1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?" (Romans 15:1-2 The Message)
The real purpose of what some may call "empathy" is the ability to step in with the intention of lending a hand to one who is faltering under a burden. We cannot deliver from the burden, but we can lighten the load a little!
Learning how to be truly sensitive to the needs of another is something which does not come naturally. It is a God-given thing. Paul tells the Roman church strength is for service. When we are standing strong, someone else may not be. Our calling is to serve - giving of our strength into their time of weakness in order to lift them when they have no capacity of lifting themselves. The process of "lifting" may be taking on a task which only adds to their burden, listening to them quietly so they can sort through their thoughts and prioritize their actions, or just being there when no one else is.
I don't want us to miss what comes next in our passage: Each on of us NEEDS to look after the good of the people around us. The responsibility we take toward those God places in our path is what Paul has in mind here. We need to live intentionally - taking action where action is needed, remaining still when stillness is the best option. We are called to look out for the other guy - not ourselves! When we are doing this - God takes care of us!
The rest of this chapter in Romans goes on to tell us Christ did not "make it easy on himself" by avoiding the troubles of others. I have to ask - how many times do we simply look the other way just because we are wanting to make it easy on ourselves? If we were to be honest, I suspect we could all recount a time or two just in the past month!
The "investment" in serving another is sometimes more costly than we are willing to engage in at a particular moment. I think Jesus had to rearrange his priorities a good many times in order to be available to the needs of others. If we take to heart his example, then we will begin to ask, "How may I help?" It may not be "convenient", or "publicly rewarding", but if we are willing to share from our "strength" in the times of another's weakness, we are learning to serve as God intends!