Playing by the Mercy Rule

Those that have participated in youth sports like baseball and football may be familiar with the mercy rule, where a game or contest is declared over if one team is ahead by a large margin in score or points. The purpose of the rule is to spare further humiliation for the losing team and player. Even in sports that do not have such an explicit rule, there is a general team etiquette to not run up the score excessively which can be considered unsportsmanlike.

I believe God intended the mercy rule to be in effect in our everyday lives as well. Being Christlike requires those with means to show mercy towards others that are in need or have suffered loss. The challenge often comes when we do not feel like being in a “winning” position to show sportsmanship, whether in our deeds or attitude.

Why should I be merciful when others have not been merciful to me?

What is Mercy

I think it helps to define the difference between justice, mercy, and grace as the nuances in each of them offer a deeper perspective that can help us to respond accordingly:

  • Justice is getting what you deserve.
  • Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
  • Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

When you do something bad, justice pays you back with something bad, but mercy does not pay you back with something bad. In other words, if someone is mean to you, you can show mercy by not being mean back to that person.

Has anyone ever been mean to you? There is your opportunity to walk in mercy.

Remember that being merciful is not necessarily holding back punishment or anger, but rather acting kindly and loving to others through one’s actions to them.

“Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13 (NIV)

Mercy in the Bible

The Greek word for mercy, eleos, is derived from the word for olive oil. Olive oil was used to treat wounds and to provide soothing and comfort when in pain. That is exactly what showing mercy can do for those who are in pain.

In the OT, the Hebrew word for mercy is hesed, which means steadfast love. I did a comprehensive word study on hesed for my Hebrews course in university and can go to length on many other meanings of the word, but the main conclusion is that hesed not only demonstrates what God does, it defines who He is. Many people look at God in the Old Testament and see only judgment. This is far from the truth. Mercy is at the core of who God is because God is love.

God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles.  From the eve of Creation, the entire history of Yahweh’s covenantal relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of hesed.  The association of hesed with covenant keeps it from being misunderstood as mere providence or love for mankind.  God’s hesed is ultimately beyond the covenant and it will not ultimately be abandoned even when the human partner is unfaithful and faces discipline.

Mercy is a Spiritual Gift

Lastly, mercy is also one of seven spiritual gifts listed in the book of Romans. The list reads like this:

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We are always in need of the Holy Spirit to maintain our spiritual sportsmanship, and I am thankful for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as the best spiritual coach to keep me on track.

If you are interested in learning more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, consider participating in the Alpha Holy Spirit Weekend, or joining our Connect Course to discover how you can be better equipped to not only participate, but to WIN in your faith journey!