward such a person. Feeling sorry for that same person in that same situation, however, is a manifestation of your sin of pride. There are at least four aspects of pride exhibited by sympathy, by feeling sorry for someone, in no particular order of priority:

First, feeling sorry for others is predicated, in part, on being persuaded that you possess superior knowledge. The singer who is featured in those very effective commercials for the ASPCA, the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals, Sarah McLachlan? Do you not think she thinks she knows more than those who do not sympathize with the plight of animals as she does? Watch her being interviewed about suffering animals and make up your own mind. How about actor Ben Affleck? Watch him defend radical Islam and judge for yourself whether or not his sympathy for those poor downtrodden Third World Muslims who are opposed by those nasty educated and technologically advanced First World Israelis does not reflect his conviction that he just knows more than those who do not agree with him.[5] Those who feel sympathy very frequently do not know more than those who do not share their sympathies, though you will never convince them despite all evidence to the contrary. Why not? Because their pride demands that they know more than those who disagree, therefore they insist that they do know more.

Second, feeling sorry for others is also predicated, in part, on being persuaded that you possess superior compassion. I cannot recall how many times over the course of my Christian life I have been berated by unsaved friends and family members who insist they are compassionate while I am not. They just know they have more compassion than I have because they feel sorry for people while I do not. Of course, such discussions are usually silenced the moment I ask them how many homeless people they have allowed to live with them. I then point out that my wife and I had two families of four or more live with us in our home for months during my first pastorate, with three young otherwise homeless young men living with us early on in our ministry here. I promise you that if you measure compassion by how much you feel sorry for someone I will come up short every time. However, if you measure compassion by how much I empathize, by how my compassion is expressed by greatly inconveniencing myself, by opening up my home, and by sacrificing my budget, then entirely different conclusions are drawn. Oh, how compassionate some people seem to be . . . so long as compassion is measured by the amount of other people’s money they are willing to spend to feel sorry for someone, and not how much of your own money is spent to express empathy in the form of compassion. Sympathy is so often only about feeling good about yourself for feeling bad about something, while empathy is so often really about what is actually done as a result of understanding another’s suffering and pain.

Third, feeling sorry for others is also predicated, in part, on being persuaded that you possess superior wisdom. Wisdom is different than the accumulated information and facts that comprise knowledge. One of the fallback positions of someone who has been shown that he does not have superior knowledge, because it has been demonstrated that he is not as well-informed as the person without sympathy who disagrees with him, is his conviction that he still possesses superior wisdom. You may not know more facts and details associated with your sympathies, but you are much better at arriving at decisions for the benefit of others than those who disagree with you. Why so? You possess superior wisdom. Really? May I remind you from God’s Word that no one who does not fear the LORD possesses real knowledge, or real wisdom for that matter?[6] Additionally, I assert that compassion, real compassion, springs forth from the love God has for His creatures, and comes forth through the Christian’s life in connection with his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.[7] Therefore, without knowing Christ, without being a channel through which God expresses His love to His creatures, no man can be really and genuinely compassionate in a way that is at all helpful. Thus, while the sympathizers are so convinced of their superior wisdom that nothing will change their minds, it is becoming obvious to those with the eyes to see that feeling so sorry for coyotes that you outlaw shooting them has really resulted in coyotes attacking and killing small pets in almost every part of the country where they are to be found. Thus, despite the conviction that those who feel sorry for others have about their greater wisdom, it turns out that the problems they create with the solutions they impose on others are actually worse problems than the ones they were trying to solve in the first place. That, my friend, is not wisdom. Wisdom does not solve problems by making them even worse.

Finally, feeling sorry for others is also predicated, in part, on being persuaded that you possess superior motives. Motives that lead to conduct is an interesting consideration, especially with respect to people who are convinced their own motives are somehow superior to those who disagree with them. How are they supposed to know that their motives are superior? Because they just are. Pride demands such a conclusion. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul found his motives harshly criticized by the Corinthian Christians. His response to them was to point out that not only did he not concern himself with the opinions of others concerning his motives, but that he refrained from judging even his own motives. Why so? Two reasons: First, no one has enough information to accurately evaluate the motives of others, or even of himself. Second, anyone who pretends to know and judge another’s motives is usurping the role the Lord Jesus Christ has reserved for Himself alone. This, based upon what Paul wrote in First Corinthians 4.3-5:


3      But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

4      For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

5      Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.


It is evidence of pride to conclude without proof of any kind that you must know more than another person because you have sympathy for someone that another does not have. Keep in mind that no one who does not know enough to fear God knows anything worth knowing. It is evidence of pride to conclude without proof of any kind that you are compassionate and another is not simply because you feel sorry for someone while the other person does not. It is evidence of pride to conclude that you make better decisions to reflect your sympathy than does someone without sympathy, when you think it is even possible to be wise without the fear of God. Is it not evidence of pride to think you are expert enough about the private motives of others that you can pass judgment on their motives? Or that you have a right to usurp a role in someone’s life that the Lord Jesus Christ has reserved exclusively to Himself, as the sole judge of all men?

Since God resists the proud and gives grace only to the humble, it should be recognized by anyone concerned about God and the things of God that sympathy is something to be discarded in favor of empathy.[8]

Consider our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. Despite being the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, the Eternal Son of the Living God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, what can be said about Him with respect to pride? He had none. Rather, He was humble, Philippians 2.8: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” As for sympathy versus empathy, consider Hebrews 4.15: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” My friends, this is a perfect description of Christ’s empathy, and shows that He had no sympathy for us. The Lord Jesus Christ felt without feeling sorry for us. He was in all points tempted, yet He did not sin. Moved by love and not sympathy, the Lord Jesus Christ was humble rather than proud, and died on Calvary’s cross on behalf of those it could be said He empathized with and not those He felt sympathy for. He feels sympathy for no one, because sympathy is provoked by pride and not humility, and is a vice rather than a virtue.

Is this not the Savior you need? Is this not the Savior who saves, who forgives, who reconciles sinners to God? Are you not glad He did not feel sorry for the woman at the well, who had been married five times and was living with a man not her husband? She did not need Him to feel sorry for her. She needed a Savior. As well, aren’t you thrilled that He did not feel sorry for the thief on the cross, but instead said to him, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise”?[9] I urge you to come to Christ, not for sympathy but for salvation.

[5] 10/10/14

[6] Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 1.7; 9.10

[7] John 10.1-44; 2 Corinthians 5.14

[8] James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5

[9] Luke 23.43

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