Meekness & Mercy: God’s Design for Interpersonal Relationships

“Its not fair.” We have all heard the expression as our kids stomp off to bed, protesting the latest perceived parental injustice. They are not the only ones.

The adults in the room have also appealed to the phrase. When our boss asks us to stay an hour late, we talk about how unfair so and so is. When Bob takes our tool, we want it back. We don’t want his; just ours. We don’t expect Sally to come to both the wedding and the bridal shower. But since we went to her wedding, we expect her to attend at least one of our events. Nothing crazy; just what we are owed. We long for fairness.

A Slap for A Slap

The God of the Bible affirms that the idea of fairness and equity should govern human legal systems. The judicial system should handout punishment that is proportional to the crime the person has committed. The punishment should consider neither the criminal’s nor the victim’s social standing (Lev. 24:17-22). Moses instructs the first judges of the new Israelite nation to do the following: “then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Punishment was never to exceed the harm caused by the crime. The justice system should be just.

Because the idea of fairness works well when applied to the courts, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day believed fairness could serve as the perfect ethic for interpersonal relationships. If the guy sitting next to you in school posts an unflattering picture of you on Instagram, you could post a Tik Tok video mocking his outdated shoes. Two videos would be excessive, but one would be permitted. If your brother bit you, you could bite him back. And if your boss took credit for your new idea, you had the right to talk behind his back for a day. Slap for slap, insult for insult, and hurt for hurt.

The Better Way

Though this idea of an eye for an eye resonates with the human heart, it stands at odds with the ethic of the kingdom of God. Instead of telling his followers to fight insult with insult, Jesus commands Christians to fight the fires of Hell with the grace filled foam of meekness and generosity. Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil (Matt 5:44).” 

Jesus shifts personal relationships from the ethic of fairness and equity to the ethic of meekness and generosity because this is the basis of his interactions with us. When Jesus saves, he saves through his merciful and generous love. Where he to give us what we deserved, he would dispense punishment and death. But he does not send bolts of lightening to usher us into the fires of hell the moment we think our first bad thought. He lives, dies, and rises again to pay the penalty for that evil thought and all our sins. The apostle Peter sums up the gospel writing, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (2 Pt 2:24).” Moreover, we were not actively seeking Jesus. We were lost sheep like those who walked under Jesus’s cross mocking our savior. Jesus patiently endures these insults and then brings us into the sheep fold. Jesus does not fight fire with fire. He does not treat us fairly. He does something far greater.  He triumphs over sin, enduring it and generously extending grace to overcome it.

Because of the cross, Christians should resist the urge to fight fire with fire (Matt 5:38-44).  When someone insults the believer with a slap across the cheek, Jesus tells his listeners to turn the other cheek. Instead of responding with their own pithy putdown, they quietly endure evil. If their business partner wrongfully sues to gain more shares of their company, Jesus tells the believer to quickly go to court and settle. When the government demands that you carry a soldier’s equipment for a mile or that you must give your land to the new freeway development, the Christian should go settle, going the extra mile to preserve peace. And if a friend or family members ask for $1000 because they recently lost their job, the believer writes the check without asking for repayment or giving the stink eye. The believer does not stand upon the principle of fairness, for he realizes that his salvation, his spouse, his reputation, and his stuff come from God’s mercy. Moreover, he knows that God will justly deal with all sin one day. Either the penalty for sins will be covered in the blood of the cross or it will be extracted from the wicked in Hell. God will also restore what the righteous have lost a million times over. The Christian does not have to fight fire with fire for she is a child of the king. He will prosecute vengeance and preserve our reward19

Is Government Bad?

Though the Christian should not respond to relational violence with his own aggression, he can still lay claim to government structures for protection in cases of extreme violence. Just as God instituted divorce as a merciful means of saving innocent spouses from being entrapped to an adulterer, God instituted governments to protect innocent people from vicious displays of violence. In other words, the reality that most people do not operate according to the ethic of Jesus necessitates the existence of the of government. When the ethic of non-violence fails to prevent a person from doing great harm, those in jeopardy should call the police and appeal to the justice system. Paul did as much when the Jews attempted to wrongfully condemn him to death.  The apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Women being terrorized by an abuser can seek a restraining order and police protection. Soldiers can defend their shores from invasion. A store owner being robbed can call the police. Christians can appeal to government for help as the Apostle Paul did repeatedly. God ordained human governments for the good of his people.

But even in this sphere, the believer should not seek vengeance. A police officer who comes to a shoplifting call and pays for the teenager’s $15 of stolen food to prevent him from spending months in juvenile detention has lived out the ethic of Jesus. Meekness and generosity belong in every sphere of life, including government.

May God help us all to generously extend mercy!

Why God’s Deliverance is not Limited by Our Injustice

justice

Though the notion of forgiveness gushes out of the Scriptures like water from an open fire hydrant, Christians will at times push their hands over the spout with choking the flow of grace down to a secular trickle.

For example, many Christians welcome the new convert who choose Christ instead of a life on the streets. But they offer little sympathy to the gang member suffering unjustly in prison. After all, he should have made better choices. The church embraces the repentant woman who choses Jesus and instead of alcohol. But they care little for the woman who cries for help after spending a lifetime of Sunday mornings hungover in bed. Christendom cares for the young man who chooses abstinence instead of moving in his with his girlfriend. But it scowls at the man seeking help after his body has been shredded by sexually transmitted diseases and a lifetime of unstable relationships. Christians reach out to those who manage a degree of respectability but often close their eyes to cries of those who have mocked, trashed, and soiled the commands of God.

The thinking proceeds as follows: Had he not been with the wrong crowd, he never would have been imprisoned in the first place. Had she only listened to her parents; she would not be in the predicament she is in. Had he only obeyed the Bible; this all could have been avoided. Forgiveness reaches it limit. As the Christian mind considers these things, the hand of deliverance remains clinched inside the pocket of self-righteousness.

Though humans withhold grace, God does not.  Psalm 107:11-3 reports,

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

God rescues those who destroy their lives through their sin. He cares about the unjust who suffer injustices. Those who find themselves struggling at low end jobs because they cheated in college or committed crimes in their teenage years find forgiveness when they call to God for help.

They are not alone. A few verse later in Psalm 107:17-20, the Psalmist writes,

Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. He saves those who hated his commandments when they call to him

Some men and women suffer sickness and all kinds of harm because they went along with society, embracing sinful sexual norms, drinking practices, and eating habits. They pushed the body to extremes and then suffered a host of serious medical problems. Though they ran to sin instead of truth, God still offers them mercy, sending his Word of life to all who ask for help. He heals those who disobeyed his Word. God’s mercy knows no qualifications or limits. All who call to him find salvation.

Salvation comes not because of our righteousness, but because Christ gives us his righteousness. He lived the perfect life that we could not, died on the cross, and then rose from the dead so that he could give his righteousness to all who ask. Salvation depends not upon our past but upon Christ’s past.

If God offers salvation unconditionally, his followers must extend deliverance unconditionally. Christians cannot turn a bind eye to the injustices of the criminal justice system, because it contains a lot of ‘bad people.’ Christians cannot wash their hands of alcoholics, drug addicts, and those trapped in sexual sin because these men and women foolishly destroyed their bodies. God saves them without reserve when they call to Him. When sinners plead with us for help, the Christians should rush to their aid, seeking to deliver sinners from the miseries of the spiritual and physical world. The love of God’s people should not depend upon the hurting person’s past or demographic realities. Christians should extend a gracious hand of deliverance to all who are in need regardless of the man or women’s past or race. Our God extends mercy freely. We must as well. We need to leave the fire hydrants open.

How are we doing?