Gentle and Lowly: Discussion of Chapter 4 — Able To Sympathize

Hi @Interested_In_Book_Studies,

This chapter provides an in-depth examination of Hebrews 4:15,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Ortlund explains this verse:

The burden of this anchor verse is Jesus Christ’s sheer solidarity with his people. All our natural intuitions tell us that Jesus is with us, on our side, present and helping, when life is going well. This text says the opposite. It is in “our weaknesses” that Jesus sympathizes with us. The word for “sympathize” here is a compound word formed from the prefix meaning “with” (like our English prefix co-) joined with the verb to suffer. “Sympathize” here is not cool and detached pity. It is a depth of felt solidarity such as is echoed in our own lives most closely only as parents to children. Indeed, it is deeper even than that. In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.

But how can we be sure that Jesus suffers with us? Ortlund writes:

The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.

As he puts it,

Not only can he alone pull us out of the hole of sin; he alone desires to climb in and bear our burdens.

The word ‘sympathy’ is an interesting one. For me, it mainly has the sense of feeling bad about someone else’s condition - and that’s it!

“Man, it sounds like you’re going through a hard time!” There’s the concern for the other person, perhaps the vocalization of the struggle they face… and no more.

But to get into someone else’s shoes, to walk with them in their pain and heartache, to stay with them for as long as they need, to help them with all of their struggle, to not get tired, or frustrated, or give up, but to stick with them until the situation is resolved… who wouldn’t want a friend like this?

Sympathy makes me think of Hallmark cards. “Sorry for your loss.” A $2.50 card. For someone’s loss! It can be a meaningful gesture, but also a cheap and convenient one.

What we find in Jesus is something that so fulfills our human experience of sympathy that it makes our claims to be sympathetic look hollow.

But what great news! Jesus sympathizes with us in the midst of our cold, selfish hearts. He gets it. He’s with us. And he will sympathize with us until we learn to be like he is. We can come to him as we are because he is here to walk with us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does ‘sympathy’ mean to you?
  2. What difference does it make that Jesus IS in the trouble with you?

I once heard a testimony that I will never forget. A woman was raped and for many years had deep wounds. She asked Jesus why did He let that happen. Where was He through all that? He gave her a since/vision that I will not forget. He took her in that moment and put her on and out of the way. Jesus then took the actions of the rape into Himself. He took the pain for her. He knew every bruise, guilt, pain, wound, shame this event took on her. He took it on Himself. Is there such a human word for this action? Does sympathy do it justice? Empathy? Took our place? Suffers along has my vote. The greek word in the text only appears in Hebrews 10:34.

“You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” NIV

Many people know that Jesus forgives our sins, but they do not know that he also wants to redeem our deep wounds. Many of us don’t want to give it to Him, they think that it’s too ugly for Jesus, or they buried it in their past and don’t know how it is affecting them now. So it continues to do havoc even after we have been saved. We do not know the complete redemptive power that Jesus has for us. He says, “I want you to give me that too.” Thank God for the Holy Spirit and sanctification and me not fighting it anymore…

What great comfort it is to know I have Jesus the High Priest that is able to “sympathize” with me in the dark places of my heart or in this world.

I am never, ever, ever alone.

My best friend is always with me. I need hide nothing from Him. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It give me courage. It give me endurance. It gives me peace in all of life’s storms. Can It be described? I have true sabbath rest in my High Priest and nothing can shake it away.

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I have had to deal with this type of thing in my own life. The healing process is very painful. Thank Jesus that he walks with us every step of the way!


Sympathy has always been empathy’s lesser cousin to me. Sympathy cards mean something to some people, but they generally are cheap–or free online–tokens. I do not necessarily need to feel the victim’s pain in order to give them a card. It does not drive me to do something to help, whereas empathy does. I think, therefore, that the writer of Hebrews uses “sympathy” to mean more what “empathy” traditionally means to me. The writer also uses the Greek term, sympatheō, in Hebrews 10:34:

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (ESV, emphasis added)

This is the second of only two times that this term appears anywhere in the canon. We can sympathize with our needy brethren because Jesus sympathizes with us. We take care of those in prison because Jesus takes care of us. We act in others’ behalf because Jesus acts in ours.

This leads me to the second question. This chapter reminds me of what I have always considered to be true leadership: the leader gets in the dirt with the led. Jesus got in the dirt. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7, ESV). He continues to walk in the dirt with each one of us–with me–as I sin and recover over and over again. I like Ortlund’s final paragraph in the chapter:

If you are in Christ, you have a Friend who, in your sorrow, will never lob down a pep talk from heaven. He cannot bear to hold himself at a distance. Nothing can hold him back. His heart is too bound up with yours. (p. 50)

This is a great example for me to follow as I lead my son and family.


What does sympathy mean to me? Sympathy is an action word. Rather than utter condolences at the sharing of someone’s difficult situation as disciples of Jesus shouldn’t our antenna alert us to action whenever there is a need that we have the ability to make better? How often to Christians say I will be praying for you, and sometimes do? We often have the honor and privilege to pray with a hurting person right then and there. When we invite the Holy Spirit to use us & speak through us, we can touch hurting people deeply. Sometimes our humility and loving act will invite them to be vulnerable and share on a deeper level; maybe even lead them to Christ. We have a dear friend who was recently beginning to recover from the Corona Virus. My wife asked what her favorite soup was. She then went to work making a pot of that soup, and we brought it to her. The combination of my wife praying over the phone with her, and then bringing her some soup deeply blessed her. We recently went out to eat, and the restaurant was at 50% capacity. We had a sweet waitress, who was a good server, and had few customers… After our meal I handed her a $20 bill on a $24 meal. We told her we know times are tough and we want to bless you. She was so very thankful for the generous tip. Jesus is never self focused, but other focused. He is calling all believers to do the same, and as we do he will bring people in need across our path to be a blessing.


“Would you like me to pray for you right now?” is a powerful question for a hurting person. I have even asked people who might not have been believers that question. Just the thought can comfort the recipient.

The extra tip is also a great idea. I have done that too.


So true. Even atheists, when hurting, will rarely refuse prayer.


It has been a great adventure. I would listen to the Stephen Curtis Chapman song “Let Us Pray” and changed my ways. I always forget to pray for someone so like you said I do it right there. It has been awesome and most people welcome it. I got to pray with our mayor once. I was refused once by a homeless guy. Love it!


Since we are talking about prayer, let us consider John 17–the High Priestly Prayer. Here are some things that caught my eye as I reflected on it tonight:

Jesus prayed only for those who are his. He did not pray for anyone else. He is glorified in his own, who at that very moment were suffering anguish and doubt.

Jesus led the way by coming into this dirty, stinking, sinful world. He has sent his own into that same world–but his own are his own and will never stop being his own.

His own includes us! He prayed his High Priestly prayer not only for the people who sat with him at the Last Supper, but also for all who believe in him “through their word” (ESV). He prayed for unity of believers in the triune Godhead. :exploding_head:

There is a lot to unpack here. Our High Priest prayed especially for us! He sent the Spirit who lives within us and constantly prays in our behalf (John 14:16–17, Romans 8:26–27). We mimic that when we pray for others. This is honorable and right. It brings glory to our High Priest.

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What difference does it make that Jesus is in the trouble with me? It makes ALL the difference.
Six years ago my wife and I journeyed through my cancer diagnosis and treatment together, and Jesus was with us every step. Some days I am sure He carried us. One concept that seems mostly lost in our Christian culture is meditation. Several years ago we began meditating on New Testament scriptures related to God’s love for man that He demonstrated in giving Jesus as the supreme sacrifice, offering redemption to all mankind through Him. The more we meditated, the more our love for Jesus grew. We enjoy listening to worship music and taking communion before bed. In bed we often hold hands and pray. Our hearts so appreciate God’s love and grace shown to us daily through his word, Christ’s sacrifice and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We were recently asked to attend a surprise birthday party for a dear friend in another state. My wife had a strong sense not to go. I considered going alone, but then the Holy Spirit impressed on me not to go. After the event we were informed that a woman in attendance became ill. She tested positive for Covid-19. Now everyone is quarantined. We have often been saved from difficult or painful situations by listening to that still small voice. We could share many pages of God’s amazing grace by walking with us through difficult times, or preventing them.

We were hosting a large prison bible study of 45 inmates. We have been teaching the men to pray scriptures by putting their name in the scripture. For example: For God so loves Mike that he gave his only begotten son. We then teach them to mediate on the blessings & provision of Father, Son, & Holy Spirit to us with thanksgiving and praise. Many of the men have told us that their time of incarceration is the best thing that has ever happened to them, because this is where they met Jesus. We have witnessed many radically changed lives, healings, and restored relationships. Some of these men were very bad people, but no longer. Psalm 1 is so rich in teaching us how to live in union with Jesus: 1-Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked. 2-but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who MEDITATES on his law day and night. 3-That person is like a tree planted by streams of water…4-Not so the wicked…6-For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous…We are promised troubles in this life simply because we live in a sinned filled, fallen world, but our God promises to walk with us through the hard times–sometimes he picks us up and carries us through the most difficult times. May he richly bless you!


Quick link to next chapter discussion.

  1. Sympathy. For grins I looked up the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is having feelings of pity or sorrow, but empathy is the ability to understand. I would think “to get into someone else’s shoes, to walk with them in their pain and heartache, to stay with them for as long as they need, to help them with all of their struggle, to not get tired, or frustrated, or give up, but to stick with them until the situation is resolved”, is empathy. Is a step further than expected or asked.
  2. What difference does it make that Jesus IS in the trouble with you ?
    This makes all the difference in the world. Knowing he is in IT with me, means the difference between surviving and thriving. In the middle of it I may be surviving, but with his presence I will find myself thriving in the end because of his presence with me through it.

Thank you Mr. Carson @CarsonWeitnauer for your faithfulness, due diligence and leading of this study.


Loved this @Malie:


What does ‘sympathy’ mean to you?

I understand sympathy as feeling along with a person. Like feeling what they are feeling.

I hear that same thing about Jesus here in Hebrews 4:15. The KJV says we have a High Priest who is touched with the ‘feeling’ of our infirmities. I also hear this echoed in Isaiah 53, ‘bearing our grief, carrying our sorrows’.

I can isolate myself and believe that I alone know my own pain, or I can take Jesus at His word and come unto Him and accept His offer to carry my pain. He already feels it.

What difference does it make that Jesus IS in the trouble with you?

For one thing, it means He truly understands.
For another, it means He is right there next to me in the fiery furnace and I can talk to Him, hear His words of encouragement, feel my hand in His strong hand, and know I am not alone. He is with me. And I will not be overcome by it, because He is taking me through!
Isaiah 41:10, 43:2.