Love Is Merciful—Are You?
HOW far could an automobile travel without oil? Before long, friction generated by parts rubbing against each other would burn out vital segments of the engine. Oil is necessary to eliminate or at least minimize this friction.
In human relationships we need such an agent to eliminate or minimize the frictions generated in everyday life. Such an agent is love. Love, as taught in the Bible, is more than kind words, though these are essential too. Love expresses itself in unselfish acts of conduct. It is positive and active, not negative or inactive. It builds up; it does not tear down. Due to a lack of this love, the entire human race is shredded by the frictions of life. Society is heated to the explosion point by hatred, fear, divisions, strife, insecurity and distress of nations.
LOVE IS MERCIFUL
An integral part of love is the quality of mercy. A dictionary defines mercy this way: “More kindness than justice requires; kindness beyond what can be claimed or expected; kindly treatment; pity.” All of these definitions are expressions of unselfishness; hence, part of love.
To be unmerciful is to be selfish, the opposite of love. Being unmerciful indicates an unwillingness to forgive. It shows a desire to demand beyond what we should demand of others. To lack mercy is to show hatred, not love.
STRAW AND RAFTER
When Jesus was on earth, he frequently used illustrations, or parables, to teach his hearers in a forceful way the necessity of love and mercy. He knew that people had a tendency to push these aside. He saw how quickly some criticized others while ignoring their own shortcomings. He also noticed that those who were quick to condemn often had faults far more serious than the ones they were finding in others. What language could he use, then, to impress deeply on others the folly of this unloving, merciless course of action?
Jesus had the exact words for this problem in human behavior. He used a word-picture, an illustration, that made an impression on his audience. It was one that they would not soon forget. As recorded at Matthew 7:3-5, he said: “Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother: ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! first extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”
Jesus used this exaggeration to drive home the point. It would be ridiculous for someone who had a rafterlike fault in his own personality to complain about a tiny, strawlike flaw in another’s personality and condemn him for it. The faultfinder should be concerned about this huge plank or timber, this rafter that would be so obvious to others, but which he was ignoring to pick at minor faults in someone else.
Christians are to counsel one another lovingly so all can be molded and fashioned into Christlike individuals. However, one who undertakes to reprove every defect in another, while his own spirit and conduct are wrong, proves himself a hypocrite. As the apostle Paul stated: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are, if you judge; for in the thing in which you judge another, you condemn yourself, inasmuch as you that judge practice the same things.” (Rom. 2:1) A wise reprover should begin at home and check matters he may be guilty of that could be as bad or even worse than those he observes in others. Jesus’ illustration demonstrated that our counsel should always be tempered with love, realizing that everyone, including ourselves, misses the mark of perfection in some way.
One reason some unlovingly criticize others quickly is that they desire to avoid looking at their own failures. To build up his ego, a person will tear down others, thereby suggesting that he would not be like the one he is criticizing; hence, that he is superior to that one. Acid criticism thus draws attention away from his own faults. An example of this was the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They harped on the failure of others in some strawlike point of the Law, while they themselves were guilty of far more serious offenses. Concerning these unloving, self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus said: “They say but do not perform. They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of mankind, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cummin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, judgment and mercy and faithfulness.”—Matt. 23:3, 4, 23.
The rafter in their eyes was their lack of love, mercy, justice and faithfulness. Yet they saw fit to criticize those whose faults were tiny straws in comparison! This is just like the world we live in today. Do not nations, races, political parties, marriage mates, yes, people in all walks of life find it easy to condemn others in an unloving manner while having the same or more glaring shortcomings themselves?
Being unmerciful toward others means that one does not recognize, or else is ignoring, a great fundamental truth. What is that?
Every person on earth is a descendant of Adam. What significance does this have? Romans 5:12 states: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” Everyone on earth is born in imperfection! No one is capable of perfect actions and thoughts. All tend toward wrongdoing because of inheriting sin and imperfection from Adam. We should not demand perfection in others, since we cannot possibly produce it ourselves. This does not mean that grievous sins are to be ignored. For serious violations of Scriptural principles, Jesus plainly laid out the procedure to follow, and it is recorded at Matthew chapter 18, verses 15 to 17.
Remember, mercy is “more kindness than justice requires.” We may be quick to demand revenge or perfect justice when someone irritates us or wrongs us. However, what would happen if Jehovah God were to demand perfect justice? Since Adam sinned as a free moral agent and chose to have offspring that were not the responsibility of God, would not perfect justice require that all of us die without any hope of everlasting life? We are all born in sin and therefore fall short of the mark of perfection. We do not have the right to life.
Therefore, we can be thankful that, as 1 John 4:16 states: “God is love.” Because of this love, Jehovah moderates justice with mercy, providing his Son as a ransom sacrifice so believers might get life. Tenderly and compassionately, like a forgiving father, Jehovah overlooks our tendency toward wrongdoing if we imitate his love and do his will. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.”—2 Cor. 1:3.
If we appreciate God’s love and mercy toward us, we must extend it to others. On the other hand, if we, after having been extended mercy by Jehovah, do not, in turn, extend mercy to others, but pick at the ‘straw in our brother’s eye,’ while ignoring the huge, rafterlike one in our own eye, would it not be just of God to withdraw his mercy from us? Jesus showed this would be the case: “For 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.
THE SINFUL WOMAN
One day Jesus was dining with a Pharisee. The occasion provided another opportunity for him to point out the need for receiving and extending mercy and forgiveness. The account relates: “And, look! a woman who was known in the city to be a sinner, learned that he was taking a meal in the house of the Pharisee, and she brought an alabaster case of perfumed oil, and, taking a position behind at his feet, she wept and started to wet his feet with her tears and she would wipe them off with the hair of her head. Also she tenderly kissed his feet and oiled them with the perfumed oil. At the sight the Pharisee that invited him said within himself: ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman it is that is touching him, that she is a sinner.’”—Luke 7:37-39.
This Pharisee considered the sinful woman beneath him, reasoning that Jesus should have reacted similarly. Jesus knew his hypocritical thoughts. “In reply Jesus said to him: ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ He said: ‘Teacher, say it!’ ‘Two men were debtors to a certain lender; the one was in debt for five hundred denarii, but the other for fifty. When they did not have anything with which to pay back, he freely forgave them both. Therefore, which of them will love him the more?’ In answer Simon said: ‘I suppose it is the one to whom he freely forgave the more.’ He said to him: ‘You judged correctly.’ With that he turned to the woman and said to Simon: ‘Do you behold this woman? I entered into your house; you gave me no water for my feet. But this woman wet my feet with her tears and wiped them off with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but this woman, from the hour that I came in, did not leave off tenderly kissing my feet. You did not oil my head with oil; but this woman oiled my feet with perfumed oil. By virtue of this, I tell you, her sins, great though they are, are forgiven, because she did an act of great love; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’”—Luke 7:40-47.
The pious Pharisee was the loser. In his unmerciful way he considered the sinful woman beneath his dignity and unworthy of his attention. At the same time, he did not honor Jesus. The sinful woman did. It is not that she had been a worse sinner than the Pharisee, though others thought so. Probably the opposite was true, as Jesus made clear concerning the Pharisees on other occasions. It was that she recognized the need for mercy and forgiveness. She realized more truly and deeply the reality of her sin. She also appreciated the necessity of showing love by her deeds. The Pharisee did not feel the need for any of these things. He thought he was righteous and did not need to repent. Because of this he did not feel he had to perform such loving acts as the woman did. His love for Christ was not as great. By his not extending mercy and love to other sinners, his sins proved to be greater. Jesus told the woman: “Your faith has saved you; go your way in peace.” There is no record that Jesus told the Pharisee that his faith had saved him.—Luke 7:50.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
The loveless world today is like the Pharisees. Its cold, merciless course has shattered the lives of billions of people. It has sown hate. It cannot reap love. Shortly, Jehovah will withdraw the mercy he has extended to it for over 4,000 years, since the flood of Noah’s day. At the universal war of Armageddon he will execute in righteousness the loveless and merciless ones. That will be a period of unequaled trouble for this friction-filled world. Those who have proved their love by being merciful and forgiving will be spared and ushered into a new world, where, under God’s loving hand, men will be gradually brought back to perfection.
All righteously disposed persons should desire this paradise restored. Do you? If you do and want to receive God’s favor and be mercifully protected through the coming world crisis, you should cultivate love by learning how to be merciful to your fellow man. Do not be concerned if he does not respond to your loving acts. If others continue unloving and are unmerciful in spite of your love, they are the losers. They will have to answer to Jehovah, but you have pleased God by continuing to show love and mercy.
There will be those who do appreciate your love and mercy and who will come to an understanding of God’s purposes, as did the sinful woman. Jude 22, 23 says: “Also continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire. But continue showing mercy to others, doing so with fear, while you hate even the inner garment that has been stained by the flesh.”
Happiness now and everlasting life in God’s new world are the benefits of a loving and merciful course of life. Jesus said: “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.” If you want everlasting life on God’s paradise earth, be stingy with criticism, but abundant with love; be miserly with faultfinding, but lavish with mercy. By doing this you will imitate God, for “Jehovah is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.”—Matt. 5:7; Ps. 103:8.