Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we conclude Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. For several months we have marched steadily through this list. Today, we conclude with Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are unmerciful.”

Mercy is “the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else” (TDNT). We know that God Himself is full of mercy. He announces His Name to Moses, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). The Lord is a merciful God – He takes special care for those who are weak and vulnerable, for those who are suffering unjustly.

Because He is merciful, He expects us as His image bearers to be merciful as well. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother’” (Zech 7:8-10). Pay special attention, God commands, to those who are suffering unjustly. Be a merciful people.

One of the things that distinguishes the righteous and the wicked, therefore, is mercy. “The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Ps 37:21). The wicked man is grasping and takes from others unjustly while the righteous man is openhanded and generous. Consequently, the Lord will “cut off the memory of [the wicked] from the earth; Because he did not remember to show mercy, But persecuted the poor and needy man, That he might even slay the broken in heart” (Ps 109:15,16). The wicked man is unmerciful.

But mercy is not sentimentality; mercy is not a bleeding heart that neglects justice. God’s mercy is directed to those who are suffering unjustly; but the same God who keeps mercy also by no means clears the guilty. Those who are suffering justly, who have cruelly persecuted the helpless and been merciless to the righteous and whose wicked deeds are now coming back upon them, God treats justly. “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful… [But] with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (Ps 18:25-26). So the psalmist teaches us to pray against the wicked, “Let there be none to extend mercy to him, Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children” (Ps 109:12). And God forbids showing mercy to those who have committed certain crimes, “Your eye shall not pity…” (Dt 19:13, 21). Mercy and justice are friends.

So what of you? First, do you distinguish between those who are suffering justly and unjustly? With those suffering justly, do you pray that God would enable you to be shrewd in how you deal with them, not interrupting the Lord’s work of correction in their lives, nor overthrowing justice, but, at all times, showing grace? Second, do you delight to show mercy to those who are suffering unjustly? Do you feel compassion for them and long to alleviate their pain, praying for them, financially assisting them, and speaking up for them?

Reminded of our calling to be a merciful people even as the Lord our God is merciful, let us acknowledge that we have often closed our hearts to those in need of mercy and have often extended mercy to those who should receive justice instead. And as we confess, let us kneel. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.