How Do We Love People Who Use Suffering as an Excuse for Sin?

The Importance of Empathy


It’s easy when someone has wronged us to be frustrated with their behavior. And when that person uses their own suffering as an excuse, we can grow to be even more agitated. Dr. Mike Emlet, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), encourages Christians to respond with compassion to those who use suffering as an excuse for sin. 


Mike Emlet practiced as a family physician for 12 years before joining the CCEF. He holds an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has authored Asperger Syndrome, Help for the Caregiver, OCD, and Angry Children, and CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet.  


Can you think of a time when someone you knew used his or her own suffering as an excuse to sin? If so, what were the circumstances? Did it frustrate you? Why or why not?
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As Christians, we’re called to love, but how do we do that? In this case, Mike said that a good starting point is to understand that they’re suffering. Once we show them a bit of empathy, they are more likely to respond well to our critique. Mike said that if we don’t respond compassionately to a person’s suffering first, whatever we say or do afterwards will be in vain. The sufferer won’t hear what you have to say and will feel misunderstood. 

What are some things you can say or do to show someone you empathize with his or her suffering? It might help to role play. Consider making up a scenario of suffering and sin. Putting the sin aside at first, what would you say to attend to the person's suffering?
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Have you ever responded to someone’s suffering without compassion or empathy? How did that turn out?
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Mike said that once it’s time to address a person’s sin, it’s best to share our thoughts in gentle, loving, and truthful ways. Chances are, if you’ve begun with empathy and confronted gently, the sufferer will see their sin and be fairly amenable to what you have to say. They might even allow you to help them work through whatever sin and suffering they’re wrestling with.  

Share a time when you’ve gently confronted someone about his or her sin, and they responded well to you. What do you think made that confrontation go well given the circumstances?
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Mike at the end of his message made a point to note that we should come “with” people through their suffering and sin, not “at” them. What do you think is the difference?
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What are some ways you plan to walk "with" people through their suffering and sin moving forward?
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Because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23), it can be frustrating if people use their own suffering as an excuse for it. As Mike points out, though, it is still important to respond to people’s suffering as we aim to guide and help our friends. Many of the people in Jesus’ day sinned as a result of their own suffering, and Jesus never failed to be compassionate. Let Him be our guide as we not only forgive people, but also strive to understand them. 


This video is a publication of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). All content is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any manner without written permission from CCEF. For more information on classes, materials, speaking events, distance education and other services, please visit www.ccef.org