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Redeemer Bible Church
Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.
The Ministry of Mercy, Part Eight Selected Scriptures Introduction Several times a month the church office receives phone calls from people claiming to be in need. Women claiming that they have lost their job, that their food stamps have run out, and that therefore they need money for groceries. Men claiming that due to circumstances beyond their control, they do not have enough money to pay their rent or their gas and electric bills. People claiming that if they do not get $500 by such and such a date that they will be out on the street. Others claiming that they suffer from acute allergies that do not allow them to hold down jobs or live anywhere that has ever harbored mold spores. I am not making this up. Churches all over the United States are contacted with regularity by those claiming to be in need. And how about in your private life? Have you ever been approached by a man or woman on the street asking for money for food, or shelter, or cab or bus fare? Sometimes they tell you their story about how they had lost their job in a factory or at a department store or with a building contractor. And they may even tell you their plans for the future, how your money will help them on the road to economic recovery and financial independence. Being now in my tenth year of pastoral ministry I have been called or approached by many individuals seeking help of this kind. Once my colleague and I were at the church office preparing the messages for the Lord’s Day and we got a knock at the door. A man came to us and asked if he could speak with the Senior Pastor about getting some financial assistance. So the other pastor, who was my senior in pastoral ministry, spent about halfan-hour with this man, listened to his story, and ended up giving him (I think) $100. Before the man left, he told the other pastor that he would be in church to worship with us on Sunday and he cried in gratitude for the pastor’s generosity. And yet, from the moment I met this man there was something suspicious about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just didn’t sit right with me. Well, Sunday came and went and we never heard from this man again. When this happened, I was compelled to follow up with Pastor Joe:
“Pastor, so-and-so didn’t come to church on Sunday. I knew it! Couldn’t you tell that he was being disingenuous?” “Yeah, I had a feeling he might be conning me.” “So why did you give him a hundred bucks?!” I asked.

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“It’s always better to err on the side of mercy,” he said. “It’s better to err on the side of mercy than to let a truly needy person go.”

Of course, I had no response. In light of what I knew from Scripture about the ministry of mercy, I knew that Pastor Joe was right. And this was before I read this from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Christian charity: “It is true, when we have opportunity to become certainly acquainted with [the circumstances of the poor], it is well to embrace it: and to be influenced in a measure by probability in such cases, is not to be condemned. Yet it is better to give to several that are not objects of charity, than to send away empty one that is.”1 Edwards is right to point out that we are wise to research the claims of the needy; we certainly do not want to be party to sin. However, when for some reason we do not have the occasion to ascertain precisely the condition of those asking for our help, knowing what we do about our responsibility to the poor, the prudent route to take is the one that doesn’t accidentally neglect them. With that said, I’d like to take this, our last message on the ministry of mercy to address the question of how to decide who is to receive our mercy. In other words, when we find ourselves in the place of having the opportunity to become certainly acquainted with the circumstances of the poor, what should be the criteria that we use for dispersing our resources? How do we determine who gets what, and in what proportions? Is it ever right to stop giving aid? Should there be conditions attached to the mercy we offer the poor? Well, let me say that these questions are quite complex; that is, they involve a variety of factors, many of which intersect. For example, we will find evidence in Scripture that the ministry of mercy is to be performed for the benefit of the believer and the unbeliever and that the ministry of mercy is offered both unconditionally and conditionally. In order to understand how these apparently contradictory ideas intersect in the ministry of mercy, it is important for us to understand something of the nature of mercy itself. Understanding Mercy Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 10:30-37.
Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' 36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers'

Jonathan Edwards, “Christian Charity: or, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced,” in Works, Vol 2, Sereno E Dwight (Ed) (Banner of Truth, 1997 reprint of the 1834 edition), 172, italics added.

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hands?" 37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

In a previous lesson, you will recall that we spent some significant time unpacking the details of this very important text for the ministry of mercy. Something that we did not address in that earlier message is found in v 37. Notice how the expert in the Jewish Law described the Samaritan’s behavior toward the man in need. He says that the Samaritan showed mercy toward the man in the road. Showing mercy, then, is not having a feeling of compassion toward a needy person; though it is clear that this Samaritan was full of compassion toward the battered and broken man in the road. Showing mercy is what describes the action that the Samaritan took in response to seeing a man in such a dreadful condition. Showing mercy is bandaging wounds and pouring oil on them. It is putting an injured man in his own car (on his own beast) and delivering him to a safe place of shelter. It is taking care of this man all night long. And it is offering cash to provide for the man’s need in his absence. This is what it means to show mercy. Now, then, we might ask why the Samaritan’s behavior is called “mercy” and not something like aid or help or assistance. Well, the answer is not that it is a bad translation. Mercy is an ideal word choice. The English word, which refers to “forbearance and compassion shown to a powerless person, esp. an offender, or to one who has no claim to receive kindness; kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected,”2—the word mercy properly conveys the meaning of the Greek underlying it.3 It is the kindness or concern expressed for someone in need. In addition, it is especially kindness or compassion expressed for a needy person in a case where severity is merited or expected. In light of Samaritan-Jewish relations of the first century, severity is precisely what we would have expected. No Samaritan would help his mortal enemy. So when the lawyer describes the Samaritan’s behavior of Jesus’ story in terms of showing mercy, he has hit the nail on the head. The Samaritan gave compassionate treatment in a case where severity was expected. So then, part of what makes mercy, mercy is that it is offered to those who have not merited it; neither would they have expected it. It should be kept in mind that this kind of concrete mercy is of a piece with the kind of mercy shown to us in the gospel. Mercy is unmerited kindness and compassion. In the case of the mercy we offer to others, it comes in the form of the meeting of physical needs; and in the case of the mercy offered to us in the gospel, it comes in the form of eternal salvation. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Eph 2:4-7 says,

2 3

OED

Shorter 1.1746.

e;leoj

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But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

And 1 Pet 1:3 says much the same: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” All this is to say that the mercy that we offer to others in terms of meeting their physical needs operates according to the same principle as the mercy offered to us by God in the gospel. Now that we can see that biblical mercy whether to physical or spiritual needs operate from the same principle, we are ready to tackle the questions that go to how we are to determine who receives our service. I have already mentioned that in the ministry of mercy several apparently contradictory notions come together. Believer and Unbeliever So part of the reason why the ministry of mercy is to be performed both for the believer and the unbeliever, is precisely because it is a ministry of mercy. It expresses to the Christian the ongoing mercy of God in his or her life and it expresses to the non-Christian the compassion and kindness of the Lord who is declaring to all men everywhere that they should repent. If we were to limit mercy ministry to the members of the believing community, we would actually be defying what it means to show mercy. Mercy comes to those who do not deserve it—believing and unbelieving. Turn in your Bibles with me to Luke 6:30-36 to see this principle made explicit:
Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 "If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 "If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Notice very carefully what Jesus tells us in vv 35 & 36: But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Here is what it means to be merciful as our heavenly father is merciful. We must love our enemies, to do good (that is, to perform good works for them), to lend them our money, expecting nothing in return. This is what will make us the sons of the Most High; for he himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Therefore we are merciful like him when we do the same.

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Clearly this text is referring not to the mercy we show to the members of the believing community; rather it assumes that of course we would be inclined to show mercy to our own, but what makes the members of the Christian community so remarkable is that they show mercy to those who hate and despitefully use them. We are not to love our neighbor and hate our enemies. We are to see everyone as our neighbors, not simply the members of the New Covenant community. This does not mean that we do not show mercy to them, but what it does mean is that we cannot limit our mercy to them. Listen to what the Apostle Paul tells the Romans:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK…21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17-21).

So then, the nature of mercy is what helps us to harmonize what may at first blush seem to be contrary ideas. The ministry of mercy as such is designed to bring relief both to the believing and to the unbelieving. Unconditional and Conditional The nature of mercy also works to reconcile the seemingly contrary notions of mercy that is both unconditional and conditional. By now you would probably think that mercy by definition must certainly be unconditional. The idea of conditions attached to our ministry of mercy may even seem crass. But this is not at all the case. Biblical mercy is both unconditional and conditional. Let me explain. Our aid is called the ministry of mercy; it is not the ministry of merit. As such it comes without conditions. We are to do good to those who are wicked and ungrateful. We are to lend, expecting absolutely nothing in return. People do not earn mercy. Such a notion is truly a contradiction in terms. The ministry of mercy, like God’s mercy, should move toward all people regardless of their condition. At the same time, however, the Bible teaches us that all people must work. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Thess 3:10 that “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” The congregation is to allow the lazy brother to suffer the consequences of his sloth. He tells the Thessalonians in effect not to support a person who would abuse the mercy of the believing community. Our mercy should never be given knowing that it will tempt a person to be disobedient to the Lord. In addition, 1 Timothy 5 teaches us that even if someone is a widow, this does not automatically qualify her for the church’s aid. Turn over to 1 Tim 5:5-6, 9-12.
Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. 6 But she who

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gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives….A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.

You can see that both in vv 5-6 and in vv 9-12 the Apostle Paul tells Timothy that only godly widows are eligible for the support of the church. The one who gives herself to wanton (probably sexual) pleasure, the one who feels sensual desires in disregard of Christ, that woman is not to be placed on the list. Since this is more commonly characteristic of younger widows, they are to be instructed to remarry, bear children, and keep house. They are not to receive the aid of the church. In addition, even if there were to be women whose characters qualified them for the church’s mercy ministry, this would not automatically result in receiving the church’s help. The first line of defense for a defenseless woman is the members of her immediate family. Look up to v 4: But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now jump down to v 16 and you’ll see much the same: If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed. What this means is that even in the case of widows, those clearly singled out in the Old Testament for the charity of the people of God, certain restrictions and conditions apply to their eligibility for the church’s aid. Here, too, is a case of conditional mercy ministry. So then, the Bible seems to suggest that the ministry of mercy is both unconditional and conditional. Still, I haven’t explained how understanding the nature of mercy helps us to reconcile these ideas. Well, what you must remember is that the reason we offer mercy to the needy is entirely different from the reason the world offers mercy to the needy. We offer mercy ministry in order to spread the kingdom of God. Thus we are interested in something more than temporary relief or even an end to the suffering of the needy. We are interested in their restoration and reconciliation to God. True mercy seeks all of what a person needs. True mercy seeks to bring people under the Lordship of Christ in every aspect of their lives. This, then, is how mercy can be both unconditional and conditional. It can be unconditional because it gives to show the free grace of Christ and to soften others’ hearts. And it can be conditional because like the Lord’s mercy, our mercy cannot be satisfied until every fiber of our being is happily submitting to his sovereign authority. At first we testify to the free love of Christ in our mercy, but eventually we must call the whole person to Christ. To expect anything less is to be less than merciful. One writer puts it this way:

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We must let mercy limit mercy. Sometimes we let revenge limit mercy. “Look at all I’ve done for that person,” we say, “and what thanks do I get?” Perhaps you have looked foolish to others for your involvement with a needy person, and his lack of response has embarrassed you. In other cases, we may let selfishness limit mercy. “That family is bleeding me dry. I quit!” But in the final analysis, only mercy can limit mercy. We may cut off our aid only if it is unmerciful to continue it….Let mercy limit mercy.4

So in the case of the person who is unwilling to work, it would be unmerciful to allow him not to suffer the consequences of his laziness. In the case of the widows mentioned in 1 Timothy 5, it would be unmerciful to allow women who should be married to persist in sin, it would be unmerciful to create a situation in which our mercy would lead to their sin, and it would be unmerciful to those who were widows indeed not to require the immediate family to meet their needs first. Mercy comes in a variety of forms, and sometimes for the sake of the persons involved, it may change variously throughout the time they are receiving the church’s aid. So then, understanding the nature of mercy helps us get at the questions that go to how we’re to discern how to disperse our funds to the needy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t answer them completely. Some Additional Principles Several principles emerge from the texts that we have already examined that move us in the right direction. First, we are individually responsible for those closest to us, beginning with the poor in our own families. First Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” And I should add that the teaching of 1 Timothy 5 is reflecting something of the teaching of the Old Testament. Leviticus 25:25 says, “If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.” Second, the church institutionally is responsible for the poor in its midst. We must make the needy of Redeemer Bible Church our chief priority. This is what Paul means when, for example, he tells the Galatians to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Christians should receive priority assistance without neglected outsiders. Third, if mercy ministry is offered in imitation of Christ’s ministry to us in the gospel, then it seems biblically warranted to conclude that we should not be passive in pursuing the ministry of mercy, but active in it. In other words, we should not wait for the needy to come to us; we should move out to show mercy to the needy.

Timothy J Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, Second Edition (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1989, 1997), 98.

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This is precisely how God acts in his mercy toward us. Christ seeks and saves that which is lost. He seeks us out that he might lavish us with the riches of his mercy and grace. So we, too, ought not to be content with waiting to show mercy should a needy person arrive on our doorstep. Instead we should be praying to the Lord for increased opportunities to meet the needs of the oppressed, of those who have suffered from some disaster or other calamity, and even of those who have sinned their way into a condition of need. Perhaps this last phrase is the most troubling for you. You may be asking, “Why would we help a person who has arrived in a condition of poverty because of their own sin?” Well, let me answer that in three ways. First, we need to ask ourselves if this reflects the mercy God has shown to us. Our condition of sin and misery is our own fault. We have sinned our way into condition of need regardless of our material circumstances. Yet while we were still sinners, rebelling against God, Christ died for us. Second, think of it like this. If you encountered a man who looked sick and emaciated, crying out for food, you would feel compelled to feed him. No one should starve when it is in our power to give them sustenance. But what if this man was sick and starving because he spent all his money on “Meth”? Would you look at him as he cried out for food, starving, and say, “Sorry, buddy, you made your bed, now sleep in it!” Do not the love and compassion and mercy of Christ compel us to feed the hungry man and then persist with him that he might know freedom from sin in the gospel? I think so. Third, you need to keep in mind that the reasons people find themselves in poverty are quite complex. It is very rare that a person is poor or starving solely because he or she has sinned. Many times there is a combination of factors that have led to their condition, including their sin. Such complex arrangements are humanly impossible to unknot. Let me give you an example.
Two people from church are visiting the home of some kids who came to Bible Day Camp. While there, they find a mother, Mrs. C., age thirty-two with five children. The oldest girl is sixteen, single, and has one-year-old twins of her own. Mrs. C. has only a third grade education. Her husband left her five years ago, and she can barely provide for her family. She has been unable to work for a couple of years because of chronic back problems. The oldest daughter Joan shows signs of genuine interest in the gospel. But she admits to you that her mother is a drug addict, and that she gets Joan to supplement their income through occasional prostitution. “That’s how I got the twins,” she adds sadly, “and maybe I’ve got another coming.”5

Try and untangle that knot! We could attribute their poverty to several causes: unjust treatment by Mrs. C.’s parents—allowing her only to obtain a third-grade education; unjust treatment by Mrs. C.’s husband—he left her with five children when she was 27; she cannot work because she is physically debilitated with back problems; and she has a drug

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Adapted from ibid., 102.

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addiction and is selling sex in order to supplement her income. She has been sinned against and she is sinning. Can we pin down a single cause for Mrs. C.’s predicament? I think not. Therefore, in imitation of Christ’s mercy toward us, not only should we take the initiative to meet the needs of the oppressed and those who have suffered from some disaster or other calamity, but we should also work to meet the needs even of those who have sinned their way into their lack. As Edwards rightly points out, “Now Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid himself out to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves.”6 So then, what additional principles do we have? (1) We are individually responsible for the needy of our own families; (2) the church is institutionally responsible for its own members; and (3) our mercy to others should look like Christ’s mercy to us. Conclusion Well, we began this morning’s message by asking about what criteria should be used dispersing our resources among the needy. We began by asking how to determine who gets what, and how much. We began by asking if it is ever right to stop giving aid. And we began by asking if there should ever be conditions attached to the mercy we offer. What we found was that our questions did not avail themselves of simple answers. Yes, we were able to determine that our charity should be aimed at believers and unbelievers alike; and we found that our mercy should be both unconditional and conditional. And we also saw a biblical priority placed upon us individually for the members of our own families, institutionally for the members of the church, and in imitation of Christ, a proactive and initiating ministry of mercy for sinners of every stripe. Yet in spite of all the principles we have gleaned not only this morning, but for the last eight weeks, we are still left scratching our heads. What percentage of my income should I give to the ministry of mercy? What activities, if any, should I eliminate from my schedule? Should I go out to dinner less often? Should I cancel my magazine and newspaper subscriptions? Should I have only one car? Dear brethren, as we have been saying all along, these are questions that cannot be answered by a pastor; indeed, they cannot even be directly answered from the pages of Scripture. Thus we are left to the mercy of God. Ironic, isn’t it? Isn’t it ironic that after all our study that we are left to the mercy of God for the outworking of the ministry of mercy? I think it’s fitting. For to be at the mercy of God is the safest place to be. As David said when confronted with the choice of his punishment, “Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam 24:14). It is so safe to be at the mercy of God. Call out to him for mercy and grace and wisdom to know how you might more actively participate in this vital ministry. It is vital to

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Edwards, “Christian Charity,” 172.

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the church and it is vital to the individual Christian. So we never waste our prayers when we beg God for the wisdom to discern how to apply his principles to our daily lives. Finally, I’d like to conclude with a word from the Apostle Paul in which he quotes a saying from the Lord Jesus, not recorded in the gospels, but his nonetheless. And I do this so that I might remind you of the joy of the ministry of mercy; for if you are not set aflame by the joy of the Lord, all your duties will fell like drudgeries rather than delights. Listen: “In everything” says Paul, “I showed you [Ephesian elders] that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). The elders are charged with the responsibility of helping the weak; that is, of engaging in the hard work of the ministry of mercy. But this is only half of Paul’s commandment. They are also charged with the responsibility of remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Dear brothers and sisters we cannot have one without the other! We cannot truly help the weak without at the same time remembering that it is more blessed to give than to receive! Oh that the Lord would allow us to believe this: that it is more blessed to give than to receive. May we say no to that which is less blessed in order to say yes to that which is more blessed. And may we do it all to the glory of Christ. Amen.

Redeemer Bible Church 16205 Highway 7 Minnetonka, MN 55345 Office: 952.935.2425 Fax: 952.938.8299 info@redeemerbiblechurch.com www.redeemerbiblechurch.com

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