empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner [Merriam-Webster.com]
Imprisoned Paul is concerned about the Philippians. More correctly, he is deeply concerned for the Philippians. Paul’s empathy is such that he appears to viscerally feel the emotional distress of the Philippians for their emissary/friend/missionary Epaphroditus. The Philippians’ distress for Epaphroditus’ health tells us how significant Epaphroditus was to the Philippians. It also shows Paul’s importance to them for them to send such a significant person.
In the Roman era, if you did not have family or friends to take care of you, you were not going to last long. The primary care of a prisoner would be performed by those same family and friends. Epaphroditus was one of Paul’s care-givers. He was a key part of Paul’s survival. Yet, Paul viewed the Philippians’ worries of higher importance than his own. So much so, that he put their emotional welfare ahead of his own physical and emotional welfare. He also, therefore, took on their coming joy as his own.
Paul echoes much of this in his earlier letter to the Romans. He talks about bearing the weaknesses of others so as to not please oneself. He talks about pleasing our neighbor, especially to build them up. He also says that this also means that when these people are insulted, he (or we) are also insulted.
This is not the way of the world. The way of the world is to separate. Even as Christians, the world tries to separate us from each other, and we let the world do it.
1) How can you build-up your empathy muscle? Why should you?
2) How do you think empathy helps build the framily?
3) Why do you think we avoid feeling empathy toward others?