Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
About the Guest
Are you a naturally merciful person? On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey and author and pastor Dave Harvey talk about the magnitude of God’s mercy toward His people. Find out how husbands and wives can extend this same kind of mercy toward their spouse.
Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Great Commission Collective, a church planting ministry in the US, Canada, and abroad. Dave founded AmICalled.com, pastored for thirty-three years, serves on the board of CCEF, and travels widely across networks and denominations...more
Are you a naturally merciful person?
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
Dave: Mercy acknowledges the reality that we live in a fallen world; that we have limitations and weaknesses; and that we are called to relate to one another in kindness in those things, even if we're correcting our spouse, or we're being corrected – even there, there is a heart of mercy that we are to bring to one another because marriage is fundamentally about ministering to each other.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What would your marriage look like if both of you were more merciful? We'll find out more today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. Real quickly before we talk about mercy and marriage I need to remind listeners that today is your last opportunity to sign up for a Weekend to Remember marriage conference when it comes to a city near you and take advantage of the special offer that we’ve been making this week to FamilyLife Today listeners.
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Now to start things off today I’m going to ask you a question that I already know the answer to, okay?
Dennis: Then why don't you just go ahead and give my answer to your question?
Bob: I'll do that. I'll ask the question and give your answer, okay? Here is the question – are you a naturally merciful person? No. And do you know why I can say that, because guess what? I'm not a naturally merciful person, either. Mercy doesn't come natural to any of us.
Dennis: Oh, I think some people have a heart of compassion and like to fix that which is broken and rush in to rescue people and maybe that's not technically the definition of mercy …
Bob: All I'm saying is that it's not our normal predisposition. I remember somebody one time saying this – "You know, I never was impatient until I had a teenager." And a friend of mine said, "No, you were always impatient, it just took a teenager to bring it out of you." And when I say we're not naturally merciful, I'm saying given the right circumstances, our lack of mercy will show up at some point in most of our lives, apart from the grace of God making it possible for us to be merciful, don't you think?
Dennis: You know I do. I think marriage is life up close and personal and – well, let's introduce our guest, and then I want to make a statement.
Bob: I don't know we're having a pretty good conversation.
Dennis: We are.
Bob: Let's just leave him out of this.
Dennis: No, he's a pastor, he needs to be in here, because he's got 20 years' experience. Dave Harvey joins us again. Dave, welcome back.
Dave: Thank you very much. This is my first time in Little Rock.
Dennis: Well, and, you know, I'm surprised you came back for this third interview, because we've thrown you a few curve balls as a pastor.
Bob: We think your forbearance and mercy is quite remarkable.
Dennis: You really are, you know?
Dave: Well, I won't be back for a fourth.
Dennis: Dave and his wife, Kim, have four children. They live in Westchester, Pennsylvania, and we already introduced our listeners to the stray cat. What's the stray cat's name?
Bob: That's right out of a Jane Austen novel, too, right?
Dave: Exactly, yes.
Bob: Oh, man.
Dennis: You give a statement in your book about this subject of being merciful that I think – it wasn't your statement, it was a friend of yours who said, "It's interesting that we marry somebody we love, and yet in that relationship we can relate to them so harshly."
Dave: Yes, in ways that don't display our love. Yes, that's me, and that's every other person that's ever been married.
Bob: And you illustrate this whole issue of mercy in marriage with what I thought was a compelling account. In fact, when I read the first half of this account and heard about the injustice brought against this wife, there is this justice side of me that started – my blood started to boil, and I wanted to have a private meeting with her husband and talk some sense into him.
Dave: I think the story of Gordon and Emma affects all of us the same way. It provokes our sense of righteousness and, at times, our self-righteousness, but certainly that desire for justice that everyone feels. I think it serves us in that because Gordon and Emma is an unusual story, and I wanted an unusual story to display the magnitude of God's mercy.
What Emma did as a result of the way that Gordon treated her and just to review it, Gordon and Emma met as he was new in ministry and met at a church function, got married shortly thereafter, and on their honeymoon, Gordon informed her that he didn't love her, that he married her because he thought that that was the best thing to do in ministry, to be married, and that began 40 years of Emma having an experience of a distant husband, disconnected, and probably unconverted.
Yet Emma's disposition was not one where she was living, just always responding to the next thing he did do or didn't do. But she drew her guidelines for how to respond from what she saw in Christ, what she saw in the gospel, and she used that to determine how she would live with Gordon.
Dennis: You're saying she looked at how Christ loved her, and she determined that that was going to be the same kind of love with which she loved her husband, is that what you're saying?
Dave: Yes, she looked at Jesus Christ, at what He accomplished, and she saw in him that God was merciful to her, a sinner. "Be merciful," Luke says, "as your Father in heaven is merciful." And so she saw her marriage, and she saw the sin of her husband as an opportunity for her to be merciful to another sinner.
Bob: And in her case, the offenses against her over a 40-year period, it included instances of infidelity, right?
Dave: It did.
Bob: Somebody would have come along to her, I'm sure, and said, "Emma, you have biblical grounds. This man has been unfaithful to you. He's cruel. He's emotionally abusive." I don't know if he was every physically abusive but, certainly, infidelity – people today tend to pull out infidelity and think, "I now have the get out of jail free card in my marriage." Why did she persevere over a 40-year period?
Dave: I believe she persevered because she had a vision of the mercy of God and a vision to import the mercy of God into the reality, into the trenches of her everyday existence that, for her, her call was to glorify God right there in the marriage. That's how she understood why she was created – to glorify God with the hand she had been dealt, and that she felt called to glorify God by living with him and enduring this in a way that made profound statements about who God is and what Christ has done.
Dennis: Okay, you just used a word that I think most of us in America are familiar with but may have never stopped to really contemplate what it means – the word "mercy." Practically define that word in terms of what it means between two people. When I'm merciful to you, what am I doing?
Dave: That's a great question because we are commanded in Scripture to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful, and yet what we don't often realize is that mercy is specifically referencing sin. When it says that God is merciful, that means that He has suffered with sinners and for sinners. It defines His disposition towards us despite the fact that we are weak, that we are fallen, and that, apart from Jesus Christ, we are bent in the wrong direction. We are bent to disobey God and yet even in that state, even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He came towards us out of a merciful heart to draw us to Him. So it's God in relationship to us, as sinners, that really defines that mercy.
Bob: I've heard people describe mercy as in mercy we don't get what we deserve; in grace, we get what we don't deserve. You're taking it a step farther, though, and saying not only do we not get what we deserve but instead we get kindness, we get grace, we get compassion, we get God's love when we deserve His wrath.
Dave: Exactly. It's not just the absence of what we don't get. We didn't get the punishment of God, that's true, but we got the love of God, we got the kindness of God, and amazingly, we're called to turn and to extend that to others as well.
Bob: If Emma had come to you, as a pastor, and said, "Here is my scenario. What should I do?" Would you have said, "Persevere and show mercy?" Or would you have said, "You know if you want out, you can get out."
Dave: Well, if you're asking me that question as a pastor, I have to acknowledge that one of the most important things that I would do is to take plenty of time to understand all of the details and all of the history of Emma's situation so that the eldership could then advise her and give her the benefit of a biblical perspective.
So I don't have those kinds of details to make a ruling to be able to advise Emma. All I have is her story after the fact that I'm very grateful to God for.
Bob: I'm really glad that you explained how you would process that because I think, today, folks who find themselves in the kinds of situations that Emma found herself in …
Dennis: Or have a parent like Emma that they know their mother or their father is dealing in a situation where it looks like they're trapped.
Bob: Right. I think that we need to remind them that God has put in place a community and wise leaders in a community who can enter into that with them and can counsel them. You don't make those decisions on your own. You don't fight those battles on your own. That's what God has given us the church for, isn't it?
Dave: Exactly, and there are few things like marriage that call forth the questions and the complications where the community can rally around the person and help them to apply God's Word, and we can hold each other accountable to do so, as well.
Dennis: You know, I'm just thinking, I'm reflecting back – when have I shown my wife, Barbara, mercy? And there have been many times I haven't, okay, so let's just get that fact right on the table.
Bob: You don't want us calling her on the program, do you?
Dennis: I don't, I really don't. But I'm thinking of on those days when she's had a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day, and she's wanted to move to Australia, and everything has gone wrong and, frankly, she's lost her perspective.
I come home, and I'm wanting a loving wife to greet me with "Hello, Sweetheart, welcome home," you know? With a grin on her face. But there isn't any grin. There's a grimace, and there's – I can just tell she's in need of being ministered to, and what I hear you saying, Dave, and you correct me if I'm wrong – it's at those moments – and let's say she's worried. Let's say she's angry about something. Let's say that she has taken her loss of perspective, and she's run with it for several hours, and I'm intersecting her world now, at the end of the day, when she's tired, the kids are tired, I'm tired, and now God says to be merciful to a sinner.
At that moment, I'm to step into her life and not do the male thing and try to fix all of what's gone wrong throughout the day or try to fix her but to be kind to her, and to not point out her wrong and to try to correct her and teach her and instruct her but instead wrap arms of love around her, and it may not be physical, it may be by listening to her, it may be by giving her kind words, encouraging her, telling her you understand, and then maybe a little bit later shining the light on it and having a conversation.
But is that a picture of what you're talking about? About being merciful, being kind, to your spouse?
Dave: Mercy acknowledges the reality that we live in a fallen world; that we have limitations and weaknesses; that we have dispositions in the way, inclinations in the way we are, and that we are called to relate to one another in kindness in those things. Even if we're correcting our spouse or we're being corrected. Even there, there is a heart of mercy that we are to bring to one another because marriage is fundamentally about ministering one to another, that's what we're called to do – provide a ministry of mercy to each other.
When I think about Romans 2, I think about the example of God where it was His kindness that led us to repentance. We saw that we engaged God's kindness even before we had repented, and that was instrumental in leading us onto our repentance. I think it has a similar effect in our relationship one with another.
Dennis: At the beginning of the broadcast, Bob, you asked me a question and then answered it for me.
Bob: Yes, about your lack of mercy?
Dennis: About whether I was merciful or not, and I was just thinking – early in our marriage, someone made the statement to me because this really catches me where I live, and the statement was this. It is better to be kind than to be right.
And, as a man, I'll tell you what I'm naturally good at – judging. I'm good at pointing out wrong. And what I hear you saying, Dave, is that instead of going with our inclination at that point, it's better to give kindness and a smile and encouragement to our spouses in those moments when we'd like to point out they're wrong. We'd like to fix it so we could move on with life; but instead we've got to stop and meet them where they are and just give kindness, focus on kindness.
Dave: Well, here is where it gets really amazing, because mercy affords us an opportunity. The Bible afford us a special privilege in dealing with sins committed against us, and that is that in mercy we can cover those sins. Part of the purpose of marriage is that we learn, we learn the Gospel, we learn the mercy of God and part of how we learn it is by covering over each other's offenses.
Bob: But let me take you back to Gordon and Emma, okay? The couple we …
Dennis: Oh, no, before you get to Gordon and Emma, I've got something he says in his book that our listeners right now want to know about this, because you write in your book, "Mercy doesn't change the need to speak the truth. It transforms our motivation from a desire to win battles to a desire to represent Christ." So it's back to the statement a friend said to me, "It is better to be kind than to be right."
So it's not a matter of winning the battle, but you do sometimes need to go back and revisit the truth, the need to be on time, right?
Dave: Mercy does not spring us from being truth-speakers. Mercy is what influences how we speak truth, when we speak truth and, at times, if we speak truth. But the fundamental impulse of mercy is that we are turning to the person that we love and that we're married to and we're saying, "Listen, I didn't get what I deserve at the cross so I'm not going to live as if you should get what you deserve with every infraction in this marriage." I'm going back to Luke 6 – "Be merciful even as our Father in heaven is merciful."
Bob: But let me go back now to Gordon and Emma, okay? Because as you describe what Emma was living in, and, granted, we only have the story told from her perspective in your book, but here is a woman who was perpetually wronged by her husband throughout 40 years of marriage. Women or men, for that matter, who are listening to us today who are living in the midst of that same kind of thing are asking themselves, "Are you telling me my responsibility is to overlook his ongoing adultery? To overlook his lying? To overlook what has become chronic sin patterns that are putting me and my family in jeopardy?"
Dennis: Yes, addictions.
Bob: "Do I just overlook, and that's my glory, and I go on?"
Dave: Those are great questions, and it's impossible to speak to each individual situation through some simple principal that I might be able to offer, but I would encourage us to recognize that you never lose in exercising mercy. God is always glorified when we do those things, covering and exercising mercy.
I would also encourage them to read the end of the story of Gordon and Emma, because Emma's mercy had a profound effect on Gordon, and he eventually repented of his sins, and he was converted, he was restored to the family. As a result of Emma's example and her trust in God and her confidence in God, she has children that are serving the Lord that love her, and the family is united. Gordon has passed on, but they are united around the gospel.
Dennis: I want you to read her letter she wrote back in response to him finally coming clean and coming to her, asking for forgiveness. I think her note and letter really do capture, in essence, what we're talking about here.
Dave: Yes, well, the marriage did end, sadly and painfully, after 40 years, and Emma continued to reach out to Gordon, though. She sent him birthday cards and periodic letters calling this lonely, this rebellious man back to God. She was free of bitterness during this time, and she was living in the good of forgiveness towards him, and somewhere in that time, the mercy of God broke through in Gordon's life, and he responded to the gospel call in saving faith.
And he finally wrote to her, and he very specifically chronicled how he felt he had sinned against her, and he asked her to forgive him, and this was her response –
"It is with mixed emotions that I read your letter. Sad, as I was reminded of many difficult years, but also glad for the work the Spirit of God is doing in your life. Glad to hear you share your failures so frankly and ask for my forgiveness. Gordon, I forgive you. I forgive you for not loving me as Christ loved the church and for your disregard of our marriage vows. Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart from the ravages of bitterness. I rejoice in the mercy of God that in spite of our failed marriage, our children all serve the Lord faithfully. God uses confession and forgiveness to bring healing. I am trusting God that will be true for both of us."
Dennis: When I read that, I thought only the Spirit of God could produce that kind of response in a human heart. If we're speaking right now to a person who is in one of these marriages and maybe it's not over, maybe you're still fighting for it. Bob, we get letters, e-mails, calls here every day from listeners who are in marriages where, for all practical purposes, they feel dead, they feel hopeless.
It's this call that you are giving, Dave, it's a call from Scripture to be merciful, to be kind, and to not be filled with judgment but to give good when, certainly, judgment is deserved or warranted. I want to thank you for writing your book, When Sinners Say I Do, and for upholding the truth of the Bible and calling people to live it in a practical way.
Dave: Thank you.
Bob: Can I just add to that? I think we look sometimes at this idea of extending mercy and we think I can’t do it. The reality is we have one another in the body of Christ, we have the Spirit of God, and we have the counsel of God’s word all as our assets or our allies to make it possible for us to do what Christ has done for us.
The reason we can extend mercy is because we are recipients of mercy. The reason we can be gracious to someone else is because we are a receiver of grace. Really that is what we need to meditate on. We need to meditate on the grace and mercy we’ve received in order to become a dispenser of grace and mercy for another person.
Dave I want to encourage people to get a copy of your book. It’s called When Sinners Say I Do. We have it in our FamilyLife Today resource center. You can go online to order a copy from us. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order a copy of the book from us over the phone.
Also don’t forget today is the last opportunity we have to remind you about the special offer we have been making to FamilyLife Today listeners this week. When you register for one of our Weekend to Remember marriage conferences and you do it before Sunday night at midnight you can take advantage of a special offer. It’s a buy-one-get-one free offer for the Weekend to Remember. You register for yourself at the regular price and your spouse comes at no additional cost.
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Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk to Sandy Rayla. She has a real passion to see women embrace biblical womanhood. A lot of that passion has come out of some difficult places she’s been in in her marriage and she’ll share about that with us on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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