A Call for Empathy: The Power of Tears in Faith

“Can one be genuinely alive without the ability to weep? Can someone serving God’s purpose be truly conscious without shedding tears?” These are some of the probing questions that have been haunting me recently.

This soul-searching comes not from my own initiative, but rather from studying the poignant parting address from Paul to the elders of Ephesus, where the apostle’s tear-streaked face painted a portrait of deep emotional resonance.

A few years back, when Paul made a brief stop in Miletus, he sent an urgent message to the elders in Ephesus, forty miles away. When they arrived, he shared heart-wrenching news: he was leaving, and they wouldn’t see him again (Acts 20:25, 37–38). Filled with uncertainty and unawareness of what awaited him in Jerusalem, he was nevertheless committed to his mission, despite the looming threats of imprisonment and affliction (Acts 20:22–23).

Paul’s tear-filled farewell speech makes one ponder his emotional honesty. Twice he refers to his tears. Could these tears be the overlooked aspect of the apostle’s message? A painting comes to mind – “The Weeping Apostle” – presenting a potent image of Paul, the man who, amid his religious teachings, was not afraid to show his tears.

Can we learn from Paul’s tearful service? He was known to lose his poise due to his passion for Christ and compassion for human souls. The elders of Ephesus could testify to Paul’s tears, which fell freely as he served the Lord. These tears were not just drops of water; they were expressions of Paul’s profound love and concern for their spiritual well-being. Are we willing to serve the Lord in such a heartfelt manner? This question bears consideration.

In his second reference to tears, Paul provides more context. He implores the elders to be vigilant, warning them about future threats from both external and internal sources (Acts 20:29–30). His plea carries a profound weight: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:31)

Picture this: a stalwart preacher, warning of sin, judgment, and the impending wrath, all while shedding heartfelt tears. He courageously speaks the unpopular truth, facing life threats but never shying away from his duty. His warning is both powerful and compassionate: Turn away from ruin, escape the upcoming wrath, repent, and wholeheartedly believe in Jesus Christ! This tearful plea is not only a dissemination of truth; it’s a demonstration of love.

Consider how unsettling it would be to face such a person. Many of us are used to protecting our beliefs against arguments and criticisms. However, how does one react when the opponent doesn’t merely aim to win a debate but genuinely cares about your soul? This doesn’t sound like a battlefield; it resembles a place of love and understanding.

This scenario challenges two types of people: those who have talked about divine judgment without shedding a tear, and those who cry but avoid talking about difficult truths. For the former, Paul’s example offers hope, showing that one can deliver stern messages with empathetic tears. For the latter, Paul’s example is a reminder that true tears have a deeper source and serve a higher purpose.

Finally, for all pastor-elders out there, just like the men Paul spoke to, I ask: Do you shed tears for the lost souls and those at risk? Do you serve your Lord with tears? Take note of Charles Spurgeon’s admiration for George Whitefield, who could “weep his way into men’s souls.” Such holy tears bear witness to the full, abundant life in Christ. They reflect a heart fully alive, fully awake, fully empathetic in a world plagued with evil times and immortal souls. Let’s pray for the rise of lionhearted men and women who serve the Lord with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength — and tears.