Paul does something in verse 1 before he gets to the mercy of this chapter. You may remember, this chapter is saturated with a call to be merciful:
- Show mercy with cheerfulness (Romans 12:8).
- Let love be genuine (Romans 12:9).
- Give to the saints (Romans 12:13).
- Bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14).
- Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
- Associate with the lowly (Romans 12:16).
- Repay no one evil for evil (Romans 12:17).
- Never avenge yourselves (Romans 12:19).
- If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he’s thirsty, give him drink (Romans 12:20).
This chapter is saturated with, “Come on now, Christianity means a merciful lifestyle.” But before he calls us to be merciful, he calls us to be worshipful. This is absolutely crucial.
“It is not merciful to make people more comfortable on the way to hell.”
We need to see the order in which Paul defines the Christian life. Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God . . .” He’s thinking, “I’m going towards radical mercy, but not first.” “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
This is absolutely crucial to see. Before he calls the Christian life merciful, he calls the Christian life worshipful. And if you get that backward, you can’t be merciful. You cannot be a merciful person if in and through all of your deeds of mercy you are not making much of Jesus. Because, in the end, the bottom line need of every human in the world — whether you’re going to Senegal or Mexico or Romania or wherever — is mercy from God through Jesus.
If you are not making much of that, delighting in that, treasuring that in your acts of mercy with a design to display that in order that they may come to taste it and live in it, you’re not a merciful person. It is not merciful to make people more comfortable on the way to hell. The comfort you are providing as a nurse or a doctor or a bricklayer building a church is designed to display Jesus to them. If Jesus and worshiping him is not the source and the goal, you’re not a merciful person. You’re putting a band-aid on cancer, and nobody’s going to call that mercy.
Therefore, the order is: “I want you to be a worshiping people first, and then I’m going to show you how to be a merciful people.” If you trade off the one against the other, you will degenerate into a mere social agenda, and I say the word mere consciously.
I think social agendas are hugely important in the Christian calling, but mere social agendas that are not rooted in worshiping God as the most valuable treasure in the universe and designed to display God through the agenda with words to interpret the agenda — that is not a merciful lifestyle. We have hit upon something tremendously important here. We must be a worshiping people in order to be a merciful people.
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