What is Mercy Anyway?

by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp

What is Mercy Anyway?

It is one of those biblical terms that every believer has heard, many use, but few can properly define. Therefore, I want to give you two definitions of mercy: (1) Mercy is the kind, sympathetic, and forgiving treatment of others that works to relieve their distress and cancel their debt. Or (2) mercy is compassion combined with forbearance and action.

These two definitions tell us a lot about what mercy is, why it is needed, and how it expresses itself. Mercy is much more than the pang of sympathy you momentarily feel when you walk by the homeless panhandler on the street…Mercy is driven by three character qualities:

Compassion: Compassion is a deep awareness of another’s suffering that leads to a desire to help. Compassion sees beyond one’s own difficulties to care about the difficulties of others.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness pardons a person for an offense without treating him like a criminal or harboring resentment against him.

Forbearance: Forbearance is patience under provocation. It is willing to stand alongside someone in trouble even though it makes life more difficult.

Mercy look at the trouble of others and cares, acts, forgives, and perseveres.

What Makes Mercy So Essential?

Like many other qualities of a good relationship, mercy is essential because our relationships take place in the middle of the great redemptive story. We live in a fallen world and face difficulty and distress while we simultaneously struggle with the sin that remains in us. Mercy is needed because neither the world we live in nor the people who inhabit it are perfect.

None of us could live in a world where there was only justice. Because of our sin, none of us is ready to have pure justice exercised in our direction. Without mercy, we would all be doomed! So until God’s kingdom comes, he withholds his final justice. He gives us one more day to confess and turn from wrong. He is amazingly patient, infinitely kind, and incredibly forgiving. His compassion causes his justice to wait and his mercy to act. And since God has decided to respond to his world with mercy, this gives us more of a call to be merciful ourselves. Yet we tend to get mercy and justice all mixed up. We want mercy for ourselves because we want our lives to be more comfortable, and we want justice for the other guy because we want our lives to be comfortable. As self-absorbed sinners, we simply don’t deal with distressed and flawed people. But it is impossible to have relationships without being troubled by the trouble of others.

The bible’s teaching on mercy is clear. Until God’s kingdom comes and everything broken is restored, there will continue to be suffering. As long as God chooses to give sinners one more opportunity to repent, the distress of living in a fallen world will continue. That is why mercy is an essential ingredient of any godly relationship. Mercy is what we have received and what we are called to give. Mercy is my commitment to live alongside you in this broken world even though I will suffer with you, for you, and because of you. I will do everything I can to relieve your distress.

Mercy means you expect suffering in your relationships and are willing to endure it.
Mercy means you are willing to live with the poor.
Mercy means you resist the temptation to favoritism.
Mercy means you are committed to persevere in hardship.
Mercy rejects a “personal happiness” agenda.
Mercy means you live with a commitment to forgive.
Mercy means you overlook minor offences.
Mercy does not compromise what is morally right and true.
A commitment to mercy will reveal the treasures of your heart.

Pages 135-139 of Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp.