Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE GREAT HARM THAT IS DONE BY FEELING SORRY FOR SOMEONE”   Part 7

 

     We began this series of messages from God’s Word by bringing to your attention the view of even secularists that self-pity is a destructive pattern. Feeling sorry for oneself is recognized by almost everyone who does not feel sorry for himself, be he Christian or not, as a liability and not a help to living your life. We observed this in God’s Word when we read portions of the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve’s firstborn son Cain, the ancient patriarch Job, the prophet Elijah, the servant of Elijah whose name was Gehazi, and Lucifer, also known as Satan and the Devil, each suffering from the self-inflicted sin of self-pity. In the second portion of our consideration of feeling sorry for someone we took note of the strong evidence of pride that exists in the lives of those individuals who feel sorry for themselves. Beginning of course with Lucifer, evidence is irrefutable that his pride motivated his self-pity to foment rebellion against God and thereby sin was introduced into the angelic realm. Of course, he then by means of the serpent enticed Eve and succeeded in introducing sin into the human realm. We then saw evidence in the lives of Cain, Job, Elijah, and Gehazi, showing Satan’s heart sin of pride to be the template that guides human sinners into the pattern of wicked conduct known as self-pity. The third major portion of this sermon series moved from the notion of self-pity, feeling sorry for yourself and the pride that motivates such feelings, to feeling sorry for others. It was at that time that I distinguished for our purposes the word sympathy from the word empathy. Use empathy if you’re looking for a noun meaning “the ability to identify with another’s feelings,” while sympathy is a feeling of pity — it’s when you feel bad for someone else who’s going through a hard experience.33 We saw that feeling sorry for someone else is just as surely motivated by the heart sin of pride as self-pity is, but that since sympathy is a perversion of empathy (which is a virtue related to love and compassion that is prompted by the effect of the Word of God on someone) sympathy is very rarely seen in the Bible. The most telling example of sympathy for another found in God’s Word, by my way of thinking, is the pathetic and destructive sympathy King David displayed toward his wicked and embittered son Absalom, who was slain during the rebellion he organized against his father.

So you see, if we stopped with what has been seen in God’s Word so far we will have succeeded in showing that self-pity is wrong, and that the secularists and humanists are right about self-pity as far as they go. How has feeling sorry for yourself ever and in any way helped you? It hasn’t. What many fail to grasp, however, is that not only is self-pity not in any way helpful (and downright destructive, truth be known), but so is feeling sorry for the guy on the freeway off ramp, or the homeless guy under the freeway overpass. No one’s situation is improved by anything motivated by sympathy, because at the root of sympathy is the heart sin of pride, and God resists the proud and gives grace only to the humble.[1] Thus, for entirely practical and pragmatic considerations feeling sorry for others should be abandoned, and feeling sorry for yourself (self-pity, whatever the justification for feeling entitled to self-pity) should also be abandoned. It does not actually help you or anyone else. It doesn’t even make you feel good, though since it is related to pride it does make you feel superior.

These considerations, while quite important, are by no means most important. I have brought eight messages dwelling on matters of lesser importance to till the soil, so to speak, so you will be more receptive to that which is most important. To restate what I have done, consider that I have spent eight church services to convince our entire audience that self-pity and also feeling sorry for others is no good, is a dead end, is not productive or helpful for anyone, so that you would be convinced it is a bad thing to feel sorry for yourself, or to feel sorry for anyone else for that matter. However, now that I trust you are all convinced self-pity is an evil and feeling sorry for others is also an evil in that no one is helped by such feelings, it is time to move from the lesser reason self-pity is evil (and feeling sorry for others is evil) to the greater reason self-pity and feeling sorry for others is evil.

 

Finally, FEELING SORRY DENIES THE GOOD HAND OF GOD, WHILE EMPATHY RECOGNIZES THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING IN GOD’S DEALINGS WITH SINNERS.

 

Consider the situation Frances Schaeffer found himself in after a long and fruitful life of serving God, making this comment shortly before succumbing to cancer in 1984: “I have this cancer that will take my life. I don’t get mad at God - I get mad at sin.”[2] Why did Francis Schaeffer not feel sorry for himself? After all, 72 is pretty young by our standards. For those who are a bit political, remember when former President Ronald Reagan wrote his farewell letter to the nation announcing his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83, that finally led to his death at the age of 93. Why was Ronald Reagan so upbeat and happy even though he was gradually losing his mental faculties? Why was he not consumed with self-pity? Then there is John Piper, the well-known now retired pastor and theologian. “On January 11, 2006, Piper announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. According to a letter sent to his church, he and his doctors believed that the cancer was fully treatable. Piper responded to his diagnosis with the following:

 

“This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.”

 

Piper underwent successful surgery on February 14, 2006.[3] If I remember correctly, the sermon he preached the Sunday following his diagnosis of prostate cancer but before his successful surgery was titled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”

These are three examples of men who exhibited no (or minimal) self-pity when confronted with what seemed at the time to be fatal or possibly fatal diseases. Others who face insurmountable difficulties may initially struggle with self-pity that they overcome, some quickly and others more slowly. There is the case of Joni Eareckson, who writes that she took years to overcome the sin of self-pity after a spinal cord injury left the teenaged girl paralyzed from the neck down. When she suffered her accident she had nothing approaching the spiritual maturity of those seasoned men I already mentioned. However, God worked marvelously in her life and she, too, gradually overcame the sin of self-pity.[4] The most well-known case, of course, is Job. Afflicted because he was godly and not because he was sinning, Job lapsed into a deep pit of despair, regretting that he had been born. However, he was eventually freed from his bondage to self-pity.

How are such reactions as I have mentioned to be explained? Allow me to divide my answer to that question into two parts:

 

First, there is the Providence of God. One of the true Puritan classics is titled “The Mystery of Providence” written by John Flavel, first published in 1678. I read but a portion of his introductory comments:

 

I will cry unto God most high; unto God that

performeth all things for me (Psalm 57.2)

The greatness of God is a glorious and unsearchable mystery. ‘For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great king over all the earth’ (Ps. 47.2). The condescension of the most high God to men is also a profound mystery.Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly’ (Ps. 138.6). But when both these meet together, as they do in this Scripture, they make up a matchless mystery. Here we find the most high God performing all things for a poor distressed creature.

It is the great support and solace of the saints in all the distresses that befall them here, that there is a wise Spirit sitting in all the wheels of motion, and governing the most eccentric creatures and their most pernicious designs to blessed and happy issues. And, indeed, it were not worthwhile to live in a world devoid of God and Providence.[5]

 

May I read the explanation of Providence from a dictionary of theological terms before reciting to you my own definition of Providence?

 

“Although providence is not a biblical term, both the OT and NT set forth an understanding of God’s gracious outworking of the divine purpose in Christ within the created order in human history. The world and humanity are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who directs creation and history toward an ultimate goal. Providence therefore refers to God’s superintending activity over human actions and human history, bringing creation to its divinely determined goal.”[6]

 

My own definition of Providence is,

 

“Providence is the unseen hand of the invisible God working in the affairs of men to bring to pass what He has before determined to occur.”

 

While I am not claiming that Ronald Reagan was necessarily a truly spiritual man, he did consider himself to be a Christian man. And along with the others I mentioned, from Job, to Joni Eareckson, to Francis Schaeffer, to John Piper, it is a personal conviction that God’s Providence orders one’s life and circumstances that proves to provide great peace and comfort to one who claims Him as his Own. Life is not chaos and anarchy does not rule the universe, unless you are an atheist, or unless you live your life as though you are an atheist. God, the one true and living God, Creator and Sustainer of this universe and all that herein is, guides the events in His creation, from the rise and fall of nations throughout history, to the intricate details of one’s life. If you are His, that is if you are His child and He is your heavenly Father, you have opportunity to come to grips with what He brings into your life experiences as your good, gracious, and loving Father. Trusting in His goodness, His grace, His wisdom, and His great power, you have the privilege to bow to His Providence to secure great comfort in the events of your experiences, even those events that involve suffering.

Then, there is the Predestination of God. I know full well that many professing Christians react very negatively to the word predestination, almost like it is a Christian swear word. However, the word is a Bible word, proorizoo, and it is found six times in the Greek New Testament in connection only with God. The word means to predetermine, to decide upon beforehand.[7] If God’s Providence has to do with the Biblical declaration of God’s overall control and guidance of the events in His creation, and has to do with the way in which He does what He does, God’s Predestination has to do with our understanding of His ultimate goal in all the things He does for believers, past, present, and future. Let me read each passage in which this word usually translated predestination is found:

 

Acts 4.28: “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”

 

This is a portion of what Peter and John said in Acts 4.23-31 when they were threatened and then released after performing a miracle.  Here they declare that what God does He decides to do ahead of time, He predestines to be done.

 

Romans 8.28-30: 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29  For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30  Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

 

This passage greatly comforts the Christian because it guarantees the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the lives of His elect. How so? God has predestinated, which is to say that He has predetermined, the destiny of each individual referred to. Believer, God has already decided that anyone who is or who becomes a Christian will, first, be conformed to the image of God’s Son, and will also, second, be someday glorified. That means heaven.

 

First Corinthians 2.7: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”

 

Here Paul associates the gospel message he and his colleagues preached with God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom, “which God ordained before the world unto our glory,” which God predestined before the world unto our glory.

 

Ephesians 1.4-6: 4   According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

5    Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6    To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

 

This passage declares that God does the choosing (not the sinner), and that His choice was made before the foundation of the world. Included in the choice God made was the determination beforehand, verse 5, that He would adopt us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and that everything associated with it is “according to the good pleasure of his will.” Thus, God not only decides ahead of time what He is going to do, but He once again is stated to do this deciding ahead of time what He is going to do with respect to our salvation and our ultimate glorification.

 

Ephesians 1.11-12: 11  In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

12   That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

 

In this passage Paul alters the perspective slightly, not focusing on God’s point of view as is the case in verses 4-6, but focusing on our human point of view. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance.” “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” Notice, however, that even from our own point of view it all still pivots around this word predestined. With respect to your salvation, my Christian friend, and my friend who shall someday become a Christian through faith in Christ, it is tied to God’s predestinating purpose.

Now that we have seen this word Predestination is not a nasty word we need to ask a question: What has this word Predestination to do with feeling sorry for yourself? Predestination means that if you are a Christian you are undeniably and irrevocably linked to God’s decision in eternity past that you (and everyone who like you comes to faith in Christ) will without possibility of failure eventually end up in heaven, conformed to imagine of God’s Son Jesus Christ. Thus, through thick and through thin, when all seems good and when all seems bad, when you are displaying godliness and when you are displaying miserable failure as a Christian, you are all along the way being personally prepared by your all-powerful and all-wise God, Who loves you, for your certain eternity with Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. If this be true (and it is true), how can you possibly feel sorry for yourself without calling into question the very nature of God as powerful, as wise, as good, as gracious, and as loving?

 

Of course, I do not deny that Christians are never perfect this side of heaven. I would never doubt that both you and I can slip into fits of self-pity and feel sorry for ourselves. However, we know that to do so is wrong. To do so is foolish. To do so robs God of deserved glory. To do so denies His goodness, His power, and His wisdom extended toward us in Christ. Therefore, we must not feel sorry for either ourselves or anyone else. Empathy, on the other hand, is a good thing. Compassion toward those who are suffering is not sinful. Neither is it selfish. Rather, it is arises from understanding that God in His great wisdom has brought suffering upon this sinner for good ends. Perhaps God’s intent is to gain the sufferer’s attention to his spiritual needs. Perhaps God’s intent is to gain someone’s else’s attention to an individual’s suffering so that a ministry opportunity might be had. Sometimes the suffering is for the purpose of discouraging a sinful pattern of living, so as to show the lazy and slothful the error of his ways, so as to show the drunkard or the drug addict the error of his ways. At such times the Christian should not show sympathy, but empathy; compassionate understanding and wisdom to know if involvement is prudent, and to know to what extent there should be involvement.

All these decisions about whether or not to engage with the person for whom you have empathy requires wisdom, all the while recognizing the person who suffers may very well be seeking sympathy so that he can resist the changes God wants for him. In short, it is complex and God’s wisdom must be sought. However, what is to be said about the mindset of the person consumed by self-pity? Anyone who is engaged in self-pity is an individual who either has no god that he owns, or has no god that he trusts to love him, to protect him, and to determine the ultimate course of his life. He typically concludes he has had a run of bad luck, or that the cosmos or karma is against him, or that everything is the result of chaos. And while it is possible for a Christian to be temporarily overcome by self-pity, as was the case with Job and Joni Eareckson, countless unsaved people live their entire lives consumed by self-pity.

I urge upon such people the antidote to self-pity, the remedy for feeling sorry for yourself, the solution to the problem of having no rightful place in God’s great plan of the ages. Stop this nonsense of living your life according to the template designed by Lucifer when he rebelled against God as a result of feeling sorry for himself, thinking he deserved to serve God in the throne room of heaven and reacting against his assignment to this tiny little planet in a remote and obscure corner of God’s newly created universe. Little did he realize at the time that this tiny planet we live on was purposed by God from eternity past to be central to the outworking of His great drama of redemption, and that by his rebellion against God this same Lucifer was setting into motion the chain of events that would lead to the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of God’s Son to His Father’s right hand on high, while we wait here for His second coming in power and great glory.

We Christians who are at present time-bound creatures are not restricted by our perceptions through the five senses. We have been given the Word of God and faith by the Holy Spirit, the means by which we have not only received Christ and His salvation, but also the means by which we love and live for God during the course of our lives, learning amidst suffering along this course of life set before us that God uses to conform us to the image of His Son. While that conforming process is proceeding apace we are informed of certain realities that we must learn to accept, and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit we will learn:

 

Romans 8.18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

 

Romans 8.35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

 

Romans 8.37-39: 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38   For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39   Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

So you see, my unsaved friend, there are things going on that you simply do not see. God is at work in the lives of His children. Jesus Christ is seated in glory saving sinners who trust Him, who are being prepared for heaven while He is preparing to reclaim this whole world to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Therefore, when you see someone who feels sorry for himself, regardless of the supposed reason for it, you are not seeing the Christian life being lived before your eyes. You are seeing no faith in God and no trust of Christ. Could the person with self-pity be a Christian? Yes, but not at that point a very good Christian. You see, we who are Christians have nothing to feel sorry for. In Jesus Christ we have only victory.

In conclusion, to feel sorry for someone is to do him harm. To feel sorry for others is to add to their conviction that there is no possibility of hope in their existence, to reinforce their mistaken notion that there is no God Who cares and who is in control by means of His Providence and His gracious Predestined plan. Feel sorry for no one, not even yourself. Self-pity is destructive, is prompted by the heart sin of pride, and it pushes you beyond the reach of God’s grace. End self-pity and end it now. Others who are lost do it every day. Beyond that, consider the claims of Jesus Christ and trust Him for the forgiveness of your sins. Then your eternal destiny will be sealed.



[1] James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5

[2] Reported by a friend as being present when he uttered these words during a chapel service at Liberty University one month before his death.

[4] Joni Eareckson with Joe Musser, Joni, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976) and Joni Eareckson & Steve Estes, A Step Further, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978)

[5] John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963), page 15.

[6] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 97.

[7] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 873.


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