Thesis:The "grace/faith-function" of "showing mercy" is the ability to provide the issues of "life/Life" to those in danger of "death/Death".
Introduction:This evening we are coming to the end of Paul's focus on the contribution that each member of the body is to make to the health of the body. We have seen that without a determined intent to focus upon one's Spirit-given ability to enhance the Life of the Body, there will be a minimal return at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In that light, Paul's instructions begin with a focus upon the actual performance of the gifting (from prophecy to exhortation) that, then, moves to a focus upon the expansion of that performance (from giving to showing mercy).
As we come to the end of this focus, we are told that if we have the "gift" of "showing mercy", we are to exercise it "with cheerfulness".
I. The Meaning of "Mercy".
A. To understand "mercy", we begin with Romans 9:15.
1. In this text we have a "similarity": compassion.
a. This term is used in the near context of 12:1 as the root of our determination to focus upon our Spirit-given ability to enhance the Life of the Body.
b. When we were in this near context, we argued that Paul's use of the term is best understood by its use in Hebrews 10:28.
1) In that text, "compassion" is identified as that which tends to mitigate the impact of a given situation because that impact is seen as "terrible".
2) The question we must address is whether the text is addressing an "inner" reluctance or an "overt" mitigation.
a) The question is significant because it raises the issue of "source": is "compassion" the reason for the display of "mercy" or is "mercy" the reason for the display of "compassion"?
b) In the New Testament, "compassion" is not a "large" issue (in its various forms, it only shows up five times as a noun, twice as a verb -- both in the same verse [Romans 9:15]).
i. However, 2 Corinthians 1:3 uses it as a "T"heological descriptor: the "Father of compassions", thus making it more crucial than its use might imply.
ii. In both Philippians 2:1 and Colossians 3:12 it is tied to the "bowels" and, by this, is identified as an internal matter.
c) My conclusion is that "compassion" is an inner issue.
c. The comparison seems to indicate that "mercy" is the outer expression of the inner turmoil called "compassion".
2. In this context we also have an intentional declaration that both "mercy" and "compassion" are the result of divine "intention", but the implication is that it is "mercy" that is "determined" because "compassion" is an "inner" reality that exists without any sponsor.
3. Thus, "mercy" is an overt act.
B. To better understand "mercy", we can go to Matthew 9:27 and 1 Timothy 1:13 and 16.
1. The Matthew text is focused upon "life" and a rather significant hindrance to it.
a. It is clear that the blind men see "mercy" as "the restoration of their sight".
1) As such, it is an "overt" act.
2) As such, it is focused upon "life" as a process requiring certain abilities.
b. This means that "mercy" is action taken to alleviate situations that are "life" threatening.
2. The 1 Timothy text is focused upon "Life" and certain "grants" that make it possible.
a. The "mercy" which Paul "obtained" in 1:13 was "counting me sufficiently faithful to put into ministry" (particularly "apostolic" ministry).
b. The "mercy" which Paul "obtained" in 1:16 was "salvation" unto "eternal life".
3. These texts are crucial for the following reasons.
a. They make a distinction between "life" and "Life".
b. They both focus upon "the granting of abilities" or "privileges" that make the particular kind of "life" possible by the exercise of those abilities.
C. Therefore, our understanding of "showing mercy" boils down to taking action that will impart some kind of "ability" to one in need of the fundamentals of "life/Life".
1. The key issue in "mercy" is the granting of some form of "enablement" that, then, must be exercised in order for "life/Life" to result.
2. This means that it is "unmerciful" to "enable" in a way that creates an irresponsible dependency.
II. The Exercise of "Mercy".
A. In Paul's instruction, the extension of mercy is to be accompanied by "cheerfulness".
B. Paul's terminology is not widely used (only in Romans 12:8 and 2 Corinthians 9:7, a reference to how one is to "give").
1. In the illuminating text of 2 Corinthians 9:7 we are given two negative characteristics.
a. The first is "grudging": the term means "with sadness or grief".
1) This strongly implies that the extension of "mercy" might be attended by an attitude wherein the "merciful" is "put off" by the extension.
2) This does not corrupt the "mercy", but it does corrupt the "merciful" because "mercy" is supposed to spring from compassion, not some sense of loss.
3) The implication is that the person with this gift might harbor some reluctance to exercise it because of what it might cost.
b. The second is "necessity": the term means "with a sense of unwilling compulsion".
1) This implies that the "merciful" might actually be driven by his/her own situation rather than the one inhabited by the needy.
2) This turns the "mercy" into a form of legalism wherein the one displaying mercy has more to gain than the one receiving it, but the means of such gain is distasteful.
3) This means that this gift might be exercised out of a sense of "force" rather than voluntarism.
2. Paul's "requirement" is that the gift of "showing mercy" be viewed as a desirable opportunity rather than a distasteful necessity.