Mercy for the Messenger

Mercy seems to have gone out of fashion. Lawsuits among Christians are on the rise, over 1000 pastors are terminated every year, and church splits have reached alarming proportions. Churches and believers today need a new appreciation for loving mercy; they need to hear Micah’s clarion call anew, “He has shown you, O man, what is good;and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The prophet Micah lived seven hundred years before Christ and wrote to a nation in spiritual decline; along with his contemporary Isaiah, he sought to call the nation back to true worship and practice before God. His summary statement of God’s requirements is perhaps the most well-known verse in his prophecy (although 5:2 is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel), and these few lines summarize well God’s desire for His people. The first section of this triad deals with the horizontal relationship of justice, the third phrase discusses the vertical aspect of humility before God, but the middle portion balances both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the human and divine relationships.

Loving “mercy” has to do with covenantal relationships; faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, and mercy together express the idea of this one Hebrew word (חֶסֶד). This word often speaks of the loyalty or covenant faithfulness that God shows to humanity and that humans should show to God. For example, Hosea addresses the nation’s lack of loyalty toward God, “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). This word also speaks of human relationships, as Micah indicates. When in the context of human relationships, the ideas of loyalty and mercy suggest that men live in right relationships with one another; this means both that believers should work to  develop right relationships, and when broken, they should seek to reestablish those relationships. One key way to restore relationships is through forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the truest sense of showing mercy toward others. Mercy does not give what is deserved, but instead what is undeserved. When David had established his kingdom, he asked, “Are there any yet left of the house of Saul, to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1). His merciful actions to Mephibosheth were based on his covenant with Jonathan, but they certainly display more than mere covenantal obligations. David shows mercy in every facet of its meaning as he welcomes this cripple into his home, seats him at his table, and restores to him his grandfather’s land.

Forgiveness extends the olive branch of mercy to those who have hurt or offended us. Mercy compels us to forgive because we realize the great debt we have been forgiven, the great mercy we have received, and the great love that we have tasted. Loving mercy means that we are able to look at our offenders and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Loving mercy means that we have been loved to mercy.

Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:11). Our forgiveness toward others is predicated on the Divine forgiveness that we have received. He makes this clear in the parable concerning forgiveness found in Matthew 18:21-35. After Peter questions Him about the number of times he must forgive his brother (7), Jesus responds with a story. The story follows two servants in debt, one who owes in modern terms about $10,000.00 to a fellow servant, and the other who owes about $6,000,000,000.00 ($6 billion) to the king. The king freely forgives the man in astronomical debt; in an astounding turn of events, this forgiven servant immediately finds his debtor and does not forgive him what is comparatively a minor debt.

Through this story, the Lord Jesus teaches that forgiveness is not measured. Both His reply to Peter (“seventy times seven”) and His illustration of this incredible debt reveal a truly immeasurable forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be measured by the harm done, the offense taken, the words uttered, or the actions committed (and even the consequences of these actions). Forgiveness is given without measure.

Jesus continues to show that forgiveness also is not merited. Neither slave did anything to merit their forgiveness; it was simply granted. Those who will not forgive others believe in some way that the forgiveness they have received is deserved, while the forgiveness they withhold is acceptable in the eyes of God. True forgiveness, however, is granted apart from any merit on the part of the one forgiven.

Jesus concludes by showing that forgiveness is based on mercy(Mt. 18:33). Loving mercy always means  extending forgiveness; it is both a covenant obligation and an act of kindness. Forgiveness flows from a heart filled with mercy—the mercy that comes from having experienced forgiveness.

Recently I went through an experience of personal hurt. Someone struck out at my loved ones and hurt them. As I prayed through that experience, I have experienced the joy of forgiving, even though those who inflicted the hurt have not asked for forgiveness. I have prayed daily for them in obedience to the Model Prayer of Matthew 6, and each day I have chosen to forgive and leave them with the Lord. My joy is full and my heart is light; I have chosen to love mercy rather than to hold a grudge.

Unforgiveness is a merciless prison of the soul (Mt. 18:34). Only by loving mercy do God’s people avoid that prison, and only by loving mercy do they escape that prison when they find themselves in it. The pathway to loving mercy is the pathway of humbling oneself before God, the honest appraisal of our own depravity and His wonderful grace that overcomes our sin and forgives us. Loving mercy means that we give freely of what we have received, without measure or merit, based solely on the mercy we have tasted, and knowing how sweet it