Many today want God’s mercy but they are ignorant of how to experience it. Often the cry for mercy is without truth. Their cry lacks understanding. It seems to me like many try to apply mercy in a vacuum.
What do I mean by that? I’d like to illustrate the answer by showing you a pattern I see in God’s word. Let’s start with quote from Mary the mother of Jesus. She said in Luke 1:50,
“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Did you know that mercy and the fear of the Lord are linked together throughout scripture. The Greek word for fear in this scripture means to be afraid or to be reverent. Actually you’ll find a total of nine scriptures in the New King James Version that illustrate this pattern. Eight are in the Old Testament and Luke 1:50 is the one in the new. Every one of these scriptures follows the same pattern.
The mercy of God is related to the fear of God. An in depth look at the Hebrew word translated fear in these scriptures reveals it means to be “morally reverent." It communicates a respect for God and His word. Psalm 103:17 says it this way.
“But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children,”
God’s mercy is marvelous and He has a much greater capacity for it than man. Consider Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus says let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Guess what? Jesus was without sin. He could have actually stoned her. But, instead He said
“Go and sin no more.”
Jesus in His love extended great mercy He did not condone sin (John 8:11). He told her to “sin no more.” In other words, I’m extending mercy but…. STOP IT. Telling her to stop sinning is actually love. It is great love (Ephesians 4:16) to tell the truth because sin hurts people, iniquity hurts families and abominations can destroy a nation.
Love will warn and try to stop behavior that hurt and destroy people. This is very different than condemnation. God loves people and that’s why He hates sin. It's because sin hurts the very ones He loves.
The Fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord also means to be “morally reverent.” This communicates a very healthy respect for God, His word and His power. Matthew 10:28 says,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
I loved my Dad but at the same time I had a very healthy respect for him. Sometimes I did right because I feared the consequences of disobeying him and at other times I did what was right out of love. I did not want to disappoint him. Regardless of which motive was at play at the time, the truth is it kept me safer than if I'd ignored the boundaries he set for me. The fear of consequences actually helped keep me safer than if I ignored them.
The fear of the Lord I am talking about is the kind of morally reverent attitude that is based upon love. Love corrects so has to save a child from the consequences of known sin. For example, the severity of the correction I gave my child had factored in the potential damage that could be done (ie. running out in the road or touching a hot stove).
I will never forget Master Sergeant Flager. He was the most senior non-commissioned officer in the Aviation Officer Candidate School I attended. When we first met him he threw a desk through the wall. That got our attention. He spoke about how tough they were going to make our training. Do you know why? It was because in Vietnam, two of his men died trying to save a Navy pilot. He wanted to make sure we were worth dying for. While his methods were harsh his motive was rooted in deep love. Love for his men, love for the Corp and love for his country. Jesus said in John 15:13,
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."
The next thing Jesus said reveals who his real friends are. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you (John 15:14).” There was a condition for friendship and there is a condition for mercy.
Jesus goes on to say in John 14:23-24,
” Jesus answered and said to him, " If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me.”
Respect for God’s word is founded, grounded and rooted in love. If you love God you will respect and honor His word. God’s mercy is extended with great love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy to those who fear Him. The fear of the Lord is rooted in love relationship vice religious rules.
Discipline should flow out of love. There are no disciples without discipline. Show me a disciple without personal discipline and I’ll show you a disciple who lies to himself and to God. So if you covet God’s mercy then respect and have moral reverence for Him and His word.
Here are the other scriptures I spoke of. Note the pattern as to how mercy is related to the fear of the Lord.
If you fear the Lord you will demonstrate “moral reverence” for Him. This means you will modify your behavior out of love and respect. When we change our behavior based upon His word it is called repentance. God has the capacity to show great mercy to those who repent.
Jonah was sent to prophesy judgment to Nineveh. Because the king and the people repented, fasted and prayed, the judgment determined, the judgment deserved, was held off for over 125 years. God is very merciful. But, His mercy is related to our respect for Him and His word.
Oh Lord I pray, have mercy. In judgment remember mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.