The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy.
Matthew 5:7, HCSB
I like animals. I don’t love them. I can take them or leave them. I like my dog Luther (he’s part German Shepherd, so I named him after the great Reformer), but if he were to die I would be sad, but quickly move on. I would feel worse for my kids than I do for Luther or myself. I would venture to say that this is why I dislike ASPCA commercials (especially the one with Sarah McLachlan’s song in the background). I do hate that animals are mistreated, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it is right to be mean to animals, but I don’t like the fact that my heartstrings are trying to be pulled so I give money to the ASPCA. Even Sarah McLachlan changes the channel; it’s too depressing. But those commercials serve as a good reference to mercy.
If D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is correct, and I believe he is, then, “Mercy looks upon the miserable consequences of sin. So that mercy really means a sense of pity plus a desire to relieve the suffering. That is the essential meaning of being merciful; it is pity plus action. So the Christian has a feeling of pity. His concern about the misery of men and women leads to an anxiety to relieve it,” (Studies on the Sermon on the Mount: Two Volumes in One; Eerdman’s Publishing, 1971. p. 99). The ASPCA commercials do not only want us to feel pity toward the animals, but enough pity to take action by funding their organization. It is mercy that causes us to give money to the homeless man or buy the homeless woman a meal from a diner.
The question really is, how do we do at showing mercy to our spouses? After all, we live with them. We see them daily. One would think that mercy would be easier to give to a spouse whom we see daily and love. Yet, we cannot forget the fact that our spouses are sinners and they have sinned against us more than once in all likelihood. In fact, they may sin against us in the same way over and over again. How long do we get sinned against and still show mercy? It is likely that the heart can become so calloused by the sins committed against us that we could relish in the pain of the spouse rather than feel (and act in) mercy.
Jesus gave a parable about a debtor to a king. The king called into account his debtors. One man stood before him and owed him what today could be estimated up into the billions of dollars. The king demanded the payment which the man could not pay in a hundred lifetimes if that were even possible. So he was ordered to be sold, along with his wife and children. The man pleaded for his life, ensuring the debt would be paid back fully. The king (acting in mercy) forgave the man his debt. Forgave him the debt! In other words, the man no longer owed the king a dime! He was set free. Wow! What mercy! On the way out of the palace, this same man saw a man who owed him $20,000 or so. He went to the man and demanded the money. Of course, who carries 20k around with them? When the man told him he didn’t have the money, the first man began to choke him and demand it be paid immediately. Like before, the man pleaded for his life and promised to pay it all in full. But he was (judiciously) put into debtor’s prison. The king’s servants saw what happened and told the king. The king recalled the man and excoriated him for his lack of forgiveness (mercy) and so put him into debtor’s prison as well.
Mercy really means a sense of pity plus a desire to relieve the suffering. That is the essential meaning of being merciful; it is pity plus action.
The king was owed billions while the man was owed thousands. Both had a debtor who could not pay. Nothing their debtors could do would make up for the loss made to the king and the man. Both losses were real losses, even if one was of greater proportion than the other. Perhaps $20,000 is pocket change to a multi-billionaire, but $12 billion is a significant loss. However for the average Joe out there losing $20,000 is just as signficant. The greatest difference between the king and the man was the king showed mercy while the man showed justice. The man wanted mercy himself, but when the time came to give mercy, justice ruled the day. That is often how it is in life in general, and marriage in particular. We want mercy to be given, but find it difficult to give.
The prophet Micah wrote,
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God, (6:8, ESV)?
What we often like is do the first, receive the second, and ignore the third. We like to meet out justice. We like to receive kindness (also translated as mercy). We like to pretend we are more than we really are. While the three “requirements” listed are in a specific order, the foundation of them is the last one listed. If we are humble before God rather than puffed up with pride, we tend to understand the truth of the parable Jesus gave: the King is God and I am his $12 billion debtor. My sins are great and numerous and I could never repay my sin no matter how much I tried. I deserve to be sold as a slave or thrown into prison. God could do those things, but instead He sent Jesus to pay my debt for me, so that “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross,” (Colossians 2:14, HCSB).
If I am honest, I know that I do not deserve such a massive forgiveness of debt. I am humbled by God’s mercy toward me. If I am humbled then I am altogether different than I was before I was forgiven. Not only am I free of the burden of debt, but I am no longer attached to the pride that was once part of me. My mercy tank is full if I am truly humbled by God’s mercy. So, if my mercy tank is full, it is ready to be distributed to others. I love mercy. I desire to not only receive mercy, but to give it as well. When my wife hurts me, I need only remember the hurt that I have caused her and more importantly God who has mercy on me, and I find in me the mercy to give toward the sin against me.
This does not negate the sense of doing justice, for in this sense, the word is clearly indicated that all people should be treated fairly based upon God’s Word. No one should be given partial treatment because of their financial status or their social status or any other status. No one should be given a snooty nose just because of their financial, social, or other status.
So this all goes back to walking humbly before our God. Those who walk humbly can freely give mercy (for they know they themselves have been the undeserving recipients of mercy as well), and do justice by treating all people equally and demanding others do the same. But it also goes back to the beatitude. The reason that those who are merciful are happy is because they receive mercy. Did you notice what happened to the man after refusing to show mercy to his debtor? He was recalled to the king and thrown into prison (the same punishment that he gave his own debtor–not the slavery that the king was initially going to give). In essence, if we refuse to show the mercy to others that was given to us, we forfeit the right of future mercy. This doesn’t mean we lose our salvation, but that we shall be disciplined until we learn to give freely what was freely given to us.
If my mercy tank is full, it is ready to be distributed to others. I love mercy. I desire to not only receive mercy, but to give it as well.
So when our spouses do what will inevitably happen–sin against us–we are to allow God’s mercy toward us to flow through us to them. Yes, they may have racked up one massive list of debts and sins against you. Don’t forget though that if you are a believer the mercy of God is in you and at your disposal. While it may be difficult to turn on the spigot and let the mercy flow, it can be turned on. You may need the supporting hands of others to help you turn the spigot, but it can be turned on.
I end with Augustus Toplady’s wonderful lyrics:
A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.
(A Debtor to Mercy Alone, public domain).