Love Is… Merciful

This morning, we continue our message series helping us to better understand and live out unconditional love.

This series is entitled, “Love Is” and it is based on that familiar passage found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. 

We were created by God with the need for love that can only be expressed through relationships.

As there are different types of relationships, there are different types of love.  There is, however, a type of love that we are to express toward anyone and everyone.  In fact, the Bible teaches that if we learn how to express this type of love toward God and others, that we will entirely fulfill all that God’s law requires of us. 

This distinct type of love is the love that God has for us.  In the Greek language, it is the word agape.  It is this type of unconditional love that we’ll be covering through this message series.

To be able to possess and express this unconditional love, we’re going to break it down into parts as Paul chose to do in his letter to the Corinthians.  He taught all about spiritual gifts and said that it is not using these gifts that truly matters, but how we choose to use them, our motive, that matters to God.  We can do all sorts of good things for God, but if we do not do them as an expression of God’s love, then they are pointless, useless, and meaningless.

1 Corinthians 13:1-5

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  14 Love is patient, love is kind.   It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

In some translations, you may read that love doesn’t keep a record of complaints or that it thinks no evil or that it doesn’t count up the wrongs that have been done or that love doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. 

We start with yet another reminder that we find over and over again throughout the Bible and that is the way that God describes Himself.  As we learned last week, God first described Himself in this way to Moses when he demanded, “Show me Your glory!”

Psalm 103:8-12

8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

    slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,

    nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve

    or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Micah 7:18-19

18 Who is a God like you,

    who pardons sin and forgives the transgression

    of the remnant of his inheritance?

You do not stay angry forever

    but delight to show mercy.

19 You will again have compassion on us;

    you will tread our sins underfoot

    and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

When we ask God to forgive us, He truly does.  It isn’t that He forgets our sins, it is that He chooses not to recall them and not to hold them against us.  It isn’t that we say that we never sinned, it is that we stand forgiven and cleansed as if though we never did.  John describes it in this way:

1 John 1:8-10

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

How great is our God that He would do such a thing for you and I?  How awesome is He who could cast us straight into the depths of the eternal lake of fire because of our sins and yet He instead takes our sin and casts them to the bottom of the sea?  What is this incredible act that acknowledges our guilt and yet chooses to remove it?  It’s called mercy.

Love is merciful.

Receiving God’s mercy is possible for us if our faith is in the work of Jesus.  If we believe, in faith, that Jesus lived a sinless life and then willingly gave His life on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin, then mercy is possible.  We don’t get treated as our sins deserve, we get treated as if though we did not sin.  We do not suffer, but our sins do. 

Sure, God’s grace gives us a second chance, but God’s mercy gives us a feast and places on our finger the signet ring granting us full access to our Father’s Kingdom!  God’s mercy enables us to come boldly before His throne of grace and present to Him our requests.

If we believe that Jesus rose again to life, then we believe in faith that we can cast off our old, sinful self and also rise up in a new life.  We believe by faith that the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the grave lives in you and I and is also working to transform us into a new creation.  The old is gone and the new is here!  We get to choose not to sin!

Love is merciful.

Now we all greatly appreciate this when it comes to the way that God loves us.  We admire the fact that God has cast our sins as far as the east is from the west, that He has hurled them to the depths of the sea, and that He chooses no longer to recall them nor to hold them against us and treat us as we deserve because of them.   It rises up within us a shout of joy and a song of praise!  It makes us want to dance and surrender our everything to Him who has done this incredible thing for us!

However, for us to do the same for others…  Well, that’s a tall order and a really challenging teaching!

A husband once was talking to a friend about some marriage issues that they were having.  He said that every time that they would sit down and try to talk about some of the challenges that they were facing, that his wife would get historical. 

His friend was a bit confused.  He said, “Do you mean that your wife gets hysterical?”  The husband said, “No, I meant she gets historical.  She starts bringing up every little thing that I’ve ever done wrong!”

Love keeps no record of wrongs.  Love is merciful.

To be able to forgive others and extend to them mercy instead of vengeance requires a heart change on our part.  It requires us to live with the penalty of our sin and the greatness of God’s mercy toward us always in mind.  Jesus gave us this parable to help us with this heart and mindset change.

In fact, in most Bibles, you will find this parable entitled something along the lines of, “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.”

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Love is merciful.

God has forgiven you and I of so much.  Every day, He faithfully forgives our sin and chooses not to hold them against us.  And you know what?  Today and tomorrow, He’ll faithfully do the same.  No one could ever sin against us as severely as we have sinned against Him.  He forgives our ten thousands bags of gold debt and shows us mercy.  We imprison those around us who owe us a mere hundred silver coins of debt.

God shows mercy, we hold grudges.  God forgives, we get bitter.  God restores us to righteousness, we never trust them again.  For our own sake, we cannot continue to live this way.  It is certainly not living a life that extends the love of God and it isn’t a life that will end well.  No, it isn’t easy, but it is necessary to show mercy.

Now, does this mean that if I choose not to hold a record of wrongs that I throw wisdom out the window?  Certainly not!  To be merciful, to not keep score of the sins of others, to think no evil toward someone does not mean that we do not use good judgment and act with wisdom.  It simply means that we do not hold people’s past against them.

As an example, say your teenager borrowed your car to hang out with their friends last night.  This morning, you hop in the car to go to work only to find that the car’s gas tank is just about empty.  Love doesn’t prevent that teen from ever driving a vehicle ever again.  Love doesn’t lock them away in their room as a prisoner cut off from society for the next month with only restroom breaks and food slid under the door a few times a day.  You’ll get yourself on the evening news doing that sort of thing!

Love first asks that teen why they did such a thing to first attempt to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  After all, there may have been a good reason for it.  Love then does what it can to enable that teen to do what is right the next time around.

Maybe that means keeping a $20 bill in the glove compartment in case they run out of money.  Maybe that means a smiley-face sticker over the fuel gauge so that they remember to look at how much gas is in the tank before they head home next time.  If it happens yet again, maybe they lose their vehicle privilege for a week and do some extra chores to pay for the gas that they used up.  Maybe they don’t get to go with their friends as they had planned next weekend.

As Jesus taught, if we are faithful with little, then we can be trusted with much.  If we are irresponsible with much, then we may only be given little for our own good until we learn to be faithful with it.  It’s not really holding a record of wrongs nor a punishment, it is love giving us a second chance to do well without wrecking our lives.

If the bank had to repossess my $60,000 truck because I couldn’t afford it, they won’t be quick to lend me that much again.  However, they might be willing to lend me $10,000 for that smaller car.  If I faithfully pay back that loan, they might trust me with a $30,000 loan the next time around.  It’s actually for our own good and benefit that these scenarios exist.  It may not feel loving, but it is truly a loving expression giving us second chances.

Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, but it does use wisdom when giving others second chances.  Maybe instead of lending your friend $1,000 after they never paid you back the $2,000 you borrowed them last time, you offer to lend them $500 if they are able to earn the other $500.  As much as they swear they will pay you back, tell them that they don’t need to.  It’s OK to say, “No.” as well and continue being a good friend to them.

This isn’t keeping a record of wrongs and holding them against us as much as it may feel that way.  Keeping a record of wrongs and holding it against them would be to take them to court and demand that the $2,000 be paid in full.  Keeping a record of wrongs and holding it against them would be to not speak to them and refuse to be around them any longer. 

Mercy doesn’t expect a penny from that previous debt, but uses wisdom in how to handle the current need.  Love doesn’t tempt them to sin against you again and refuses to set them up for failure.  This will keep your heart right and your relationship with others healthy.  Even God says, “No.” to those He loves when He knows that they aren’t ready for that responsibility yet.  It may not feel loving, but it is an expression of love.

It’s interesting how generally people are slow to pay you back if you remind them about it every time that they see you.  It’s also amazing sometimes how God gives someone the burden and the urgency to pay you back if you don’t even require it at all.  Perhaps it’s because Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:35

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Love extends mercy to those who sins against us not treating them as they may truly deserve.  Sure, love ensures that there are appropriate consequences for sin, but only so that wisdom can be imparted and better choices made the next time around.  In fact, love always grants second chances.  Love grants opportunities for trust to be earned and relationships to be restored.  Love equips and enables others to rise and to make things right when they sin against us.

Love is merciful.