Mercy! Mercy!

Mercy! Mercy! Everybody

wants mercy, or so they think. Few

Christians know the truth about mercy!

Nor do they practice mercy in truth.

Most avoid both like the plague!

by Jerry Gentry

"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:6).

Mercy is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied concepts of scripture. If the truth about mercy were known and practiced, dead churches would come to life, lives would be quickened, pastors would rejoice and angels would sing glory to God! Look up mercy in a modern dictionary or thesaurus and you will find synonyms like: grace, charity, clemency, leniency, lenity, mercifulness. But are these true definitions of mercy?

Though these modern synonyms certainly result from true Biblical mercy, these are definitely not mercy in a Biblical sense. We will see as we go through various Bible verses that mercy takes on a specific identifiable meaning of it's own.

Jesus taught: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7).

Is Jesus speaking of leniency here? Is he speaking of charity or grace?

The Bible says, "Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1).

Surely the land is full of grace, which is taught and believed in practically every church. "By grace are ye saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8) is taught abundantly. Judges dispense great leniency to murderers and rapists by withholding the swift death penalty and by giving decreased sentences. Is that mercy? Parents widely and leniently refuse to give corporal punishment to their children. Leniency and grace are abundant in the land. And yet mercy is absent from the land.

Most Christians avoid true mercy like the plague. How could it be that real mercy is largely unknown in our churches, unpreached from our pulpits and unpracticed by our fellow Christians?

We have all heard phrases like, "Boy, that guy has no mercy!" Wives have sometimes complained to husbands, and vice versa, with admonitions like, "You are too strict. You should show more mercy to the children!" The strict parent responds by either backing off, or, God forbid, tightening the screws even more on an errant child.

Which parent is right? Is the lenient parent the merciful one? Or is the parent who persists with strong correction the merciful one? Which parent would you side with?

In other circumstances, Christian relationships are sometimes tested by a brother or sister in church. Some offensive pattern, such as, overbearing arrogance, or gossip, or complaining, or some other serious character flaw overtakes a member. After a while this person has irritated so many people with unsavory behavior for so long that you throw up your hands and ask, What do I do? Most Christians under such circumstances feel like they must talk to somebody just to blow off steam. But talk to whom? Certainly not the offending person, right? No, not the offender, especially if that person is the preacher's wife, or a big tithe payer or the college age daughter of the head deacon, or God forbid, the preacher himself!

If the truth were known and practiced, the application of true Biblical mercy may be the single greatest tool available to the individual Christian in building solid church unity. Find a church where true mercy is understood and boldly practiced, and I will show you a church with little gossip, little backbiting, few members out of line and lots of genuine concern and brotherly love. Show me a church where true mercy is absent, and I will show you a church full of gossip, full of division, full of petty strife and disharmony, with ministers wringing their hands trying to keep everybody from self destructing.

The Bible says, "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:6).

But this mercy, one of the two very elements whereby iniquity is purged, is missing from the land. Truth is the other element. Mercy and truth either walk together, or they fall together. You'll never find one without the other. Speaking of truth, lots of Christians know what the truth is. They read Bible verses like, "thy word is truth," (John 17:17) and "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), and, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Just knowing the truth means very little. Lots of churches know truth. But do they practice it?

"And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter" (Isa. 59:14).

Truth. . . fallen in the street! And no mercy in the land! What a pathetic condition!

Could these verses explain why our churches are so full of iniquity these days? Yes! These verses explain why church goers put on their best Sabbath or Sunday clothes and look great on the outside, but inside they are "full of dead men's bones" (Matt. 23:27)&emdash;gossip, adultery, backbiting, envy, pride, every evil way&emdash;all the things Christianity teaches against. Or does it? These verses are an indictment against every Christian who has failed in the mercy department, no matter how much truth he thinks he has in his head.

Now let's make the full connection:

Simply put, mercy is truth put to practice! Mercy is the application of truth in our daily lives. This application entails everything in life. It certainly includes visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, even helping a little old lady across the street or feeding your dog or cat. But mercy only begins with these obvious acts of compassion and kindness. If these things were taught at the college level, they would be called Mercy 101, or Beginning Mercy. Where is Mercy 201, and 301&emdash;Advanced Mercy? You see, mercy extends all the way to the disobedient child, the errant brother, and even to the rapist or murderer in jail. Mercy, when properly understood, is the application of the Word of God in daily life. Failed application of mercy causes truth to fall in the street at the family level, the church level, the civil level and elsewhere. Truth is of no use without application. Do you think you have a head full of knowledge? What are you doing with it, brother? Mercy requires a knowledge of truth, but goes the extra mile of putting truth into practice in the trenches of daily life! Mercy may lead to leniency or grace only after the sinner repents and makes restitution.

Let's check back with our errant brother in church. Let's say this fellow, we'll call him John, a good Bible name, has a habit of borrowing tools without returning them. The Bible calls this stealing, even though John would faint if someone called him a thief. When visiting John about something else you notice some borrowed tools in his shed out back. You say nothing, because you don't want to be "accusative." You think it would be best for someone else to handle the matter. You smile, finish your visit, and leave. You walk out without confronting John about the borrowed tools. In doing this, you exercised no mercy. The truth just fell into the street. You, brother, just increased iniquity by failing to confront sin! Now you are a participant and sin is multiplied. Yes, you are your brother's keeper!

Now let's do an instant replay of the visit, now that we have more understanding of mercy. Here is one way you could handle the situation by applying Biblical mercy:

Noticing the borrowed tools, you say something like, "Hey, John, doesn't that lawn mower and edger belong to Jim? I noticed his grass is a little high lately. Why don't you return those tools?" Don't get angry. Don't get mad at him, no matter what excuses he makes. Just listen. Your object is to speak the truth firmly in love and meekness. That's what Biblical mercy is all about. Your object is restoration, not condemnation. You identify and confront sin, that iniquity may be purged. He may feel rebuked! Praise God. He needed it. What John does now is his responsibility. Your responsibility has ended for the time being.

Let's take another example. Sally, the head deacon's college age daughter is a known gossip. You are a quiet wife and mother of four, a little shy in public, and quite desirous of being liked by all. Sally comes to you with a juicy story about how Pastor Bob was seen down town in a coffee shop with a young blond. Sally heard the story from a friend. Sally wants to know if you think Pastor Bob is having an affair?

Now you recognized this as gossip. You were not greatly interested, yet you listened politely anyway, but held your peace. You did not want to offend. Sally persisted with other speculations and finally you admitted some of it might be true. You excused yourself to take care of a crying child. Sally left. The incident made you feel a little uncomfortable, but you thought it best just to drop the matter. You did not want to start anything.

Sister, mercy just failed, and truth just fell in the street. And you became a gossip too by listening and joining in.

You should never cover the sin of gossip. "Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:" (Isa. 30:1). In the absence of mercy and truth, sin is added unto sin. That is where most churches are today!

Instant replay: Sally tells you about Pastor Bob. Your Christian duty, sister, is to confront the sin of gossip, every time you hear it. Anything less than confronting sin is what the Bible calls iniquity. Sin is never to be tolerated, placated, accommodated. So, you say something like this to Sally: "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Please remember not ever again to tell me such things. I stand against all gossip. By the way, how is your sister who was in the hospital? Is she better? We have been praying for her." Sally may immediately have a fit and fall in it, but your conscience is clear! You have exercised mercy by saying the truth in kindness and firm meekness.

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged. What a glorious, liberating truth!

Oh, how our churches would come alive if the truth about mercy were known and applied faithfully. Next time you have that nervous feeling about speaking privately to a brother and confronting him with a sin, remember to have a little mercy. Don't back off. Tell him his error between you and him alone, kindly, patiently, firmly, without apology. Then it's his responsibility to make amends and get things right. You've done your duty. If he hears you, you have won a brother. Either way, you have shown him mercy by telling him the truth.

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