“Jehovah is good to all, and his mercy is evident in all his works.”—PS. 145:9.
SONG 44 A Prayer of the Lowly One
1. What may come to mind when we think of a merciful person?
WHEN we think of a merciful person, we may picture someone who is kind, warmhearted, compassionate, and generous. The story Jesus told about the neighborly Samaritan may come to mind. That man of another nation “acted mercifully toward” a Jew who had fallen among thieves. The Samaritan “was moved with pity” for the injured Jew and lovingly arranged for his care. (Luke 10:29-37) This illustration highlights a beautiful quality of our God—mercy. That quality is a facet of God’s love, and he displays it each day in the way that he deals with us.
2. What is another aspect of mercy?
2 There is another aspect of mercy that may come to mind. It involves holding back punishment when there is a basis for doing so. In that sense, Jehovah has certainly been merciful toward us. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins,” the psalmist said. (Ps. 103:10) At other times, though, Jehovah may provide firm discipline to an erring one.
3. What questions will we examine?
3 In this article, we will address three questions: Why does Jehovah show mercy? Is there a connection between firm discipline and mercy? And what can help us to show mercy? Let us see how God’s Word answers these questions.
WHY JEHOVAH SHOWS MERCY
4. Why does Jehovah show mercy?
4 Jehovah loves to be merciful. The apostle Paul was inspired to write that God is “rich in mercy.” In this context, Paul was referring to God’s mercy in offering the hope of heavenly life to his imperfect, anointed servants. (Eph. 2:4-7) But Jehovah’s mercy is even more extensive than that. The psalmist David wrote: “Jehovah is good to all, and his mercy is evident in all his works.” (Ps. 145:9) Because Jehovah loves people, he extends mercy whenever he sees a basis for doing so.
5. How did Jesus learn about Jehovah’s mercy?
5 More than anyone else, Jesus knows how much Jehovah loves to show mercy. This Father and Son were together in heaven during the course of thousands of years of human history. (Prov. 8:30, 31) On many occasions, Jesus saw how his Father showed mercy to sinful humans. (Ps. 78:37-42) In his teaching, Jesus often highlighted this endearing quality of his Father.
6. What picture did Jesus paint of his Father’s mercy?
6 As mentioned in the preceding article, Jesus used a parable about a lost son to paint a heartwarming picture of how much Jehovah loves to show mercy. The son had left home and “squandered his property by living a debauched life.” (Luke 15:13) Later, he repented of his immoral course, humbled himself, and returned home. How did his father respond? The young man did not have to wait long to find out. Jesus said: “While [the son] was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and embraced him and tenderly kissed him.” The older man did not humiliate his son. Rather, he mercifully forgave the young man and welcomed him back to the family. The lost son had sinned greatly, but on the basis of his repentance, his father forgave him. The merciful father in the illustration represents Jehovah. In this touching way, Jesus illustrated his Father’s willingness to forgive sinners who sincerely repent.—Luke 15:17-24.
7. How does Jehovah’s wisdom relate to the mercy he shows?
7 Jehovah shows mercy because of his matchless wisdom. Jehovah’s wisdom is not merely some cold, intellectual quality. Rather, the Bible says that “the wisdom from above” is “full of mercy and good fruits.” (Jas. 3:17) Like a loving parent, Jehovah knows that his mercy benefits his children. (Ps. 103:13; Isa. 49:15) Divine mercy gives them hope despite their imperfections. So Jehovah’s infinite wisdom moves him to extend mercy whenever he sees any basis for doing so. At the same time, Jehovah’s mercy is perfectly balanced. Wisely, he never crosses the line from mercy to permissiveness.
8. What action is necessary at times, and why?
8 Suppose that a servant of God deliberately sets out to follow a course of sin. What then? “Stop keeping company with” him, Paul wrote under inspiration. (1 Cor. 5:11) Unrepentant wrongdoers are disfellowshipped from the congregation. That action is necessary in order to protect our faithful brothers and sisters and to reflect Jehovah’s holy ways. Some, though, may find it hard to view disfellowshipping as an expression of God’s mercy. Is it? Let us see.
CAN FIRM DISCIPLINE BE MERCIFUL?
9-10. In line with Hebrews 12:5, 6, why can we say that disfellowshipping is a merciful provision? Illustrate.
9 When we hear an announcement made at a Christian meeting that someone we know and love “is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” we are deeply saddened. We may wonder if it was necessary to disfellowship our loved one. Is disfellowshipping really an expression of mercy? Yes, it is. To withhold discipline from someone who needs it is not wise, merciful, or loving. (Prov. 13:24) Can getting disfellowshipped help an unrepentant sinner change his course? It can. Many who have fallen into serious sin have found that the firm action the elders took gave them the very jolt they needed to come to their senses, change their course of action, and return to Jehovah’s warm embrace.—Read Hebrews 12:5, 6.
10 Consider an illustration. A shepherd notices that one of his sheep is ailing. He knows that treating this particular illness requires that he isolate the sick sheep from the rest of the flock. However, sheep are social creatures. They long to be with the flock, and they may become agitated when kept apart. Does this mean, though, that the shepherd is being harsh or cruel in choosing this treatment? Of course not. He knows that if he allows the sick sheep to mingle with the rest of the flock, the illness will spread. By isolating the sick one, he protects the whole flock.—Compare Leviticus 13:3, 4.
11. (a) In what ways might a disfellowshipped person be compared to an ailing sheep? (b) What provisions and help are available to disfellowshipped ones?
11 When a Christian is disfellowshipped, we might think of him as being like that ailing sheep. He is sick in a spiritual sense. (Jas. 5:14) Spiritual sickness, like some forms of physical illness, can be quite contagious. So it is necessary in some cases to isolate a spiritually sick individual from the congregation. This discipline is an expression of Jehovah’s love for faithful members of His flock, and it may reach the wrongdoer’s heart and lead him to repentance. While disfellowshipped, the individual may be able to attend meetings, where he can be fed and built up spiritually. He is also free to receive literature for his personal use and to watch JW Broadcasting®. And as the elders observe his progress, they may from time to time offer personal counsel and direction to help him regain his spiritual health so that he can be reinstated as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.*
12. What is the loving and merciful thing that elders can do for an unrepentant sinner?
12 It is important to remember that only unrepentant sinners are disfellowshipped. The elders know that this is a serious matter, one that they do not take lightly. They know that Jehovah disciplines “to the proper degree.” (Jer. 30:11) They love their brothers, and they do not want to do anything that will cause them spiritual harm. At times, though, the loving and merciful thing to do is to remove a wrongdoer from the congregation for a period of time.
13. Why did a Christian in Corinth need to be disfellowshipped?
13 Consider how the apostle Paul dealt with an unrepentant sinner in the first century. A Christian in Corinth was living immorally with his father’s wife. How shocking! In this regard, Jehovah had told the ancient Israelites: “A man who lies down with his father’s wife has exposed his father to shame. Both of them should be put to death without fail.” (Lev. 20:11) Of course, Paul could not order the death penalty for the man. But he did direct the Corinthians to disfellowship him. That man’s immoral conduct was affecting others in the congregation, some of whom were not even ashamed of his outrageous behavior!—1 Cor. 5:1, 2, 13.
14 Sometime later, Paul learned that real changes had taken place. The sinner was truly repentant! Although the man had brought shame on the congregation, Paul told the elders that he did not want “to be too harsh.” He directed them: “Kindly forgive and comfort him.” Note Paul’s reason: “So that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sadness.” Paul felt pity for the repentant man. The apostle did not want to see the man so overwhelmed, so crushed, by what he did that he would give up on seeking forgiveness.—Read 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 11.
15. How do elders balance firmness with mercy?
15 In imitation of Jehovah, the elders love to show mercy. They show firmness when necessary but mercy when possible if there is a real basis for it. Otherwise, it is not mercy but permissiveness. Are elders the only ones, though, who need to show mercy?
WHAT CAN HELP ALL OF US TO SHOW MERCY?
16. According to Proverbs 21:13, how does Jehovah respond to those who fail to show mercy?
16 All Christians seek to imitate Jehovah’s mercy. Why? One reason is that Jehovah will not listen to those who fail to show mercy to others. (Read Proverbs 21:13.) None of us would want Jehovah to refuse to listen to our prayers, so we carefully avoid developing a hard-hearted spirit. Rather than turn a deaf ear to a fellow Christian in pain, we must always be ready to listen to “the cry of the lowly one.” Similarly, we take to heart this inspired counsel: “The one who does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy.” (Jas. 2:13) If we humbly remember how much we need mercy, we are more likely to show mercy. We especially want to show mercy when a repentant wrongdoer returns to the congregation.
17. How did King David show heartfelt mercy?
17 Bible examples can help us to embrace mercy and to avoid harshness. For instance, consider King David. He often showed heartfelt mercy. Though Saul wanted to kill him, David was merciful toward God’s anointed king, never vengeful or vindictive.—1 Sam. 24:9-12, 18, 19.
18-19. What are two instances when David showed a merciless spirit?
18 However, David was not always merciful. For example, when Nabal, a harsh man by nature, spoke disrespectfully and refused to provide David and his men with food, David was enraged and decided to kill the man and all the men in his household. Thanks to quick action on the part of Nabal’s long-suffering wife, Abigail, David avoided incurring bloodguilt.—1 Sam. 25:9-22, 32-35.
19 On another occasion, the prophet Nathan told David about a rich man who robbed a poor neighbor of a beloved sheep. Enraged, David responded: “As surely as Jehovah is living, the man who did this deserves to die!” (2 Sam. 12:1-6) Now, David knew the Mosaic Law. A thief who stole a sheep was to make compensation for it, four times over. (Ex. 22:1) But a death sentence? That was a harsh judgment. It turned out that Nathan was using that hypothetical case only as an illustration for a far worse series of crimes—those that David himself had committed! And Jehovah proved to be far more merciful toward David than David would have been toward the sheep stealer in Nathan’s illustration!—2 Sam. 12:7-13.
20. What can we learn from David’s example?
20 Note that when David gave in to his rage, he judged Nabal and all his men as deserving of death. And later, David was ready to judge the man in Nathan’s illustration as worthy of death. In this second instance, we might wonder why a normally warmhearted man would pronounce such a harsh judgment. Consider the context. At the time, David had a guilty conscience. A harsh, judgmental spirit is not a sign of good spiritual health. Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus strongly warned his followers: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with the judgment you are judging, you will be judged.” (Matt. 7:1, 2) So let us keep on guard against harshness and strive to be “rich in mercy,” like our God.
21-22. What are some practical ways in which we can show mercy?
21 Mercy is more than just a feeling. In fact, mercy has been defined as “compassion in action.” All of us, then, can look carefully at the needs in our family, our congregation, and our community. Surely there are many opportunities to show mercy! Is someone in need of comfort? Can we offer practical help, perhaps providing some food or doing some thoughtful deed? Might a reinstated Christian need some comforting, upbuilding association? Can we share the comforting message of the good news with others? This is one of the best ways to show mercy to everyone we meet.—Job 29:12, 13; Rom. 10:14, 15; Jas. 1:27.
22 If we are alert to such needs, we will see that there are opportunities all around us to show mercy. When we show mercy, how we must delight our heavenly Father, the God who is “rich in mercy”!
SONG 43 A Prayer of Thanks
Mercy is one of Jehovah’s most appealing qualities, and it is one that each of us needs to cultivate. In this article, we will examine why Jehovah shows mercy, why we can say that his discipline is merciful, and how we can show this beautiful quality.
To learn how reinstated ones can restore their relationship with God and how the elders can help them, see the article “Rebuilding Your Friendship With Jehovah” in this issue.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: From the roof of his house, the father sees his wayward son returning home and rushes out to embrace him.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Stressed by guilt, King David overreacts to Nathan’s illustration and angrily says that the rich man deserves to die.