Healthy Relationships - Welcome to the community of the Trinity, Chapter 9, "Mercy, mercy, merc
Matthew 18:21, 22, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive by brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”
It’s been said that there are three key factors involved in the desirability and swift sale of a property…. Location, location, location! Billy Graham was fond of saying that there are three key factors involved in conducting a successful revival….prayer, prayer, and prayer! In this chapter we consider the three key factors which are at the heart of healthy and satisfying relationships….mercy, mercy, mercy! Let’s unpack the value and importance of mercy/forgiveness in our relationships.
Jesus was teaching his disciples about the need to deal seriously with sin. And Peter, picking up on the need for forgiveness, asked Jesus if the willingness to forgive a brother or sister who sinned against him seven times in a day would be sufficient. He, no doubt, expected to be highly commended by the Master because the rabbis of that day taught that God’s expectation was to forgive someone who sinned against you only up to three times. Peter offered to double that and throw in an extra ‘mercy’ just for good measure! Jesus stunned Peter (and the other disciples) by replying, “….not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven – seemingly limitless mercy!).”
Then Jesus followed that statement up with a parable about an unmerciful servant. (Matthew 18:23-35) This man owed his king a debt of ten thousand bags of gold. It was a debt he couldn’t possibly repay. So, the king ordered that the man, his wife, his children, and all he owned by sold to recoup as much of the debt as possible. The man begged for mercy assuring the king he would pay back the debt in full. The king knew that wouldn’t happen, but he was so moved by the man’s plea that he canceled the debt and let the man go free. Unbelievably, the man bumped into someone who owed him about a day’s wages (he had owed the king 20 years wages!) and he demanded repayment. The man didn’t have the funds needed and he asked for more time. But the unmerciful servant refused his request and had him thrown into jail. Other servants, shocked by this man’s callous attitude, went and told the king about it. The king called the man in and rebuked him for being such a hypocrite. Then he had the man thrown into prison until he had repaid his entire debt (which would have been never!). And Jesus concluded by warning his disciples, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35) Pretty sobering stuff, huh?!
Does that mean that we are saved by showing mercy to others? If we don’t forgive others we won’t be forgiven by God? (Matthew 6:14, 15) No, we are forgiven by trusting in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. (John 3:16; Romans 10:9, 10; Ephesians 2:8, 9) But, I think what Jesus wanted his disciples (& us) to understand that if God forgives you of a debt (against him) that you could never repay, and you’re not willing to forgive others of the much smaller debts they owe you, it is a sign that you don’t really believe in God’s Son (and his love and forgiveness) as you claim you do. Food for prayer and reflection!
Now, let’s add to the teaching of Jesus Paul’s application of mercy/forgiveness in the Christian life. Mercy frightens many of us. We are afraid that if we forgive too easily others will trample on us and take advantage of us. No one wants to be a doormat! But how many times have you sinned against God in this life, even since becoming a follower of Jesus? Well, let’s examine the life of a 50-year-old man or woman. We’ll give them 10 years for the ‘age of accountability’ (a period in which he was sinning but didn’t really understand sin/rebellion against God). If she sinned one time a day (and how many of us do you think only sinned once a day??!) over a period of 40 years that would be 14,600 sins. If he trusted Jesus at the age of 18 that would be 11,680 post baptismal sins (and again we are contemplating a ‘low-ball’ figure here!). Raise those numbers to 3 or 7 sins a day and the tally of guilt would add up in a hurry.
But, here’s the real point. Is God a spiritual doormat for you? Are you trying to walk all over and take advantage of Jesus? Despite all our sins and failures don’t we love God dearly? And aren’t we eternally grateful for the forgiveness he has extended to us? Isn’t it a reasonable expectation that we would be willing to forgive others in the same way God has forgiven us? That’s what Paul was trying to get us to acknowledge. Without God’s mercy we wouldn’t be able to live in a healthy and satisfying relationship with him. And without forgiveness our human relationships collapse just as quickly.
So, let’s bring this home by focusing on mercy as the ‘heart’ of healthy and satisfying relationships. Previously we identified humility as the ‘feet’ (foundation) of healthy relationships. Respect is the ‘backbone’ (allowing us to stand erect and see eye to eye) of our relationships. Grace and kindness are the ‘arms’ of healthy relationships for hugging each other (demonstrating love). How is mercy the ‘heart’ of satisfying relationships? There is a public service announcement on the radio which personifies the human heart. The heart is speaking to it’s person saying, “You need to treat me better. Give me something green to eat. Let’s do some exercise. And let’s take time to rest. Remember, when I stop, you stop!” People can’t live without a beating heart. And our relationships can’t survive (let alone be healthy and satisfying) without mercy.
Is there a proper format for mercy? Well, ideally, the person who hurt/disappointed another individual, recognizes the wrong (conviction), admits it (confession), pledges not to behave like that again (repentance) and asks for forgiveness. Then the wounded person graciously accepts the apology for the indiscretion and the relationship is restored. Sometimes the aggrieved individual must point out the wrong done. And, even if, the person in the wrong doesn’t own the failure and seek reconciliation, the wronged person needs to let go of it (give it to God). Hebrews 12:15 warns us that bitterness harms and defiles the person who refuses to let it go. Mercy is rarely that clean and easy. A friend of mine acted unbecomingly in a couples encounter. The next day he sheepishly apologized for his wife’s misstep. It wasn’t ‘textbook’, but we accepted his awkward apology. Baby steps!
Cliff Barrow, a long-time member of the Billy Graham evangelistic team, claimed, “There are twelve words that hold a family together. Twelve words that need to be spoken often in our relationships. They are, ‘I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.’” Our relationships will be much healthier and far more satisfying if those words flow from our lips/hearts freely and sincerely!
How many of you are going to paradise when you die? How many of you hope to live in the new Jerusalem on the new earth in God’s glory and joy forever? How many of us will end up there without God’s mercy? Our relationship with God requires his forgiveness. In the same way mercy is the ‘heart’ of healthy and satisfying relationships.