Preaching to the 20%?

I’m representing Biblical Seminary this weekend at the Shepherd Press Marriage & Family conference being held in Harrisburg. Dave Harvey opened the conference with a very good sermon on showing mercy and kindness to family members. He stressed the importance of Luke 6:36 and the need to show mercy to sinners just as God does for us. This goes against our typical human desires for revenge or at least punishment for the misdeeds of others.

But, without taking anything away from the good sermon I found myself asking this question. How would ______ hear the call to have mercy on a sinner spouse. ______ represents a person I know who has been emotionally and financially abused by her husband. She finally was able to bring truth to light and has a reprieve from his sin while he is living with his parents. However, she faces strong pressure by others to reconcile (despite little evidence of true repentance in the husband).  Knowing what I know about this woman, I suspect she would feel more pressure to have mercy and allow her husband to return to the home.

I think most sermons really preach to the 80%. 80% hear this and recognize that mercy may be shown in numerous ways. Even allowing truth to come to light is an act of mercy. Mercy may be treating someone better than they deserve but may not mean playing the part of the fool and thinking that a few tears and words are enough. But what of the 20% who are weighed down with guilt and assume that a general principle must be applied in a very black/white manner? How do we care for them when exhorting all Christians on to the Gospel saturated life?

I want to reiterate that I think Dave Harvey did a good job. I do think that it may be too easy for the rest of us to assume that the more vulnerable among us will be able to nuance the big virtues of the Christian faith; that they will know that to emphasize one (e.g., truth-telling) does not mean a rejection of another (e.g., forgiveness).


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, counseling

7 responses to “Preaching to the 20%?

  1. Jackie

    I am part of the 20% and can’t wait to read what others contribute. Just this morning while studying for a class on John’s Gospel I read, (In reference to Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11) “It should not be overlooked that He says nothing about forgiveness. The guilty woman had as yet given no sign of repentance or of faith. What Jesus does is show mercy and to call her to righteousness.”~The Gospel According to John~ Leon Morris. The idea that mercy and forgiveness do not necessarily always come together was a big shift for me. Maybe I do not understand either of them as well as I thought.

    • Thanks so much for sharing what you read in John’s gospel. Jesus showed mercy but didn’t say anything about forgiveness in the situation with the adulterous woman. I never recognized this before. Very insightful and very timely. I was talking about God’s mercy just this morning with a colleague and thanked God for His mercy in a sad situation I recently encountered. What’s so beautiful is when His mercy leads a person to repentance and to receiving His forgiveness. Thank you 🙂

  2. “80% hear this and recognize that mercy may be shown in numerous ways. Even allowing truth to come to light is an act of mercy. Mercy may be treating someone better than they deserve but may not mean playing the part of the fool and thinking that a few tears and words are enough.”

    This is such a great point! Mercy/forgiveness etc can be demonstrated in different ways, and those ways do not necessarily dictate acceptance of that behavior or a return to “the way things were.”

  3. Scott Knapp

    Like all things Christian, applying mercy is unique to every receiver, and requires the bestow-er to be in close communication with the Holy Spirit. Your giving effective mercy to me today might look very different from your giving effective mercy to me tomorrow, next week or next year…and hopefully both forms are precisely what the Spirit directed for my benefit (and yours) for that moment (regardless of how soft or harsh). I believe to offer “ineffective mercy” is irresponsible and un-Christlike. Those who want to find a hard and fast principle or “one size fits all” approach to this delicate topic will remain ineffective at representing the heart of God in the ministry of mercy…and that’s what it is, a ministry!

  4. D. Stevenson

    “Jacob have I loved and Esau I have hated” has always bothered me.

    and this has confused me…,
    “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

    These verses were referenced in what I read this morning as examples where the word “hate” means degrees of love. That is an entirely new thought for me. I have always thought that hate and love are opposites.

    I grew up in churches where there was always an “invitation” at the end of the service for salvation or re-dedication. I “went forward” over and over to repent and “rededicate my life.” I stayed in my pew other times but prayed things like, “If I didn’t mean it before, God, please save me now.”

    What if one of those sensitive, vulnerable, literally thinking 20% was raised under black and white bible teaching? You ask, How do we care for them when exhorting all Christians on to the Gospel saturated life? Isn’t, He did what I couldn’t do, I am accepted in the beloved, I am forever and fully loved, also the message of the gospel? Maybe we need to take care to always contextualize. Some people have heard mostly “God loves you.” and have thought, I can do whatever I want and God will forgive me. Others have heard too much of the message that God hates sin and think of God as angry and looming and ready to rain His wrath on any sin or little imperfection. Both are unbalanced, too much of one part of the message and not enough of the other. Neither grasps the gospel.

    Another thing is to think ahead and address what some are likely to think. Paul did this. “What, shall I sin that grace may abound?” He knew that some might misinterpret what he was teaching and run with it down a false path.

    Both groups need the gospel truths in balance. Both groups need both sides. The problem is that we arrive unbalanced in different ways and need more weight on one side than the other. Can we know who needs more of this or more of that? Can we tell how much of one or the other? I think we only get clues. It is more of a challenge to discern what to emphasize when both are together. Perhaps give each equal emphasis and let God do the heart opening to the needed points? (Ha! Just thought of neurotransmitters)
    It is probably good for an 80% to keep the 20% in mind and for a 20% to remember that there is also the 80%.

  5. wellsology

    In response to the gospel, the Lord calls us to love God and love neighbor. Acting in [purposely forgetful] forgiveness toward a person who has wronged you is one expression of mercy and love toward God (obedience) and love toward neighbor. I thought Harvey’s talk placed most, if not all, of his application in this area.

    I think Winston Smith unpacks some of this nuance in the video CCEF released today on youtube discussing the difference between loving and enabling.

    I think it is a merciful act of love toward one’s neighbor to bring loving confrontation right alongside an attitude of forgiveness. I appreciate you, Phil, here drawing out some differences between forgiveness and getting-walked-on-like-a-doormat-ness. Sometimes these two look pretty close to each other as one absorbs the debt of the other person’s sin by extending forgiveness. But, there are [many] times it is honoring to God and loving to the neighbor to call the offender to repentance, faith, and obedience.

    Maybe another helpful distinction is the difference between the mercy of loving one’s neighbor by gracefully confronting and loving one’s neighbor by overlooking a multitude of sins? I have to always check my OWN motive when deciding between the two–am I loving me or my neighbor?

  6. We need to show mercy if we want mercy shown toward us. Which one of us doesn’t need it? But I have to admit some of us have a greater mercy gift than others. Were you at the head of the line when mercy was handed out?

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