After a college or professional football team beats its rival or wins a championship game, there is usually a large, collective expression of joy from the fans of the winning team. Parties will break out on the streets and in bars and restaurants all across the victor’s hometown. Fans of every age will shout, “We won!” even though they are not players on the team and did not themselves contribute to any of the plays that helped win the game. Simultaneously, the fans of the losing team are not usually caught rejoicing in their opponent’s win. Many of them might even get depressed, as if the world has come to an end just because their favorite team did not make it.
All of this illustrates the part of fallen human nature that makes it hard for us to take joy in the success of other people, especially when we think that their success has come at our expense. Are we more often happy or provoked to jealousy when one of our coworkers gets the promotion for which we have been striving or when another student earns the award we wanted? Do we not find it easier to envy prosperous friends than to be joyful about their circumstances?
We who are children of God, however, are called to rejoice when things are going well for others, even if they are not going particularly well for us. Paul tells us we must “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15) — we must look for opportunities to enter into the joy of others and truly empathize with those who are rejoicing.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus displayed His remarkable ability to empathize with the condition of His people. Seeing the grief and sorrow of Mary and Martha, as well as their unbelief, He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:28–35). No doubt, Jesus felt the pain over what the people thought would be a permanent loss of life. Yet He was also “troubled” (v. 33) — outraged — at the sin, death, and unbelief that wracked His Father’s world.
Since Jesus could mourn with those who mourn, we also know that He can rejoice with those who rejoice (see also Zeph. 3:17). He can selflessly devote Himself to others, and so we can look to His example to help us to put other people first, accepting the role of a servant who empathizes with others (Phil. 2:3), while remaining indignant toward sin. By rejoicing with other people, we show our love for them in Christ.