Receiving Mercy by Showing Mercy
MEN are merciful toward themselves. They want mercy from others for themselves. All men need mercy, for all have weaknesses and shortcomings that put them in need of forgiveness from others. But what is oftentimes the case? Why, the very ones that need mercy shown to them withhold it from others. Oh yes, they show a selfish kind of mercy by being very lenient and understanding toward those who have weaknesses similar to their own, but on points wherein they are strong and need little forgiveness they tend to be harsh judges. A man may not be tempted by alcohol and be very intolerant of those who are, while at the same time he falls short in sexual morality and craves great mercy for himself and others with this weakness. The gossip may condemn the covetous, the covetous wags a finger at the hot-tempered, who in turn rails against the drunk, who scorns the idolater that frowns on the fornicator, and each one all the while is as easy on his own weakness as he is harsh on the weaknesses of others.
Sin is sin, whether of one kind or another. If we offend in one point of God’s law, we have broken his law. The gossip commits trespass just as surely as does the fornicator, and God classifies both offenders as sinners, and both need his mercy and forgiveness. “For whoever observes all the Law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all.”—Jas. 2:10, NW.
Three verses later Jas 2:13 the disciple James adds this important reminder: “The one that does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” If we were judged strictly on the basis of right and wrong, none of us could stand; but God’s mercy enters in on our behalf to triumph over judgment and see us through. However, to receive this mercy from God we must practice it toward others, and not just in cases involving weaknesses we share in and hence understand so well, but also in cases involving sins to which we never succumb and which leave us at a loss to understand why others commit them. Christians seeking divine mercy cannot afford to forget Jesus’ words: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matt. 6:14, 15, NW.
Frequently a person is heard condemning faithful Bible characters. One may point with indignation at King David because of his immorality on one occasion, another berates Noah as a drunkard. It is true that David committed adultery with Bath-sheba, and Noah drank too much wine on one occasion. (Gen. 9:21; 2 Sam. 11:4) Moreover, Moses the meekest of men was provoked to unwise words that kept him from entering the Promised Land; Elijah fled in fear from his service as a prophet; Jonah headed in the opposite direction because he did not like his territory assignment; Jeremiah determined to quit preaching because it made him the object of reproach and derision; Peter denied Jesus, and on another occasion compromised on a point of doctrine because of fear. (Num. 12:3; 20:10-13; 1 Ki. 19:1-18; Jer. 20:7-9; Jon. 1:1-3; Matt. 26:69-75; Gal. 2:11-14) But what does this prove? That they were hardened sinners and grossly wicked? No; it merely shows that they were imperfect and in need of God’s mercy. They took any rebuke the Lord administered, recovered from their temporary lapse into sin, and pressed on faithfully.
What their self-righteous critics fail to appreciate is that these men did not abuse God’s show of mercy by settling themselves into habitual sinning to the indulgence of fleshly weaknesses. They responded to God’s rebukes and showed his mercy was not wasted on them, but that it worked toward their recovery for righteousness. Busily picking at these men and posing as upholders of standards higher than God’s, these critics fail to discern how such cases magnify God’s mercy, as Paul said: “Where sin abounded, undeserved kindness abounded still more.” (Rom. 5:20, NW) Nor do they appreciate Jesus’ words: “Stop judging, and you will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and you will by no means be condemned.” (Luke 6:37; Rom. 14:4, NW) Undoubtedly these arrogant critics need mercy more than did the ones they criticize, and if their sins were written down for the world to read they would perhaps be exposed as guilty of the same sins plus many more. They remind of the self-righteous Pharisees who swelled with pride that they were not like others, yet concerning whom Jesus said harlots would enter the Kingdom before them.—Matt. 18:23-35; 21:31; Luke 18:11.
But none should hastily conclude from this that one may give up and let sins and lusts of the flesh have their way with us, and bank on God’s mercy to see us through and into the new world. Those who would be righteous are not perfect; they fall, but they must recover and stand erect again. (Prov. 24:16) Prior to coming to a knowledge of Jehovah’s requirements persons may have been drunkards, idolaters, thieves, fornicators, and so forth; but when they set themselves to follow in Jesus’ footsteps they shun the old pathways of a sordid past. (1 Cor. 6:9-11) They must wage warfare against the weak flesh, in order to walk according to God’s spirit.
The apostle Paul pointed out this conflict between flesh and spirit, saying: “In me, that is, in my flesh, there resides nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is right is not present. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, but I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members.” (Rom. 7:18, 19, 22, 23, NW) He continues his argument to show victory comes from God through Christ for those “who walk, not in accord with the flesh, but in accord with the spirit”.—Rom. 8:1-8.
So all of us are imperfect sinners, in need of mercy. Mercy that works toward our salvation comes from Jehovah: “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses.” (Dan. 9:9) It is administered to us through Christ Jesus, “by means of whom we have our release by ransom, the forgiveness of our sins.” (Col. 1:14, NW) Finally, we must show it toward others, if we are to get it for ourselves: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.”—Col. 3:13; Matt. 5:7, NW.