This afternoon I’m going to preach a very simple message. Honestly, this has been an extremly busy week in preparation for Vacation Bible School and some other things and I could have used a Sunday Afternoon today. But I have no one to blame for that but me.
I want to read to you a passage in James 2. James 2:1-13. And I want to talk about a character trait that we often forget: Mercy.
Let’s look at that passage.
”1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
The last phrase in this passage is “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Let’s say that out loud together. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
I want you to write that down. Either on your notes or in your Bible. Mercy rejoiceth against judgement. It’s that phrase that I want to try to unpack this afternoon.
I’m going to give you three points about mercy this afternoon. It won’t be a long message. Let’s pray and we’ll dive right in. The first point I want to give you this afternoon is:
1. Mercy’s Place
I want you to write down this phrase: “Mercy is at the heart of who we are as Christians.”
Now, this pasage doesn’t come out and say that directly, but it leads us to that conclusion in a very powerful way. Look again at verses 10-11.
”10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”
Did you catch that? That’s a pretty convicting couple of verses. It’s saying that if you break any of God’s law - you are guilty of all of it. Let me say that again, if you break any of God’s law - you are guilty of all of it.
If you are a liar - you are a murderer.
If you are a covet - you are an adulterer.
If you are a sabbath breaker - you are a theif.
That’s pretty convicting isn’t it? That’s huge. You go ahead and think of the grossest sin you can name or the wickedest thing you can speak of - and if you’ve ever broken God’s law - even once, according to this verse - you are guilty of it, because if you are break any of God’s law, you are guilty of all of it.
Now, does that mean we are going to be judged for all of it? No! Of course not. Why not? Because of Jesus. Because we have been forgiven, right? We have been justified.
We didn’t deserve that. We got it as a gift of grace and mercy from God.
Before you were saved - you were guilty of all - but now we’ve been forgiven, we’ve been justified and all because of God’s mercy.
Last week, over lunch, Brother Leonard was talking about some of the people he had won to Christ in Brazil. He was talking about a young man who came to Christ who was a drug addict and a male prostitute. Every wicked thing you can think of, that young man has probably done. But now he’s saved. Now he’s justified. Not because he deserved it - but because God is merciful.
Church, we have to grasp this, we are all in that same boat. We owed God a debt we couldn’t pay - I don’t care how rightous you were - you were wicked. We owed God a fantastically large debt - and he just forgave us. He just said - it’s on me. We’ve been justified.
Because of that - mercy should be in our DNA. In the Beatitudes Jesus said, and I think this is a natural outflow of our faith in Christ, he said “Blessed are the merficful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Sitting where it is in the beatitudes, I think that means that because we’ve realized we had nothing to offer God and mourned over our sin and been brought to faith in Christ - mercy should be a natural outflow of that.
Here in James it says:
”For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy;”
Because mercy has been shown to us, mercy should be natural to us. We ought to gag a little whenever we hear ourselves say about someone “Look at that scoundrel.” Because playing in the back of our mind ought to be “and such were some of you.”
So mercies place is that it central to who we are. We are merciful because we’ve been shown mercy. The second thing I want to look at is:
2. Mercy’s Opposition
In this passage in James, mercy is contrasted with something. Look at verse 13 again:
”For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
What’s the contrast here? It’s judgment. Judgment. If you read through this whole chapter, you’ll see that judgement play out in a really practical way:
Two people come to church, one looks high class and is wearing nice clothes, one looks ragged and is wearing poor clothes. The church treats the high class person well and treats the poor person poorly. What did they do? They judged the poor person based on their clothes.
By the way this is literally the ONLY passage in the whole Bible that says anything at all about the clothes that we wear to church - and I challenge you to prove me wrong. You find another passage that specifically addresses church clothes and I’ll buy you supper. You won’t though.
What’s going on in this passage is judging people based on their outward appearance.
I was talking to a pastor friend lately and he had a problem in his church. A guy had gotten saved and was on fire for God. He wanted to teach and to sing and was qualified to do it. But before he was saved, he lived a life of sin and had gotten several tattoos and gauges in his ears. Do you know what gauges are? They are those big holes. Those don’t come out. Those are a permanent fixture.
So this guy sings in church with these guages in his ears and the church blows up over it. “How dare he sing in the Lords house with those abominations?” “He looks like a freak.” “He looks worldly.”
That, friends, is judgment.
Now, a question - is it inherently bad judgement?
Would you want your son to go out and get gauges in his ears or go and get himself all tatted up? Most of you probably would. So the judgement isn’t inherently bad.
The other day, after a church service, I walked outside and there was someone smoking. I don’t like smoking. I think it’s a digusting habit. Is that a bad judgement? No - I don’t think any of us would wish that on our kids, right?
Do you think these people that came into the church in “vile raiment.” Do you think maybe their clothes were in bad taste? Do you think maybe if they had some more sense, they may dress differently? I do.
Let me tell you, as a general rule, poor people make poor choices. I’m not saying that to judge them, I’m saying that as a statement of fact. If you go to the poorest parts of town - you are going to see more tattoos, you are going to see more drugs, you are going to see more beer bottles, you are going to see more obseen t-shirts, you are going to see the results of a lot of poor choices.
Do you think that’s new? I don’t. I think the poor in James day probably made poor choices too and it reflected in their apparell just like it does today.
So we have judgment. We have mercy. These are two sides of a coin. They are two different things.
And what I want you to see, what I’ve been trying to work toward is this: So often in life we are brought to a choice where we can choose either mercy or judgment.
Someone gets saved with a bunch of tattoos - do I look down on that guy and bar him from Christian service or do I show him mercy?
Someone comes to church and is smoking outside of the church hall - do I give that guy a peice of my mind, or do I show him mercy?
Someone comes to church in clothes I don’t approve of or comes to church looking like a ragamuffin - do I huff and puff and gather the kids or do I show mercy?
These are just obvious situations in the church. We could go deeper…
I don’t like what so and so is doing so I’m going to scorn and scold them.
She came late to choir practice so I’m going to pretend like she’s invisible for the next half hour.
Do you see it? We get presented with this option of mercy or judgment all the time. All the time. Not just in the church house, but at work when our coworker is having a bad day, at the restaurant when the server doesn’t fill up our tea glass right away, at home when our wife doesn’t get the house clean. Constantly. In every aspect of our lives - we are constantly brought to face this idea of mercy and judgment.
So what do we do?
3. Mercy’s Power
Look at that last phrase one more time: (verse 13)
” and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
What does that mean “mercy rejoiceth against judgement?”
The words “rejoiceth aginst” are litterally “boasts over.” It’s like when you are a kid and you are playing one on one basketball with someone and you just kill them and you are like “Man, I beat you, I’m the winner.” That’s the idea here. It’s is a triumphant rejoicing. It is the boasting of a winner. It’s the general who wins the battle and blows the trumpet about it.
So the idea here is really simple: mercy beats judgment.
Do you remember ever playing “war” as a kid. You know, the card game. YOu divide the cards evenly and each of you throw down your top card and whatever card is higher up the deck wins and keeps both cards. So the Jack beats the 2. The King beats the queen. Etc.
If you throw down a card that says judgment and I throw down a card that says mercy - according to this verse - mercy wins every time.
So how do we work this out as a church? Let me really quickly give you two simple applications of this:
1. When you deal with others, always keep in mind what you were before Christ saved you.
We are guilty in the eyes of God. It is only through grace we are saved. Some of you did some pretty nasty things in your life before Christ. All of us were wicked.
When we deal with others - let’s remember that.
Yesterday at the parade - I saw all kinds of things that were questionable. I saw all kinds of excuse for judgement. Tattoos, revealing clothing, body jewelry, beer and drug paraphanelia, dirty people and on and on. All the signs of paganism.
Do you know what the healthy christian response to that is? “I was pagan once and would still be but for the grace of God.”
They are breaking God’s law - I broke it too. We are both lawbreakers - I’ve had mercy extended to me.
Keep that attitude.
2. When you deal with others, let mercy beat judgment.
Don’t be in a rush to judge people. Don’t be in a rush to look down on people. Sometimes, we have to come to judgmental conclusions - but we should have to be dragged into them kicking and screaming.
You don’t know if someone knows the Lord. You don’t know where they are in their relationship with the Lord. You don’t know what their background is. You don’t know, so give lots of mercy for as long as you can.
Jesus still said
”1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
That’s still in the Bible.
Whatever that means, it definitely means that there is a kind of passing judgement that is really bad and that we are commanded not to do, and that we should be super careful about when we judge others.
Let me tell you three specific areas where mercy should trump judgment and I’ll close:
First, mercy should trump judgment when dealing with unbelievers.
We shouldn't expect heathen people to act like saved people. Lost people don't need our judgement - they are already under the judgment of God. They need the gospel.
This doesn't mean we wink at their sin. Their sin is still sin in the eyes of God. It just means we don't point the finger at sin without pointing a finger at ourselves and saying "I was a sinner too."
If you were miraculously cured of cancer - you wouldn't go to the cancer ward at the hospital to make fun of the patients or to gawk at their symptoms- you'd go there to tell them about your doctor. That's what I'm saying here.
Second, mercy should trump judgment when dealing with new believers.
When we are dealing with new believers - we shouldn't expect them to act like old believers. You didn't get where you got overnight, You needed time and space to grow.
Third, mercy should trump judgment in biblical gray areas.