The Preparation of a Sympathetic Priesthood

The Value of Experience

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

by Robert Gray

The Value of the Experience

During the notably evil years of the Third Reich, tens of millions suffered
and died. One individual who suffered was a teenage girl named Kitty Felix Hart. In her book, The Return to Auschwitz, she explicitly details the suffering she saw and felt. As a student nurse after the war, she described her cold reaction when observing suffering people. She did not feel compassion for their suffering because to her, their suffering was inconsequential to what she had seen.

This raises interesting questions. Does suffering automatically make one sympathetic? Is suffering necessary to being sympathetic? What kinds of suffering help us become sympathetic priests? How can we properly sympathize with the world now, as we prepare for our priestly work in the kingdom? Do we know how to effectively convey sympathy to our brethren and to others, or, do we even have sympathy?

Shaped by Experience

Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity” (Hebrews 5:1,2).

The reason a Levitical priest could deal gently with the ignorant and misguided was that he himself was beset with weaknesses. Though perfect, Jesus lived with imperfect people every day. He ate, sat, and talked with them. The crowds pressed against him, and all of this had the effect of bonding him to their needs. He touched the untouchable lepers and healed
them. A woman sought him out because of her infirmities, and he felt energy leave him when she touched the hem of his garment. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, as he saw Mary and Martha in such anguish of heart. We read of his own sorrow as he stood above Jerusalem and tenderly compared himself to a mother hen who would have gathered Israel under his wings.
His heart was filled with compassion.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus taught compassion for the wayward. In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, he taught the need for initiative in serving the needy. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, he taught mercy for our fellow man. Jesus was deeply touched by the suffering of others. The Apostle Paul explains that it was important he be taken from among men (Hebrews 5:1). This same idea is alluded to in the prophetic words of Jehovah to Moses, “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee” (Deuteronomy 18:18). He was made like his brethren so that “he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:1). These gifts and sacrifices are depicted by Israel=s Day of Atonement sacrifices offered by the high priest.

An Antitypical Priesthood

As members of the antitypical Lord=s goat, the consecrated of this age are being offered, by Jesus, a role in his priesthood. The bullock is already slain, and the blood has been sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. But the goat=s blood has not yet been sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. The church will one day be part of the priesthood that will receive offerings brought by the world.

Because of its human experience, this priesthood will never look with disdain upon those who will come in their dirtiness of sin. Some in the typical priesthood had such disdain. Annas, Caiaphas, and the sons of Eli were wicked and proud. A true priest would have compassion for the people. His heart would be devoted to his work. So, any who want to be part of the priesthood of the kingdom must ask, “Do I now have the attitude of a true priest?”

Every human being suffers in some way. But what is the difference in how sufferings affect the royal priesthood? The apostle addresses this question in Hebrews 12:11. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous. Nevertheless, afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Kitty Hart suffered horrors which most will never see. But apparently, she was not trained by them to be sympathetic.

The Benefits of Suffering

Suffering hurts, and it reminds us that we are not invincible but need God. Paul said, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). This indicated that by understanding his own weakness, he could receive
strength from God. Suffering makes us aware of our frailties, our need for compassion, and our need for someone to understand us. The Christian must allow this realization to create sympathy for others. Suffering should spur the growth of enduring patience in our hearts towards others. If that occurs, then the new creature grows. On one hand, suffering destroys something in us; but on the other hand, it can also build something enduring. Suffering is pictured in the consuming of a sacrifice on the altar. That which is consumed is the justified flesh. It results in building something stronger and more useful, a sympathetic character. If
there were a better way to accomplish this, God would have used it.­

There is a difference between the words empathy and sympathy. Both words are rooted in the Greek word pathos. Both words are related to feeling for another. Sympathy results from having a common experience. Empathy results from placing oneself in another’s situation by projection or imagination. God can empathize perfectly. Jesus can sympathize. One is based on projection and the other on experience. But one is not necessarily more important than the other. The point is to express pathos for others when it is needed.

Jesus was tempted in all points as we are. He is sympathetic to our temptations. He is empathetic with our sins. Our experiences with
suffering should make us both sympathetic and empathetic with our brethren and the world.

Suffering for righteousness’ sake is important. But suffering for other reasons can also help us become part of the sympathetic high priest. After all, we suffer every day from aches and pains. We suffer because of Adamic weakness. We suffer because of our own lack of faith. We suffer because of what we may say in haste. We suffer because of poor judgment. Everyone has said something they wish they could erase. Is there any value in suffering for our own weaknesses or foolishness? The answer is a qualified, “Yes,” if it helps create a sympathetic heart.

Three Fires

In the tabernacle on the Day of Atonement, there were three fires simultaneously burning. Hebrews 13:10 refers to the Brazen Altar in the court. Verse 11 describes how the hide, hooves, and carcass of sin offerings were burned outside the camp, making a terrible stench. Then, in verse 15, the Apostle Paul describes the believer standing in the Holy, offering the sweet incense of praise on the coals of the censer on the Incense Altar. All three involved fire, but the rising smoke carried markedly different odors from each.

Suffering with Christ for righteousness’ sake could be called the most sublime type of suffering, but to the world this suffering is a stench.

Meanwhile, we still have the consuming of the justified life pictured in the Court on the Brazen Altar. Whatever we do as justified believers is rendered up to the Lord. The Apostle Peter tells us not to suffer as a busybody or an evildoer (1 Peter 4:15). Nevertheless, if we do, that suffering can also have value to us. As sons, there are times we receive corrective chastening, and when necessary, even punishment. Thus, everything that happens to us can result in growth of the new creature. Therefore, if we suffer as a busybody and rightly receive the Lord’s corrections, the suffering will have been beneficial. If we suffer from a long, protracted illness, or if we groan under the burden of wayward children, all of these experiences, which are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13), can prove valuable to us as future priests.

How can our growth as new creatures help us properly sympathize with the world? Do we insulate ourselves from the world’s sorrows and shrug them off with no concern, knowing that everything will be taken care of in the kingdom? Or should we keep in touch with the sufferings of the world?

Note the words of Brother Russell in R3067­8. “Dearly beloved of the consecrated household. Let us not forget to keep in touch with the groaning creation; to sympathize with its sorrows and its woes; to realize its deep degradation and misery; to remember its frailties, its awful burden of hereditary taints and consequent weaknesses; its present environments of ignorance and superstition; its long­established error of public sentiment; and as the cries of the groaning creation come up into the ears of the Lord of Hosts (James 5:4) with strong and pathetic pleading to His loving heart, so let them come up to our ears and gain our sympathies, and quicken our zeal to cooperate with our Heavenly Father’s plan for the establishment of His kingdom of righteousness and peace … It should be our constant effort, therefore, to seek to discern the course of righteousness on every question of moral obligation and to see to it that our conduct and our sympathies and our influence, however small, are on the side of righteousness.”

Brother Russell suggests knowing the righteous side of the issues. Do we really know what causes homelessness? Why are there so many people out on the street? Do we understand the righteous side of the pro­life/pro­choice issue? How has the propaganda against Israel caused us to react? Will it cause us perhaps someday to desert her in our own minds? The world needs our sympathy now if we hope to someday bless humanity. We cannot harbor feelings of indifference. We should feel for them and know their issues without getting enmeshed in trying to resolve them.

A Good Listener

We should “do good unto all as we have an opportunity” (Galatians 6:10). Sometimes just being with another is the best we can do, ready to share tears with those who cry. One brother often told the story of a little girl who simply sat with her friend and cried. That was her expression of sympathy. Sometimes, few words are necessary. Anyone can write a short note of sympathy and encouragement. The Scriptures should be so ingrained in our thinking that, when they are needed, the words will flow like precious ointment for someone in need. But even when the right words do not come, we should not stop trying.

Brother Russell asked the question, “To what extent am I fulfilling my present priestly office and performing daily as I may have opportunity, my appointed work of sacrifice, laying down my life for the brethren?” He describes the Church as presently serving in a priestly capacity. This indicates the brethren need our service. Some are isolated and lonely. Sometimes the isolation happens because a mate has died. Such loneliness can be devastating. Sometimes, even the smallest gesture can lift one up. Knowing that someone is concerned and thinking of them can be very encouraging.

Each heart should understand that maintaining the idealism of consecration can be difficult and discouraging. As brethren struggle to lay down their lives, their flesh constantly battles against them. It is a struggle to maintain their sacrifice in the midst of a perverse generation. An encouraging word or pat on the back can be so beneficial. We cannot often
take someone=s cross from them but love and sympathy can help them carry it themselves.

Once there was a young sister who had lost her father. One of her peers came to her and lovingly said, “I know just how you feel.” The young sister thought for a few moments and knew this other sister had not had any experience like this, and she rather boldly said, “No, you don’t.” Years passed by and the “would be” comforter came back after the same experience had touched her heart and said, “You were right. I didn’t know how you felt.” This clearly points out why experience is so essential. The world will someday know that there is someone who had struggled against sin and experienced suffering, and yet through it all, remained faithful to God.

We can all be that warm arm around a sorrowing shoulder. Whether we are trying to express our sympathy or empathy with those who have experienced tragedy and pain, let us consider the grace we have each received and appreciate the privilege of being instruments of the Lord by passing it on to those around us.


● Being a priest requires us to learn sympathy.
● Suffering does not automatically make us sympathetic.
● All kinds of suffering can and should make us sympathetic.
● Being sympathetic does not automatically mean we will know how to convey the sympathy we feel. But we should not stop trying. Let us patiently work at being effective sympathizers.

“It is important to know of pain. It destroys our self­pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail
and tiny we are and how much we must depend on the Master of the Universe.” (From: The Chosen, by Chaim Potok)

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