Mercy

I have mentioned before about my occasional problem with some of the Christian community and it’s witness in the world (I’m sure they have a problem with me too). At times I’m sure that I have engaged in some self-righteous thinking about this, and I really do not want to be pharisaical. There are too many in Christendom who believe they have an exclusive corner on the truth market and are convinced that what they think is exactly what God thinks.

Of course there are basic truths of the faith that are not debatable, and these essentials, I believe, are clear enough that most Christians agree. It’s the other not-so-clear issues that we argue about. Some of these minor issues have grown into major issues that have at times caused new denominations to be raised up.

In a way this friction is good to the extent that people are so serious about their faith it becomes for them a question of life or death to know the truth. And it is. But often the downside causes divisions and ill-feelings that belie Jesus’ teaching that the world will know His disciples by the love they have for one another.

So what are Christians to do when they don’t see eye-to-eye on beliefs dear to their hearts? Well, we have heard time and again that we should continually “walk in forgiveness.” And that also is true. But if we don’t agree with someone theologically is it a question of everyone forgiving everyone? Well, maybe, maybe not. In most cases, there probably has been no need-for-forgiveness offense, except in my mind, perhaps. Now someone might say, “You are weird, why would this even be an issue?” And, rightly so, we often blow things out of proportion. But, as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos (Acts 18:24ff), sometimes correction is necessary. But what if it causes ill-feelings?

A new convert (a relative actually) was so on fire for the Lord, that he was constantly arguing with his religion professor until he was finally thrown out of the class and told not to come back. I believe he was right in his theology, but his approach was counter productive. In that instance there was probably a need for forgiveness from everyone.

Well, what about issues not related to belief and theology? What about just getting along with everyone especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord? Theology differences, as mentioned, have caused rifts in congregations resulting in new churches and new dominations. What about rifts is relationships that have resulted in hard feelings, hurt feelings, insults, offenses, or whatever, resulting in leaving a church or fracturing a relationship?

An incident recently happened in our church, the results of which will in all likelihood have a permanent effect on the attitude of the person involved . In fact, if the incident in question had involved me, or I venture to say, many others in the congregation, there may have been one less attendee. It would be interesting to poll the congregation to see where everyone may stand on the incident. If the situation had been handled differently, in private rather than public, the huge potential for hurt (I believe there is a hurt, but then again maybe I’m projecting) would have been neutralized, and perhaps spared one a public humiliation (one week later: the person did return the next week).

Had this happened in a secular setting, in my past experience, say, a school setting, this would have been handled very differently, probably with a different outcome. The church should be the best place to treat people with uncommon love/courtesy/mercy, and not the way it happened. The church must be the place of refuge, safety, the place to be your real self without fear of exposure or censor.

In Matthew 18:23ff, Jesus teaches via a parable about the unmerciful servant who after being forgiven a huge debt by the king, demands payment owed him by a fellow servant. He not only demanded payment but choked the guy and had him tossed in the pokey. When hearing about this, the king rescinded his offer, had the servant thrown in jail and tortured until the debt was paid in full. In so doing the king said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” Jesus, then, referring to the king’s action, states, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.”

Here Jesus clearly connects the idea of mercy with forgiveness. And while not every “mercy” scripture makes that connection, it seems like a very strong relationship. In that case, mercy becomes critical in that if we are not willing to show mercy by forgiving others, God will not forgive us. A most startling, corroborating, scripture is Matthew 6:14,15 where it is clear that if we don’t forgive, God will not forgive us. That’s a little scary (maybe a lot).

Well, it’s bad enough when we don’t forgive a forgivable offense (deadly, perhaps) but it seems that offering mercy for the common everyday slights, real offenses, minor offenses, imagined offenses, and again-whatever, constitute the majority of life’s challenges of getting along with everyone, Christians and non. And that mercy is the solution.

The 3rd chapter of Colossians provides a variety of rules for living a holy life both for the individual and families. In dealing with others verse 13 states, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Another translation reads, “Forbearing one another…” In today’s terms we would say, “Put up with each other.” Yes, in a myriad of instances we just simply have to “Put up with each other.” That means extending mercy whenever it is needed.

I read a definition once stating that mercy was, “Not getting what you do deserve.” If someone needs, “Straightening out”, instead give him mercy.  If someone tries to “Straighten you out”, give him mercy. Put up with him. Give mercy instead of what he deserves. God did the same with us. We deserved death, God in Christ gave us mercy. And if we have received such a marvelous abundance of mercy, what a small payback to offer mercy to others for anything. That’s the message of Matt. 18:23ff.

James 3:17 states that the wisdom from heaven, which we are supposed to ask for, includes mercy. Mercy is a Godly quality. If I ever need mercy please “Put up with me.” And if God tells you to do it, and only then, let me know when I need “Straightening out” and I’ll do my best not to hold it against you. That’ll give me a chance to extend mercy.

Comments

  1. Rachael MacPhee says:

    Love you Granddad and I look forward to gleaning your wisdom every month. Looking forward to gleaning from you in person this weekend but thank you for all the scripture here.

    love you!

  2. Michael Ham says:

    Alan, It is bold to give others permission to “staighten us out” but bolder still to give mercy when we could offended!

    Good Stuff as usual.

    MH

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