Under the direction of God, in recent years we have been led to redouble our efforts and emphases on what we call mercy ministry. Whether it is a continuation of our labor in the Ivory Coast, or a new field for mercy work in Myanmar, or locally through Sabbath House, we have been given some wonderful opportunities. So that we don’t squander those opportunities, we need to love and think like Christians together.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:12-14).
Summary of the Text
In the first part of Col. 3, the apostle tells them that they are to set their hearts and minds on things above, not on things below (vv. 1-4). Doing this necessarily involves mortifying your members which are on the earth, dealing fundamentally with the sins of desire, whether sensual or emotional (5-11). After he has told them to “put on” the new way of being human (v. 10), he gets into specifics. As the elect of God, holy and beloved, they are to put on, in the first places, tender mercies (v. 12). The AV has it “bowels of mercies,” mercy in the gut, mercy where you really live. This is accompanied by kindness, humility of mind, meekness, and longsuffering (v. 12). He then says we are to deal with our quarrels in a forbearing and forgiving way, and we are to forgive each other as Christ forgave us (v. 13). On top of all this, we are to put on love—charity—which is the bond of perfection (v. 14).
Foundations of Mercy
The various words in both Hebrew and Greek that are rendered as mercy can create some confusion for us, but our aggregate understanding of what mercy involves is still sound. One of the things we can see is that the overwhelming number of references to mercy in Scripture have to do with God’s mercy toward us.
As Christians, we begin and end with what God is like. He is the Father of mercies (1 Cor. 1:3). Our mercy is to be in frank imitation of His (Luke 6:36). When Jesus had compassion on the crowd (Matt. 9:36), the word used there indicates that He was moved viscerally; His compassion caused His gut to churn. We would say that He looked at the crowd, and it broke his heart. Now, if He is the new man, the ultimate man, then putting on the new man means that we are becoming like that.
When we live as a merciful people in the world, we are doing so as the body of Christ. The life of Christ works in us in a particular way.
· Scripture presupposes a certain kind of person as the extension of God’s mercy in the world. Cruelty is one of the central characteristics of the old man, and God’s mercy in the world consists of enabling us, through the gospel, to put on the new man (Col. 3:10). There is no room for mercy within the old man. If we want to have mercy, the old man must die, and the new man must live. As the elect of God, put on tender mercies. We must have the gospel.
· We therefore extend mercy, not on the basis of what the recipient has deserved, but rather on the basis of what we received without deserving it. We have been forgiven (v. 13); therefore we are to forgive. We have received mercy, and there is no better reason for extending it. And there are few better indicators that you have not received it, than a refusal to extend it.
· C.S. Lewis says somewhere that when God tells us to feed the poor, He does not give us cooking lessons. And it is here that we must distinguish between what is unique to special grace, and what we can gather from common grace in the world. You can learn how to cook from an unbeliever, and then go to feed the poor. You cannot learn the meaning of grace, mercy, and love from the nonbelievers. Learning this is crucial because we live in a time when numerous unbelievers claim that they have a firm grasp of the meaning of justice and mercy, and everything in between. Their posing can be revealed as the sham it is by simply bringing up the abortion issue. One of the Hebrew words for mercy is raham, closely related to the word for womb. A womb ought to be the best picture of mercy that our broken world has. But we have introduced stainless steel “choices,” and have made it a place of the most terrible cruelties. Anyone who is fine with that does not have the first inkling of what mercy is.
· Guilt is a terrible motivator in giving. True guilt motivates to one thing only—repentance and confession. False guilt is cultivated by some to enable them to “juice” the giving, but the law of diminishing returns always sets in. Once genuine guilt has done its job, for long term, healthy giving—running a marathon as opposed to a dash or a lunge—gratitude, joy, fullness, and love are absolutely necessary.
So these are our four foundational principles: First, God is merciful. Second, mercy is never earned. Third, those who hate mercy cannot love it. Fourth, perpetual guilt hates mercy.
Learning to Cook
Good intentions are not enough. How many meals have been burned by a cook with a sincere desire to feed the family? Zealous motives won’t make the bottom of the pan any less black. We saw above that holiness of heart is absolutely necessary. But it is not sufficient. Love the poor with your head, and not just your heart. A “good Samaritan” might move a guy after a wreck, and break his neck doing it. The Hippocratic Oath is apropos here— first, do no harm.
Americans in particular have to learn how to stop throwing money around. Secondly, we need to master the distinction between absolute and relative poverty. And third, we need to eradicate every vestige of zero sum thinking. We will be lousy cooks otherwise. But if we have resolved to become good cooks, we have a spacious kitchen before us, and wonderful opportunities.