“Lord Have Mercy”

“For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2:13

For the past several months, I have been making a conscious effort to show grace to others, and to myself. I thought I had a clear grasp on what grace means, and of its purpose. I thought I was pretty good at showing grace, and I knew I was good at reprimanding others for not being gracious enough.

Last week, I came across the verse James 2:13, which says “For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

I paused to turn this verse over in my mind.

“Mercy,” I thought, “what is mercy? How is mercy different from grace?”

I considered what I thought grace to be. Grace was an act, a choice, something you extend to someone when you’re trying to be empathetic to their situation. Grace is what you practice when you choose to continue showing kindness and love to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

But how is that different from mercy? I couldn’t figure it out, so I turned to one of the most valuable resources I know of when it comes to finding meaning in scripture: other believers. I sent out texts to several friends and family members and received answers that were worlds different than my own.

“I think mercy might sometimes be deserved, as in the case of a prisoner of war. A king or leader may have the power to end their life, though they did no more wrong than anyone else in the situation. Mercy can be a one time thing, while grace is a way of life. Grace includes mercy, but is not limited to mercy.”

“This is what the bible says – Grace: unmerited favor (Ephesians 2:5) anything good we receive from God is an example of his grace. Mercy: to suppress judgement that we deserve and grant us forgiveness we don’t deserve (Psalm 51:1-2).”

“I believe the terms are similar but different as well. Mercy: God not punishing us even though it is what our sins have deserved. So being saved from judgement. Grace: God blessing us even though we don’t deserve it. Having kindness given to even the worst of the worst.”

“Grace is undeserved favor. Mercy is a little different because it requires patience with an offender. It’s even in the definition ‘compassionate forbearance.’ They work together but I think the difference becomes clear when we tap into them. Grace is given to all through Christ is a standing with him we could never attain. Mercy is when a person accepted by and living under grace messes up and still knowing that they can approach a God who shows patient kindness as I grow, rather than judgement, because I am living under grace. Grace makes it possible to give and receive mercy.”

“Grace is a blessing that God gives us and mercy is a free ticket away from punishment when we truly deserve it.”

“Grace: showing love and kindness to another without reason. Mercy: receiving grace from someone when you do not deserve it.”

What many of my wise friends are saying is that grace is an umbrella term; a category under which mercy falls. Being merciful is an act of grace, and a part of grace that I was totally missing. You see, while the terms do coincide, they are not mutually exclusive. Mercy is one of the blessings that God extends to us because of his grace, and if we are to live under his grace and share it with others, we must extend the same mercy to them.

In my case, I was ready to show grace as I saw it; I was ready to continue to show kindness to those in my life who hadn’t earned it. I was willing to try and love them to the point that someday they would miraculously stop doing the things that offended me. I think that a lot of us understand this, and many of us think that this is good enough.

But friends, if that is where our love for others stops, we are missing it.

Jesus didn’t love people to their face while condemning them in his mind. He didn’t share a meal with the tax collectors and spend the entire dinner anxious to get away from them. Jesus didn’t endure people, he loved them. He showed them mercy, and that is what we are missing.

What does living mercifully look like? It looks like living graciously. It looks like showing kindness and love to others who aren’t deserving.

But that’s the issue: being merciful isn’t always shown outwardly. The battle is in our minds. The fight is against our flesh. The belief that reflecting the love and kindness of Jesus outwardly is good enough is a lie! 

Let’s be honest friends; if your body is doing one thing while you heart is thinking another, is there a point to what your body is doing?

Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church in Corinth (which was not unlike the American church today.)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” 2nd Corinthians 10:3-6

Let’s look at verses 3 through the first half of verse 5:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…”

Destroying arguments and lofty opinions? Is Paul talking about correcting the political opinions of distant relatives on Facebook? For this half of the verse, we probably feel justified in our lack of mercy. After all, that’s what we do. We hear someone else’s opinion and perspective, while waiting for our chance to cleverly put them in their place and assert our dominance as Christians and messengers of God.

But we’re not done yet. Check out the rest of the verse:

“and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

This is the part that we must begin to understand. Paul is not advocating that we destroy the arguments and opinions of others. He is not giving us the green light to dismiss any thought coming from the mind of another person who does not believe exactly as you do.

No, friends, Paul is telling us to destroy our own arguments and opinions. He says to take each of our own thoughts captive, and be prepared to tell yourself that you’re wrong.

Since I discovered the importance of showing mercy, I have also learned the crucialness of controlling your own mind and being aware of your thoughts. When we are living one way and thinking another, we accomplish nothing. We are living as hypocrites, and we are certainly not living like Jesus.

I encourage you to start practicing mercy. Every time you have a negative thought about another person, take it captive. Hold it up to the light, and examine it. Go through all the reasons you feel that way, and then consider your heart.

Instead of crucifying your relatives on Facebook because of who they voted for, choose to have mercy on them. Rather than stewing over the guy who cut you off on your way to work and calling him an idiot to yourself, choose mercy. When your boss attacks you personally, and all you can think about is how horrible that person is, choose mercy.

This is not easy, friends. But then, Jesus never promised easy. Jesus never promised safe. He promised a better life. He promised a way out of our imminent separation from God as a result of our sin, through his mercy. I remind you of the verse we began with:

“For judgement is without mercy in one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2:13

I challenge you to write this verse where you will see it often. Share it on social media. Remind yourself and others to be merciful. If the church truly begins to grasp this, we will see the world change.

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