We spent time as a church plant studying the theme of mercy recently. Here's what we looked at.
SPIRITUAL MERCY is about forgiving people who sin against us (repeatedly), as well as having compassion on Christians who doubt.
In Matthew 18:21-35 a servant is forgiven a debt of a billion dollars by his king (How did he even get that loan?). But then he turns around and refuses to forgive a debt of $10. The set-up for the story was Peter's question about whether there's a cap on how many times we forgive a brother, sister, spouse (?), for the same sin. Jesus doesn't answer him directly, but says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." The treatment, is that the unforgiving servant was cast into debtor's prison to be tortured. So, we're all left concluding that forgiving someone for the same sin over and over again--did I mention your spouse?-- is a pittance compared to the forgiveness we have in God. It doesn't feel like it, but in comparison, it is.
Jude than teaches another form of spiritual mercy is compassion on believers who doubt. Every generation of Christians struggles with different kinds of doubts, provoked by the cultural movements of the day. To each generation, and to each individual believer, we are called to show compassion and mercy. As is written, “… keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt…” (Jude 1:21-22)
MATERIAL MERCY is a summons to give with to those who lack, whether we know them well or not.
This is the more common way we think of mercy. I could pick from many passages, but quoting from 1 John 3:17, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" (1 John 3:17). John takes a sledgehammer to the false divide that suggests we can be forgiving, but not generous. Furthermore, looking at the "punchline" of the Good Samaritan story, Jesus answers the question of, "Who is my neighbor?" by saying, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” And thus, Jesus takes his own sledgehammer and says, "Allow me to knock down your false boundaries of who your neighbor is and isn't."
It is a false divide to be forgiving but not generous, or generous by not forgiving. They are both exits off the same highway, which is why God summons us first and foremost, to be merciful people. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Think about whom you can show mercy today by forgiving them, providing for them materially or emotionally, reaching out to someone whose doubts bug you, and letting them know you're for them. Become merciful. How? By accepting the enormity of God's mercy for you.