3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart,4 And so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4 NKJV
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “mercy” as a compassion towards someone who has offended us or is under our power. It often involves a sense of leniency when a harsher response would have been justified.
In this proverb, Solomon highlights the importance of mercy. Accompanied by truth, it is a highly esteemed quality in God’s eyes and attractive to the people around us, as well.
We have a God of second chances. In fact, He gives us many more than two. If at some point on our wayward path, He can get through to us and we show even a kernel of willingness, He will help us to change for the better. All He asks in return is that we show the same type of mercy to others.
Many of us were walking down a road of destruction when God spared us. When we finally received Him into our lives, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. But God forgave us and accepts us despite our sins and shortcomings. We turn to Him for forgiveness, claiming the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection power to cover our failures and to credit us with His righteousness.
As a result, we are totally forgiven of our sins. Now God wants us to share some of this great mercy He has given us with others who need our forgiveness.
In Matthew 18, Jesus told a parable about a servant who owed the king a tremendous amount of money. When the king demanded payment, the man pleaded for mercy, asking for time, and promising to pay it all back. The king went one better:
27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. Matthew 18:27 NKJV
When the relieved servant left, he went out to find someone who owed him a much smaller amount of money. When that man pled for mercy and time to repay, the servant would have none of it, and sent him to debtor’s prison.
32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Matthew 18:32-35 NKJV
This is what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
It is not easy to forgive others and show mercy to those who have harmed or offended us. It is all too easy to form a grudge or a resentment from their hurt and determine to get even with them. But this is not how the God who has forgiven us wants us to respond. He has extended divine mercy to us and wants us to use the power of His Holy Spirit to find the strength to extend the same mercy to others.
One form of mercy is giving a soft answer to turn away wrath from someone who is coming at us in anger. This is another proverb of Solomon that we have looked at previously. Responding to a threat or challenge with a soft answer is not easy to do. It takes a lot of self-discipline and requires a lot of divine help and training. But with God’s help, we can make progress and will reap the fruits of it whenever we succeed.
Changing our bad behaviors, temper or vengefulness will not happen overnight. It is like turning a large ocean-going vessel around when it is under full steam. The ship will not turn on a dime, but requires a lot of ocean and time to fully reverse course.
It is the same way with us and God. He is the rudder, and we are ships heading down a path of willful anger and revenge. He gently turns the rudder in our lives so that we slowly become more like Him. Others may see it in us before we see it in ourselves. But over time, He makes us more patient. More tolerant. Less angry and fearful. More loving. More gracious. And ultimately, more merciful.
Mercy and truth are beautiful things when they are working together in our lives. Beautiful to God and beautiful to those who live and work around us.
Besides showing mercy to others, we also need to show mercy to ourselves. We must try to correct the mistakes and harms we have done to others in the past and we do this as best we can. But we will never be able to correct it all. And we cannot control how others will receive our attempts.
But God approves of our efforts along these lines. As we trust Him more we learn to accept and love ourselves in the same way that we are leaning on Him to help us show mercy to others.