The Unstrained Quality

“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Adapted from a discourse by Br. Michael Nekora

Mercy is “kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). “Kindness” is Strong’s definition for two Hebrew words usually translated mercy. He defines the Hebrew word used in Proverbs and the usual Greek words in the New Testament as “compassion.”

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Mercy and God

“And Jehovah passed by before [Moses] and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6,7).

The sentiment of these words thrilled the translator, Joseph Rotherham. In a footnote, he wrote: “This most gracious proclamation, byGod, of His name and character is … worthy
to be described as The Refrain of the Bible. The devout reader cannot fail to be delighted with … reminders of this fundamental revelation which are scattered throughout the Old Testament. The paragraph, in full, may occur nowhere else, but snatches of it abound.”

Only because of God’s mercy are we favored with the Christian faith today. We Gentiles “in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Israel’s] unbelief” (Romans 11:30).

Paul says we have obtained mercy, meaning “kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion.” God was under no obligation to extend us any special opportunity. After Adam and Eve disobeyed, they could have died with no hope. There would not have to be any provision under God’s justice to change the sentence. There need not be any resurrection of the dead. And certainly, a change of nature from human to heavenly need not be granted to anyone.

Paul in the Romans scripture also teaches us that the unbelief of God’s original “Chosen People” does not mean they are they everlastingly “lost.” In spite of their unbelief, God will have mercy on them all. “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).

Without God’s mercy, we are nothing and have no hope. We could never save ourselves. We have done nothing to deserve favorable treatment from God. “Grace” is another word sometimes used to describe what we have received from God. Grace means “unmerited favor.”

How Do We Receive God’s Grace?

Although we do not merit God’s favor, according to our theme scripture, “whoso confesseth [his sins] shall have mercy.” A recurring theme in the scriptures is that confession of sin is absolutely required before God can bless.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home
justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14 NIV).

David made mistakes, acknowledged them, and God forgave him. Even in so serious a matter as his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, David was quick to acknowledge his error once it was pointed out to him. After the prophet Nathan confronted him with the enormity of his sin, we read:

“David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said … The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit … the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:13,14).

David’s predecessor, Saul, did not have the same attitude. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul waited seven days for Samuel, but when Samuel did not come, he offered the burnt offerings, something he knew he should not be the one do. As soon as he finished, Samuel appeared and asked him what he was doing. After Saul tried to rationalize his behavior, Samuel said:

“Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13,14). Saul did not confess his sin and he was not forgiven. Samuel left and Saul continued on with his life, but
eventually lost his kingship.

Cain is another example of one who did not confess his sin. Cain became so angry with his brother that he killed him. When God asked where Abel was, Cain replied “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). God passed sentence and “Cain said unto Jehovah, My punishment is greater than I can bear … And Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah” (Genesis 4:13,16). Cain did not acknowledge his sin nor did he show remorse. Consequently,
there was no forgiveness.

Even Adam did not acknowledge his sin or express remorse. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12). Adam showed no contrition of heart for what he had done.

This is a dangerous position for any who expect to maintain a relationship with God since God has made it very clear where He will make his abode: “Thus saith the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

We are not surprised that God dwells in a high and holy place. But it is surprising that the God of the universe also dwells with those who are humble and contrite of heart. We cannot avoid
sin in our lives. But if we have the right heart attitude, shown by acknowledging our shortcomings and failures, we will receive the cleansing we need. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful
and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

We are Christians because we have named the name of Christ. If we have made a consecration to God, we have accepted Christ as our personal savior. But we would never be brought to this position if we did not first confess our sins and acknowledge our need for a redeemer. Those who cannot acknowledge their sinful state cannot accept Christ because they see no reason to do so (see R2235).

What Happens After We Have Obtained Mercy?

Jesus made it abundantly clear that the mercy God grants to us must radiate out toward everyone with whom we come in contact. This is beautifully illustrated in one of the easiest to understand parables the Master ever gave:

“Then Peter came to him and said, Master, how many times am I to forgive my brother when he wrongs me? Seven times over? Jesus said to him, Not seven times over, I tell you, but seventy-seven times over! For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king, who resolved to settle accounts with his
slaves. And when he set about doing so, a man was brought in who owed him ten million dollars. And as he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all he had, in payment of the debt.

“So the slave threw himself down before him and implored him, Give me time, and I will pay you all of it. And his master’s heart was touched, and he let the slave go and canceled the debt. But when the slave went out he met a fellow-slave of his who owed him twenty dollars, and he caught him by the throat and began
to choke him, saying, Pay me what you owe! So his fellow-slave threw himself down before him, and begged him, Give me time, and I will pay you. But he refused and went and had him put
in prison until he should pay the debt.

“When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went to their master and reported the whole matter … [who] said … You wicked slave! I canceled all that debt of yours when you entreated me. Ought you not to have taken pity on your fellow-slave, as I did on you? So his
master in his anger handed him over to the jailers until he should pay all he owed him” (Matthew 18:21-35 Goodspeed).

The meaning of this parable is evident. The one who owed $10 million represents us. We owe all that we have and can never repay it. Only through the mercy of God, the great king, is this
debt forgiven. Then we become free. Suppose we now encounter someone who is in our debt, perhaps a person who forgot to thank us for some kindness we extended. How do we react? With mercy? If this reaction does not come easily, we must force ourselves to react with mercy. Eventually, a merciful response will come immediately and willingly. But if we repeatedly fail to exercise mercy, then we will forfeit the mercy
the Heavenly Father has already extended to us.

Consider the point of the parable as given by Jesus: “That is what my heavenly Father will do to you [hand you over to the jailers until you pay all you owe] if you do not each forgive your
brothers from your hearts!” (Verse 35).

If we willingly forgive another’s fault, sin, or shortcoming, we demonstrate our attitude of mercy, whether or not the other person asks for our forgiveness. It is our heart attitude that is
on trial. Whether or not God forgives the other person will depend on his heart attitude. We must watch our own heart attitude with great diligence so that we receive forgiveness from
God for all our trespasses. “When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

Notice that it is necessary for us to show mercy by forgiving a brother even if he does not act contrite or ask for our forgiveness. It does not matter whether our complaint against someone else is justified or not. If we are Christians, we must follow the pattern set by our Master. Of course, we are not God and cannot erase another’s sin. But by showing mercy we can
copy this wonderful characteristic of God.

Consider the Lord’s Model Prayer

“Forgive us the wrong we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 NEB).

The King James version says “forgive us our debts.” The word “debt” is not limited to the financial sense of the word. It can be any situation where compassion, kindness, yes mercy, would be the appropriate behavior. If we are unwilling to forgive those who have wronged us, there is no point in asking the great king
of the universe to forgive us our iniquities. Remember the servant in the parable? He lost the freedom he had gained when he was unwilling to exercise mercy toward his fellow servant.

When Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount, he uttered a series of Beatitudes. One of them says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The clear implication is that those who are not merciful, who are unwilling to show “kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness,” will themselves not receive mercy from the Heavenly Father. Jesus went on to tell his disciples that they must do even more than just forgive someone who wronged them. They had to try to correct a relationship when
they realize they have wronged another person.

Jesus said: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).

A brother may have an ill feeling against us because he has been wronged by us. Therefore, when we come to God (here termed “bringing a gift to the altar”) and remember the brother’s justified anger because of what we have done, we must immediately do something about it. We should try to correct the problem and heal the wounds. Then we can come to God.

We Must Be Merciful

The forgiveness God has granted for our sins is conditional. If we fail to observe the requirements that God has laid down, we will lose even what we have. The king in the parable never told the slave that he had to be merciful toward others since he had received forgiveness from such an immense obligation. It should
have been obvious. From the parable, we see someone so blinded that he loses everything. Remember the principle: if you do not forgive your fellow servants, God will not forgive you.

Micah summarizes three things God requires of us: “Do justly, … love mercy, and … walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).

Do you love mercy? Think about it. Are you still waiting for your brother or sister to come to you and ask your forgiveness for some wrong committed against you? If you are, then you do
not love mercy.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faith”
(Matthew 23:23).

Do you still remember some injustice that has never been corrected by another even while you carefully pay tithes of all you have? If you do, you are like a Pharisee, for you have omitted something much more important than a tithe. You have omitted mercy. As bad as it may be to remember another’s sins and shortcomings, it is worse to seek revenge or a way to get
even. Such a heart attitude will keep anyone from being part of the bride of Christ.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. … Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 19-21 NIV).

The truth is important, but it is not enough to save us. “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

It is mercy and truth that we should embrace. Do you feel any responsibility to go to another to try to ease the tensions he may feel toward you? Do you, sad to say, even let your mind think about ways to get revenge for something done toward you? If so, then perhaps mercy has forsaken you.

“Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13 NIV).

Forgiveness of others occupied a large part of the teachings of Jesus. His followers were to overcome evil with good. Whenever evil is committed toward you, welcome it as an opportunity to overcome it by being merciful. In this way you will grow into the image of God.

Shakespeare, on Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.