Where Do You Stand on the Judgement Versus Mercy Debate?

If you’ve been reading along in our New Testament reading plan, you’ve just finished the book of Titus and will wrap up your Bible reading for the year with the short book of Philemon. Congratulations for finishing! (Next year let’s read the entire Bible together. Look for posts here each Tuesday that align with the reading plan.)

Where Do You Stand on the Judgement Versus Mercy Debate?The book of Philemon is actually a letter Paul writes to Philemon. In it Paul advocates for mercy instead of judgement for their mutual colleague, Onesimus. Onesimus deserves a stern dose of justice for running away, but Paul pleads for mercy instead.

This sounds a lot like Jesus and us. Our misdeeds demand judgement but Jesus offers mercy to everyone, but only those who follow Jesus can actually receive his mercy and grace. God’s Law demands justice, but his love gives grace. Jesus makes the difference.

The Bible doesn’t say if Philemon extends Onesimus the mercy he doesn’t deserve or demands the justice that he does, but I think Philemon sets aside judgement and justice to present mercy and grace – just like Jesus does for us.

Thank God for Jesus, for mercy, and for grace!

What do you think Philemon did after reading Paul’s letter? How would you have treated Onesimus? God’s Law demands justice, but his love gives grace. Jesus makes the difference. Click To Tweet

Save

Consider Cain: Who Was He Really?

We know Cain to be a murderer — and we vilify him for it. What we often fail to consider is that Cain had a relationship with God.

Consider that Cain gave an offering to God that wasn’t requested or expected. (Cain lived centuries before God instructed Moses about the need to give him offerings.)

Also, consider that Cain also had a personal relationship with God, that is he talked to God and was able to be in God’s presence.

Given this, one might conclude that aside from one terrible act, Cain was a good guy, a God-loving dude. Perhaps like you and me.

Even so, this one act — his only recorded failure in life — needed to be punished. Justice demanded it. And as a just God, he meted it out.

So God sent Cain away, away from his presence. But not angrily or out of spite. For despite a need to punish Cain for his grave error, God lovingly put a mark on him to protect him from being killed by others.

God justly punished Cain — and then lovingly protected him.

Avoiding the Rebellion of Korah

While the story of Cain killing his brother may be commonly known, the rebellion led by Korah is quite obscure.

Korah was from the tribe of Levi; he and the other Levites were assigned God-given tasks to serve in the temple; they were set apart for this. However, they were not to serve as priests; that fell only to Aaron and his descendants.

Korah didn’t like these distinctions; he advocated all people were holy, had God (the Holy Spirit) in them, and should be elevated to the level of priests.  (Interestingly, these were something that Jesus would later proclaim and that his followers would embrace, but in Korah’s time, this was not the case. There were distinctions and that’s how God wanted it at that time.)

Korah stirred up some followers, insisting on equal status for all. Then he and Moses had the equivalent of a modern-day smack down.  Moses won and was affirmed by God; Korah lost — big time; the ground beneath him opened up and he and his family fell in and died.

Today, we would hail Korah as a martyred reformer who pursued justice and equality, advocating that anyone can approach God.

Although Jesus would later usher in these changes, that is not what God had put in place in Korah’s day. He had a different plan and, no matter how well intended, Korah opposed it — and will forever be associated with a failed rebellion against God.

[Numbers 16]

How to Treat One Another

Consider how the Bible teaches us to treat one another:

Love one another [John 13:34, John 13:35, Romans 13:8, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 1:5]

Accept one another [Romans 15:7]

Instruct one another [Romans 15:14]

Submit to one another [Ephesians 5:21]

Forgive one another [Colossians 3:13]

Teach one another [Jeremiah 9:20]

Teach and admonish one another [Colossians 3:16]

Encourage one another [Judges 20:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25]

Agree with one another [1 Corinthians 1:10]

Fellowship with one another [1 John 1:7]

Give to one another [Esther 9:22]

Live in harmony with one another [Romans 12:16, 1 Peter 3:8]

Be kind and compassionate to one another [Ephesians 4:32]

Serve one another in love [Galatians 5:13]

Bear with one another in love [Ephesians 4:2]

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love [Romans 12:10a]

Honor one another above yourselves [Romans 12:10b]

Greet one another with a kiss of love [1 Peter 5:14]

Greet one another with a holy kiss [Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12]Consider how the Bible teaches us to treat one another. Click To Tweet

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs [Ephesians 5:19]

Spur one another on toward love and good deeds [Hebrews 10:24]

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling [1 Peter 4:9]

Administer justice, show mercy and compassion to one another [Zechariah 7:9]

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another [1 Peter 5:5]

Do not deceive one another [Leviticus 19:11]

Do not break faith with one another [Malachi 2:10]

Do not degrade your bodies with one another [Romans 1:24]

Do not lust for one another [Romans 1:27]

Stop judging one another [Romans 14:13]

Do not hate one another [Titus 3:3]

Do not slander one another [James 4:11]

When we follow these one-another commands from the Bible, we will begin to treat others the way God intended.

What is Really Important?

Do you ever ask yourself, “What is really important?”

If we’re not careful, it’s all too easy to end up doing things that, at best, are secondary, and at worst, don’t matter at all.  Such was the case of the people of Israel a few millennia ago.

The prophet Amos states that God is critical of their religious gatherings, their offerings, and their music.  He uses phrases like “I hate…,” “I despise…,” “I will not accept…,” “I have no regard for…”, and “I will not listen…”.

What did God want instead?  Righteousness and justice.

Although it would be an incorrect conclusion to completely jettison our gatherings, our offerings, and our worship music, it might not be a bad idea to give them a bit lower priority.  Certainly, the admirable traits of righteousness (“right living”) and justice need to be elevated.

If that’s what God wanted all those years ago, it might just be want he wants now.

[Amos 5:21-24]

Obadiah Proclaims Justice

The book of Obadiah in the Bible contains a prophecy about the nation of Edom.

Among other things, Edom is criticized for their pride. The primary issue, however, is not what they did, but what they didn’t do. Theirs is not an act of commission, but of omission.

Specially, the gripe that God has for them is for violence afflicted on the nation of Judah. Not that Edom actually committed the violence, but that they merely stood by and watched as other nations did it.

For this they are destined to be “covered with shame” and “destroyed forever.” That is a harsh judgment for doing nothing. There is no forgiveness offered to Edom and no restoration recorded; just punishment.

This shows us God’s heart for us to act justly and his displeasure for those who stand idly by and not helping those in trouble.

When we see someone in need, someone being taken advantage of or being treated unfairly, do we take action to assist or stand aloof like Edom?

[Obadiah 10-11]

Lessons from the Life of John Mark

There is an interesting story that begins in Acts 13.

God tells the church to commission and send out Barnabas and Paul to other cities, telling the people they meet about Jesus. They do this, taking with them John (also called, John Mark or just Mark).

The thing is, God didn’t tell them to take John Mark; he apparently doesn’t belong there. This is borne out later, when John Mark deserts Barnabas and Paul to return home.

Later, Barnabas wants to give John Mark a second chance (an example of mercy), but Paul says “no” (an example of justice). They part company over this disagreement, each going their separate ways. This might seem like a bad thing, but it turns out to be a good thing, as they are then able to cover twice the ground, doubling their effectiveness and outreach.

For John Mark, his story ends on a positive note, too, with him and Paul later being reconciled (an example of grace) and Paul esteeming John Mark as his fellow worker and as being useful to him.

This is a great lesson in life. Despite making mistakes along the way, we can still finish well. John Mark did and so can we.

[Acts 13:2-3, 5, 13; Acts 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, and 2 Timothy 4:11]

Do You Want Justice or Mercy?

I have a friend who pursues justice; she wants everything to be fair. The bad thing about absolute justice is that it leaves no room for mercy. In many ways, justice and mercy are opposites:

  • Mercy is getting off with a warning, while justice says you deserve a ticket.
  • Mercy is having a test question thrown out, while justice says you got it wrong.
  • Mercy is receiving probation, while justice says you deserve jail.
  • Mercy is getting a second chance, while justice says there are no “do-overs.”
  • Mercy is being permitted to retract your chess move, while justice says “sorry, you took your hands off it.”

In a paradox of Godly proportions, God is both fully just yet full of mercy.

Justice says that an imperfect person cannot be in the presence of a perfect God, while mercy through Jesus allows us to do so anyway.

Thank God for his justice and his mercy — and for paradoxes!