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The definition of the word “mercy” can refer both to compassionate behavior on the part of those in power (for example, mercy shown by a judge toward a convict) or on the part of a humanitarian third party (such as a mission of mercy aiming to treat war victims). Mercy is a term used to describe the leniency or compassion shown to one person by another, or a request from one person to another to be shown such leniency or compassion. Mercy is compassion or relief given to an undeserving recipient. One of the basic virtues of chivalry and Christian ethics, mercy is also related to concepts of justice and morality in behavior between people (Wikipedia online encyclopedia).

Although the word is defined in our dictionaries, it is rarely practiced or understood. What does “mercy” mean? Most people only use this word with the word “no” in front of it. No mercy! Go for the jugular, show no mercy to them, etc. It is a challenge to understand mercy, but that is what we need to do.

God’s example of mercy

God shows us great mercy. The Bible tells us there will come a time of resurrection. We see that in Ezekiel 37:4-6: “Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (King James Version). Now this is mercy!

He resurrects dust, sinful dust. It says no breath was in them, but God gave them spiritual air. Verse 9 says, “Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus said the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live” (KJV).

What does “mercy” mean? Most people only use this word with the word “no” in front of it. No mercy!

We need to ask ourselves if we reflect God’s character of mercy. If someone were to describe you, would they call you merciful? There are three essentials for us from Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Merciful people will be taken advantage of, but merciful people know this fact and will allow it to happen anyway, knowing God will deal with the offenders in His time. So, to whom do you extend mercy? To everyone.

A few truisms of mercy

Mercy anticipates our response of repentance. We extend it, hoping to generate repentance, but mercy doesn’t wait for repentance. While we are still sinners, God has mercy on us. Mercy comes first.

Recipients of mercy may not even know it has been extended to them. When you are cut off in traffic and do nothing, when you give no annoyed response, you are showing mercy. After leaving Egypt, the children of Israel continued to complain and carry on, giving no regard to their God. Yet God extended His mercy to them and does the same for us daily.

We never know what act of mercy might inspire repentance in others. We want to stand up for our rights, but who knows what small act of mercy can change someone’s heart? Correction

Proper correction and punishment are acts of mercy. In the role of parents, a pastor, a supervisor or any other leading role, we need discernment. Discernment is an act of mercy. Sometimes we need to reprimand another; sometimes we don’t. Maybe as a parent you tell your son he deserves punishment, but instead, you say, this time you will not do so. This is mercy and teaches your child how to show mercy. The goal is to find the right balance.

The proper response to mercy is obedience. If we extend mercy to our children when they have shown disobedience, what do we gain? We gain not only their respect, but also the knowledge that through our mercy they learn the lesson of being merciful. For example: When our children tell us a lie and we ask them for the truth, when we receive it, do we fly off the handle and give them a harsh punishment? If so, they have just learned that there is no mercy in us. We will punish even when receiving a truthful answer.

We need to ask ourselves if we reflect God’s character of mercy. If someone were to describe you, would they call you merciful?

Mercy is easier to extend to those who appreciate its value. It is better to err on the side of mercy. If we show mercy to someone who does not appreciate it, they may tend to shrug and feel us the fool for showing it. This can make it difficult for us. We may feel angry at such a response. Someone who appreciates its value will see that we are showing mercy and feel better about us for showing it.

In Proverbs 11:17-20 we read, “The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh. The wicked man does deceitful work: but to him that sows righteousness shall be a sure reward. As righteousness tends to life: so he that pursues evil pursues it to his own death. They that are of a fraudulent heart are abomination to the LORD: but such as are upright in their way are his delight.”

God has given us a glimpse into His character. In Matthew 9:13 we see, “But go you and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” He wants us to have mercy and He is the one who has taught us how to use it.