Jean’s Gospel: The Mercies of God
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
Jesus never minced words regarding the cost of discipleship. The Gospel is only for sinners, which offends most people. Jesus either disturbs our illusion of tranquility, which ignores or disbelieves altogether in God, or He offends our sense of self-righteousness. Adding insult to injury, Jesus claims to be the exclusive Redeemer for the whole world. So Jesus makes a lot of enemies, and His preaching got Him crucified. Jesus, however, is always transparent that if most people hate Him, they will also hate His disciples: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matt 10:25b)
How then should Christians conduct themselves in a world which sees their God and them as enemies? Jesus answers: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
When Jesus encourages His Christians to “be merciful”, He is asking us to participate in the life of His body, the Church. For just as Christ does the will of His head, the Father, so also the Church does the will of her head, Christ. In this particular passage, Jesus expresses the will of the Father in terms of being merciful. Simply put, Jesus encourages the Church and His Christians to be conduits of God’s mercy to the world.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
To be conduits of our Father’s mercy to others, we first must be Christians, that is, recipients of His mercy through faith in the Gospel of Christ our Lord. Our merciful conduct does not make us Christians, but is the organic outward expression (or fruit) of being a Christian.
How is God merciful to us? He gives us all things, physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal, gratuitously and out of pure goodness, and not according to what we deserve. He sees we are captives of death; but He is merciful and gives us life. He sees we are children of hell; but he is merciful and gives us heaven. He sees we are poor, naked and exposed, hungry or thirsty; but he is merciful, and clothes, feeds and satisfies us with all good things. Thus, whatever we have for the body or spirit, he gives us out of mercy.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
As the recipients of our Father’s mercy, Christ encourages us to imitate our Father and be merciful to our neighbors. However, even if we were perfect in this life (which none of us are), we still could never give mercies as great as those our Father gives to us for the sake His Son, who out of mercy ransomed us from sin, death and hell with His own blood. That being said, Jesus teaches us how to lead good lives here on earth among unbelievers, by which we may through our merciful conduct be of great benefit to them, even though many will judge and condemn us for our faith.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)
Jesus teaches mercy with four commands: two positive and two negative. We are not to “judge” or “condemn,” but we are to “forgive” and “give.”
In our culture the phrase, “judge not,” has become a slogan. It is often misused by Christians and unbelievers alike to justify wrongdoing. It is often used as a weapon instead of a mercy.
“Judge not” is not a universal rule, but has a very specific meaning in Scripture. To begin with, we need distinguish between offices and individuals. Jesus is not speaking here of temporal offices instituted by God, such as:
(1) Officers of the State, who are called to uphold the law and punish wrongdoing;
(2) Pastors, who are called to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, rebuke false doctrine and administer church discipline; and
(3) Parents, who are called to raise God fearing and law abiding children, which includes disciplining rebellious children.
For instance, Jesus is not admonishing the law court judge, pastor or parent to not judge a matter or punish wrongdoing within the scope of their office. Such a misconstruction would foster lawlessness and anarchy. To the contrary, when these offices rightly judge, condemn and punish they actually are doing works of mercy for the people, which may lead a sinner to repent, a child to amend his behavior and/or deter someone else from committing similar wrongdoing. It might very well be a sin against mercy in such cases to allow wrongdoing to go unpunished.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18)
Jesus is speaking here to Christians without the office who are tempted to judge or condemn their neighbors, usurping the judgment which belongs to God alone. No Christian love or unity can exist where people judge and condemn one another that way, so Jesus forbids it.
If we do not judge and condemn, we will not be judged or condemned. This mercy promotes peace among neighbors. Jesus also appears to be referring to the final judgment as well. (A tree is known by its fruit.)
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:7)
Balanced against the two negative exhortations, Jesus gives two positive exhortations coupled with two promises: forgive and we will be forgiven; and give and it will be given to us.
Christian mercy through forgiveness and giving is of great benefit to our neighbors, and it also is of great benefit to us. For our neighbors, their receipt of our forgiveness and gifts not only helps them with physical needs, but this mercy complements Christian preaching that God is a merciful God “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4) Our acts of mercy may help remove barriers for the Gospel among some of the unbelieving recipients of our mercy.
For the Christian, when we forgive and give to our neighbors, out of generosity with no expectation of reciprocity, we also benefit in our lives, especially when we are afflicted. These acts of mercy serve as signs to us that our faith is genuine and that we are true Christians. Peter refers to this benefit as confirmation of our calling and election (2 Pet 1:10).
“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:47-49.
Let us all build our houses solely on the foundation of the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. His Word is our Rock and our Refuge. Being people of mercy is part of our foundation. May we abide in Him now and forever. Amen.