The Spiritual Gift of Mercy
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 12:8e (Holman) . . .showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
When we see the word “mercy” in the New Testament, always associate it with the word “misery.” The gift of mercy entails relieving misery in others.
Anyone with the gift of mercy is tender, yea pulled, toward hurting people. Mercy uses pity, kindness, and compassion to relieve misery, to ease burdens of the sick and dying, bereaved and lonely, persecuted and poor, distressed and sad.
This gift can help several of our ministries: bereavement meals, shut-ins, Victory Mission meals, Flower and Bread Ministry, DivorceCare, Foster Care and Adoption, Special Needs, Medical Responders, Stephen Ministry, Quilting, Second Yarn Works, the Rare Breed shelter for homeless teens, Pregnancy Care Center.
The spiritual gift of mercy is beautiful. Nevertheless, it has at least three dangers to avoid. One, actions without feelings. Attitude must precede action.
Christ-followers often try to do kind deeds solely from a sense of duty or guilt. Knowing we are supposed to be merciful, we try to force mercy rather than let it overflow from a heart full of compassion.
Quintilian, the Roman orator, deemed it cruelty to feed the poor without sympathizing with them. We are not to help others as if throwing bones to a dog.
A Christian has to make the conscious choice to feel pain. Too many of us, like me, detach when strong emotions begin to swell in us. We must get past this. As we accept the pain of others, it sinks deep into our deepest emotional cauldron, where God somehow miraculously turns the pain into a springboard for joy.
Grieve over the sufferings of others, “bleed in other men’s wounds” (Trapp). Let our tears run down their cheeks with their tears. Be warmhearted. Icebergs belong in the North Atlantic, not in a Christian’s heart. The Sun of righteousness shines in us to melt away cold. Take to heart the miseries of others.
Upheld by God, enter people’s minds to see life from their perspective. Jesus literally got in our skin to see things as we see them, to feel what we feel; and when He arrived here, He chose to be neither remote, aloof, detached, nor isolated.
For Jesus, feeling came first. Before He fed the crowd, He had “compassion on the multitude” (Matthew 15:32). Before raising Lazarus, He wept (John 11:35). Before healing the blind, He was moved with compassion (Matthew 20:34 NAS).
The Good Samaritan was merciful. He dressed wounds, transported a body, and made provision for the victim, but his first choice was, “he felt compassion” (Luke 10:33). It is interesting to note that both the priest and Levite who earlier found the victim “passed by on the other side” (10:31,32). Why did they move to the complete opposite side of the road? They knew if they looked too closely they would hurt, and begin to care. Rather than suffer mercy’s pain, they preferred to do religious things which required no feeling. They were meticulously orthodox, but uncaring, and thus willing to give only—yea less than—the minimum required.
Two, feelings without actions. True mercy begins as an attitude, and then quickly progresses to action. More than a feeling, mercy is an operative principle which stirs the hand to help. We must feel to the point of being moved to action.
If our inner compassion is real, it must vent itself. It will of necessity sprout, and seek a way to relieve the misery it sees. Being a concerned observer is never enough. One has to be inconvenienced with actually relieving another’s troubles.
This world has much suffering. Oceans of misery surround each of us. Can we not squeeze deeds of mercy from our hearts? God leaves believers here for this reason, to be channels of His mercy; we are on assignment, serving in Jesus’ place.
John Maxwell tells of Anthony DeMello, who angrily prayed when he saw a starving child shivering in the cold, “God, how could You allow such suffering? Why don’t You do something?” DeMello was startled at God’s inner reply, “I have done something – I made you.” Our own actions can often answer our prayers.
Three, feelings and actions without gladness. Our text says the merciful are to act “with cheerfulness”. How we do a deed of mercy can be as important as the deed itself. It is possible to do a helpful deed in a way that it becomes an insult.
If we want God to smile on our labors, do them with a smile. Someday we may be on the receiving end of mercy. Treat others now as we will want to be treated then. Do go, but not go grudgingly. First pray until we can go cheerfully.
When we add kind looks and kind words to kind deeds, we triple the blessing. While soothing a person’s physical, financial, or family hurts, also try to banish their sadness. Mercy should be radiant. When we visit those in misery, let’s carry sunshine with us. Into a dark place, bring light, and carry a face aglow. Be a sunbeam that penetrates from our heart to the deepest heart of the hurting one.
Turkish nobles were once so eager to do kind deeds daily that they would hire servants whose main assignment was to find every day poor people to help. This perfectly pictures our assignment as believers. Our Master is sensitive to doing merciful deeds, and has assigned His servants to gladly find the needy daily.
Titus, the Roman general, was so excited about doing deeds of mercy daily that if the sun set without his having given something away, he would say, “I lost a day.” Surely a Christian’s creed must rise above a Roman general’s. Do not lose a day. Be a moving oasis of joyful mercy. Servants of the merciful God, go find those in misery and cheerfully show the mercy of our Lord.
Gladly “move amongst men as copies of God” (Maclaren). Other groups minister only to mind and body. Believers alone can touch the whole person, and through their mercy point the hurting to the God of mercy.
Donald Barnhouse tells a story about Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), often called the greatest Chief Justice since John Marshall. In earlier years, Hughes strongly supported human liberties, exposed scandals, fought for political reforms, and was barely defeated by Woodrow Wilson in a bid for the Presidency.
Hughes, a Baptist preacher’s son, was always a witness for Jesus. When appointed Chief Justice, he moved to Washington DC, where he joined a local Baptist church in which all new members were called to the front in the morning service and introduced to the congregation.
The first to be called that Sunday was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing. He stood at one side of the pulpit. As others were called, they all stood on the other side. After 12 people came forward, Ah Sing still stood alone.
Finally, Chief Justice Hughes was called. He chose to stand next to the laundryman. Hughes knew was it mean to show mercy. In standing by Ah Sing, he prevented the misery of embarrassment to the humble Chinaman.
This message brings to an end our sermon series on spiritual gifts. I remind us of three truths. One, we all have a portion of each gift; one is prominent. Two, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we do better with every spiritual gift. Three, find our spiritual gift; this can be done only by trial and error.
Dr. John Wright tells of a Roman aqueduct built in Segovia, Spain, in 109 A.D. For 1800 years it carried cool mountain water to the hot, thirsty city. Sixty generations drank from it. In modern times, citizens began to think the aqueduct was so great a marvel that it should be relieved of its duties and preserved for posterity as a museum piece. Installed pipes gave ancient brick and mortar a reverent rest. Soon the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. Bricks and stones sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy, idleness disintegrated. Similarly, failure to use our spiritual gift will cause our Kingdom effectiveness to decline.