As a pastor, I am supposed to be a fan of grace, unmerited favor, and I am. There is a synonym to grace that I find I have more difficulty with. That word is mercy. Don’t get me wrong; I am a big fan of the teaching that God is merciful. I’m good with that. What I have a difficult time with is a little statement Peter makes in the New Testament when he states, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10) Many of you are far more gospel-centered than me and you love the concept of mercy. For me though, my aversion to mercy comes from a couple different places. On the surface, I am concerned that the concept of mercy will undermine people’s ability to fully embrace the implications of having their lives revolve around Jesus. “Cut them some slack, show some mercy” is often heard when a spouse has been unfaithful or a businessman has been unethical. That is not the time to lead with mercy.
But that’s just the surface. I fear there is a deeper reason for my aversion to mercy. To say that I am someone who needed to be shown mercy means, well that I am a charity case. I hate that. But this really is the rub. The gospel says all of us are in need of mercy and until we admit that we are cosmic charity cases we will never understand the Christian faith. We will never rest in Christ or grow in grace. We will never have living, saving faith. You may go to church, but you are not a Christian. I have a good friend who is planting a church in Forest, VA and their name is Mercy Presbyterian. It comes from the text above. In unpacking their name here is what the pastor wrote, “The name Mercy was chosen because it communicates both what we have received from God and what we are to reflect to our neighbors. We continue to need God’s mercy and we desire that God’s mercy in Christ might be known through our church.”
I am struck that Peter says we are those who had not received mercy but now we have received mercy. He doesn’t say we received “grace”, which I would be much more comfortable with, but says that Jesus came on a mission to show mercy on those who deserved justice. John Newton, the great hymn writer, captures this in his hymn “Let us love and sing and wonder.”
Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savor’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder; he has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame
Let us wonder, grace and justice
Join, and point to mercy’s store;
When, through grace, in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more:
He who wash’d us with his blood
Has secured our way to God.
Peter’s point is that because we have received this mercy we are empowered and emboldened to express mercy towards others. What that means, is mercy MUST be a mark of Jesus’ people. Mercy then is one of the two wings of the aircraft of orthodoxy. On one side of the plane we have the wing of word ministry and on the other, we have the wing of deed ministry. Mercy is one of the means that God uses to melt hearts. It removes obstacles and impacts the world with the transforming power of the gospel. As a result, we cannot be true to the gospel of Jesus Christ without being committed to proclaiming the hope, the power, the majesty and the reality of the gospel in both WORD and DEED.
What does look like? We need to understand that mercy is measured by action. You cannot be merciful just by feeling compassion, regardless how deeply you feel it. Author Tim Lane captured it this way, “Mercy is much more than the pang of sympathy you momentarily feel when you walk by the homeless panhandler on the street [and do nothing] … You may have felt sympathy, but your actions lack mercy. What makes mercy merciful is a heartfelt compassion that results in some kind of action toward the other person. Mercy is not just something you feel; mercy is something you do.” Whose life are you involved in? For whom, outside of your family, would you say that your life is indispensable? Our mercy is compassion but it is so much more than that, it is always loaded. Our mercy is never “simply mercy.”
Peter is saying that if we know have experienced the redeeming love of Jesus, we must love others. If we worship Christ, we must show mercy. If we commit our lives to Jesus, we must give our lives to those who need mercy. Are you looking to show mercy, wherever you can and to whom you can, regardless where it leads you? Many times the call to mercy does not lead us to beautiful things or beautiful people, but those bruised and broken by the fall. But friends, if you are in Christ, the great wonder is that God poured out His mercy on YOU first! When Jesus went to that cross, my name was written on those nail-scared hands. Because His mercy is on me, I must look to show that mercy on others. For friends, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
So, I am learning to grow more comfortable with being a recipient of mercy and a dispenser of it. As one charity case to another, “May the mercy of God be with you.”
Ed Dunnington is the Senior Pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian in Roanoke. Visit them on the web at www.ctkroanoke.org