Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Sensitivity


  Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

How often have you noticed the callousness of some people when they encounter the needs and hurts of other people?  How can people remain unmoved when confronted with poverty, sickness, tragedy, and loss?  They have hardened hearts that don’t have a proper sensitivity to people and their needs.  How about you? Do you have a genuine sensitivity toward people, toward needs, toward God Himself?

“Sensitivity” has more than one definition and meaning. It can be used in a positive way and a negative way. Here we are not speaking of those who cause others to “walk on eggshells” because of their sensitive spirits. We are speaking of the trait of sensitivity in a positive way.

The Scriptures speak of those who have a hardened heart (Psalm 95:8; Hebrews 3:8, 15).  We also read, “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).  Such a hardness of heart will keep people from responding to God or others.  They will be in their own self-centered little world and be unfeeling and unresponsive toward the needs of others.  “Where we harden our hearts, we lose the capacity to understand the hurts of others.”[i]

In contrast, believers in Christ are to be “tender-hearted” toward others (Ephesians 4:32) and are to be “sympathetic” (1 Peter 3:8).  Someone has said that “sensitivity is perceiving the true feelings of others and adapting our responses to them.”[ii]  Notice, when we speak of sensitivity, we are referring to a deep sensitivity toward the feelings, desires, needs, hurts, and concerns of other people.  While, we can’t really know infallibly the heart of people unless they reveal this to us through words or actions (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11), we can seek to perceive when someone is deeply troubled and concerned about something and then seek to help them. 

This is in contrast to those who have “sensitive” feelings and emotions.  In such cases, other people are afraid of saying or doing anything lest the person becomes offended, upset, reactionary, or resentful.  Sensitive, in this sense, means “easily hurt or offended.”[iii]  It denotes “quick to take offense; touchy.”[iv]  Scripture says, “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).  We will not be sensitive and easily offended or hurt in this sense.

But what of the sensitivity to which we refer?  If we are sensitive to the needs of people around us, we will be in a position to empathize with them.  Empathy is “the identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, etc., of another.”[v] Sympathy is the “harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.”  It is “the harmony of feeling existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions.”[vi] 

God wants us to have such attitudes as we relate to others.  This is particularly true of other brothers and sisters who are walking in truth and the light of God (1 John 1:7).  It may be difficult to identify with those who are walking in darkness, living in sin, and corrupted in their conscience.  But we should be able to relate to other believers who have the Spirit of God.  Paul speaks of those in the family of God when he says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  We can try to identify with them and express our joy over their blessings and express our sorrow over their trials.  Paul refers to the unity of the body when he writes: “. . . the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25b-26).  This is sensitivity and sympathy—having care for other believers, suffering with them, and rejoicing with them.

Let us consider a few questions: (1) Do you seek the Lord with your whole heart?  (2) Do you allow bitterness or toleration of evil to cause callousness in your spirit?  (3) Do you close off communication with family members?  (4) Do you exercise your spirit to be sensitive to the spirits of other people?[vii]  One of the most important principles that will help us to be sensitive to others, is that of genuine love.  Read the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and ask whether this attitude of true love will stimulate your outreach and sensitivity to the needs and hurts of other people.  True agape love will seek the good, the welfare, the blessing of others.  Let’s be sensitive to the hearts of people and communicate genuine love and message of truth with them.


[i] The Power of True Success, p. 165.

[ii] Ibid., p. 164.

[iii] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[iv] American Heritage College Dictionary.

[v] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] The Power of True Success, p. 165.


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