“For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than all burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
I was in my hotel room in Taiwan up late at night due to the time change. As I was pacing and praying, I reflected on a recent interchange with someone who I care about deeply but who had sliced my heart with their criticism. Whatever measure of truth was in their words, the point still remained that it was hurtful and disproportionately critical given the many good times we had shared. It was like someone having nine things to rejoice about and one to complain about and they laser in on that.
So there I was bothered in my spirit about this and praying. Then I realized that this is what it feels like when we don’t show mercy to one another. In my own life, I have the utmost value for the truth of God’s Word. And therefore, I have no problem rebuking or correcting error. However, as I was in that hotel room, I felt a rush of the Lord’s presence upon me as I began to ask for forgiveness for every time I had unknowingly failed to show mercy to others and needlessly wounded them; I had come with a hammer when a tweezer was all that was necessary. The scripture from Hosea came alive as I realized we can busy ourselves all day offering vain sacrifices (especially those of us in ministry) to God but if we don’t know how to show mercy or are quick to condemn others, we have missed it completely.
I began to pray, “Lord, let me show mercy to someone in need today. Let me not be quick to judge or condemn those you have not condemned.” As the presence of God flooded the room, I wept and was undone.
For the next couple of days I couldn’t shake this word as if it had been etched into my soul. While in Taiwan I preached this message at Everlasting Love Church and now I offer it to you.
Let me also say that this is a weighty word. Even as I write now, I tremble because I do not feel entirely worthy to even preach this message. There is a greater measure of God’s pure heart that I must take hold of and which must take a hold of me. This word goes deeper than I even realize and at this point I feel that I am only scratching the surface of the full revelation of this aspect of God’s character.
The Nature of God
Who is God exactly? What is he like? What does he say about himself?
One’s perception of God is no small matter. How can we properly love and follow a God we don’t even know?
As Moses is seeking the Lord in the wilderness, he asks God to show him his glory. Have you ever evaluated your prayer life in light of this request? God answers and manifests himself to Moses.
“Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation. So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.” Exodus 34:5-8
I find it striking that of all the things God could have said about himself like God the Creator, the Almighty, the King of Heaven, the Giver of Life, the Most Holy One, the Righteous Judge that the first thing he says is merciful!
The psalmist writes, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Ps. 145:8
Speaking of Jesus the apostle John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we have beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came forth from the Father full of grace and truth.” and “Of the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” John 1:14 & 16
I see a theme again and again in scripture: mercy and truth, lion and lamb, grace and then the call to repentance.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. But notice that grace came first. God leads with mercy and is way more compassionate and patient than we are. He will also judge but he takes no delight in the destruction of his creation.
In the famous novel Les Miserables, it was not the execution of the law’s wrath but mercy that transformed Jean Valjean from a wretch into a new man. The purchase price for freedom was the silver and kindness given by the priest who had every right to condemn the man who had just repaid his love with evil. Valjean knew this and it broke him. No one had loved him like this. How could he ever go back to his old life of sin?
Jesus became the purchase price of mercy… that we might be free.
What is righteousness exactly? Is it being right? Is it obeying the law?
Righteousness is emulating the character of God in all we do. There is a difference between being right and being righteous.
Self righteousness is quick to condemn… because after all, the self righteous person is right… right?
Let’s learn a lesson from Job.
Then Job answered and said: “I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all! Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, If your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, And shake my head at you; But I would strengthen you with my mouth, And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.” Job 16:1-5
His friends were convinced that he had sinned and was getting his just desserts. But Job teaches his friends that true righteousness looks like lifting up the suffering ones instead of pointing the finger at them in condemnation! Job makes no qualifying statement here. The lesson is even when someone has made a foolish choice or sinned and is suffering for it, will we strengthen or destroy?
Next we go to Joseph, Mary’s husband to be.
“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Matt. 1:19
I want you to really think about this for a minute. Try to be Joseph. The woman you love who you want to spend the rest of your life with is found to be with child. In Joseph’s mind, she committed adultery against him. Can you imagine the heartbreak, embarrassment, and shock he must have carried inside? This was an offense punishable by death… and yet because he was a just man, he decided to show her mercy! Wow. He teaches us that true righteousness looks like not wanting to make a public spectacle of others or be quick to destroy them… even when they have sinned!
And I can think of no greater example than that of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 8 when he met the woman caught in adultery. After all her accusers realized that they too had sinned and were worthy of judgment, Jesus spoke with her. Grace said, “Neither do I condemn you” and Truth said, “Now go and sin no more!”
True righteousness is gracious and compassionate, willing to show mercy and slow to anger.
What Does the Lord Require?
“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:7-8
I once heard a preacher say that most people love justice and do mercy.
You showed up late… oh I’m going to point that out. Just calling you out brother. Mercy… oh yeah… I guess I can get to that later. You are struggling with something in your life. Have I prayed for you? Have I strengthened you? Have I walked with you to restoration or have I loved judgment?
My grandfather who is now passed away was a pastor and preacher. He was in all respects a man of God but there was a time when he loved justice not mercy. My parents were struggling financially when I was a boy and they needed money to pay the bills. He chided them for not managing their finances properly and then loaned them money with interest! I remember my father telling me this story and the way he said it made me realize how much he had been hurt by the one who was supposed to represent righteousness showing a cold judgment instead of mercy in their time of need. My other grandfather who was not a pastor and didn’t even come to know the Lord until the very end of his life, would generously give money to my parents when he found out they were in need. Hmmm… who really showed the heart of God?
In my own life, I have been guilty of over correcting and having a critical spirit at times. I meant well… but I realize now in hind sight that I wounded people by loading them up with more than they could bear. I loved justice not mercy.
How does this apply to us? It means in my own life, I walk justly. I pay my bills on time. I keep my word. I follow through. I seek to honor God by living a holy life (by the power of the Holy Spirit!) But when others around me fail to live a holy life, I am quick to cover the offense, show mercy, lift them up. (There is a place for correction, and I’m not talking about sin empowerment but rather a heart posture towards the mercy of God.)
The last part is to walk humbly with our God. The more we embrace mercy, we are reminded of our own need for it. This humbles us and ultimately takes us to the cross. We know that we are not worthy in and of ourselves of anything from God. He chose to give us his most precious gift, Jesus his son.
The picture at the top of this post is of five young men in Taiwan giving their lives to Christ at an altar call. The gospel is the greatest example of the mercy of God. Now let us go and do likewise.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matt. 5:7
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:10-3