In a broad sense, Paul is teaching that we are to learn to deal with situations as God would, and our training ground is here in this life and in the church. We are undergoing extensive hands-on training for the profession of judge, which, as Paul implies, will be among our duties as children of God in His Kingdom. This is no minor matter!
Earlier in my conversion, I clearly left out one of the most important elements needed for making right judgments. Jesus points out which one in His Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Had I shown more mercy in those situations, their outcomes would have been far different—and definitely better.
Generally, the merciful are those people who are affected by the suffering of others. They are affected in a manner that causes them, not only to offer encouragement to one who is experiencing a rough spot in his life, but also to work to lessen his suffering.
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary defines mercy as "a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief."
A secular dictionary, The Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, concurs: Mercy is the "kind, compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner in one's power; compassion where severity is expected, or deserved." Among its synonyms are "leniency," "compassion," "forgiveness," "pity," "kindness," "tolerance," "charity," "benevolence," "clemency," and "forbearance."
The primary idea behind mercy is rendering a kindness when harshness or condemnation is expected or even deserved. A merciful person looks beyond the present state of affairs to the potential good that may result from his compassionate handling of the matter. He is willing to forgo the other's punishment, his "just deserts," or his own desire for revenge in an attempt to produce good fruit from a bad situation.
The nature of God is to be merciful to those He calls. We know that He calls the weak, foolish, and base (I Corinthians 1:26-28), those who are undesirable in society's eyes and guilty of sin in His eyes. He extends great mercy to them, redeeming them from the death penalty and setting them on the path toward eternal life in the Kingdom of God. In doing so, He sets us an example to follow!
John O. Reid
Mercy: The Better Option
Paul is saying, "If you go to man's law in charging your brother, you have already lost! It does not matter how the judge decides it; as far as God is concerned, you have lost the case!"
Paul's instructions are clear. In a case involving brothers, a Christian had better be prepared to "lose," as an act of faith, out of respect for Christ, the Head of this church. By faith, we know that He will judge the situation. Does He have enough wisdom to do that—and power to carry out His judgments? Do we have enough faith to allow Him to do it?
Is there a legal basis for this? Absolutely—He owns us! We are His slaves! He purchased every single one of us with His blood! He has legal right to judge between brothers. We are to submit to the authority of Christ by faith and allow Him to judge if no judgment can be reached within the church. If a judgment is reached within the church, but the church has judged wrongly, then the brothers must be willing to accept it with the knowledge that they can, by faith, appeal to a higher court, and that Christ will vindicate the righteous. It may not happen right away, but if we pray for that in faith, then we can patiently wait for it. He will do it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 2)