When my family gathers together for the holidays, we are a theological kaleidoscope. Even though all of my family members are professing Christians, we are extremely theologically diverse. Among my siblings and their spouses, you will find an ordained pastor in a Bible Church who is also working on his ordination in the Evangelical Free Church. You’ll find a leader in an Independent, King-James-Version-Only Baptist church, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church who works for a Catholic Charity, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who is in leadership in a non-denominational church. Yes, my friends, theology is one topic that is not served up at our holiday get-togethers!
Yet as diverse as we are, we really only desire two gifts from each other at our Christmas and holiday get-togethers. Grace and mercy. When these two gifts are freely given and received, we enjoy our relationship with one another. When we forget to give and receive these gifts, it can become very stressful. Yes, even in my family.
I mention this because I know that during this Christmas season many of you may struggle with holiday get-togethers. Perhaps your family is even more diverse than mine and may have the added challenge of members who do not claim to follow Christ. Hurtful words may be spoken. Destructive behaviors resurface. Old wounds are ripped opened. The Norman Rockwell version of Christmas dinner gets replaced with the one from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It is not pretty. This is why grace and mercy are such treasured gifts.
John Piper, in his book “Future Grace,” says, “Common definitions of God’s grace and mercy go like this: grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it; mercy is the goodness of God shown to people who are in a miserable plight.”
Grace and mercy are intertwined. Both carry the idea of showing kindness when it is not deserved. In general, God gives us grace because we are sinners. God gives us mercy because of our miserable condition. But they are both given together. Because we are sinners, we are in a miserable condition. We need both grace and mercy from God, and he lavishly gives them to us.
But does God’s grace and mercy stop with you? Or does it flow out of you into the lives of those around you? We should never hoard grace and mercy. They are gifts that we should freely give as well. I should give grace and mercy out of the overflow of the grace and mercy God gives to me. Despite my sin and my miserable condition, God generously gives grace and mercy to me. When I am conscious of this, then I am able to show kindness to others who also are sinners and in a miserable condition. When I meet someone who seems to show little grace and mercy to others, I doubt if they understand the grace and mercy God has shown to them.
Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, wrote about the role of grace and mercy in his life. This is what he wrote:
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV).
Notice how Paul is aware of his humanity. Read carefully how he describes the life he used to live. It is pretty rough. But then notice how he is aware of the grace and mercy that has been given to him. He continues:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).
Why was he given this grace and mercy? So that he could be an example for you and me. It is also the reason that you are given grace and mercy by God – so that your life is an example to those around you. Giving the gifts of grace and mercy is also part of fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself. How quick I am to give grace to myself when I have blown it. As a result, I need to quickly give grace to others when they blow it as well.
Does my family always do this well? Of course not! I can hear peals of laughter from my family as they read this. We are as normal as any family. But while we are incredibly diverse in some areas of theology, we have a common need of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. That is what binds us together. When we blow it, we turn our focus back to God in our need of his grace and mercy, and then give to others out of the overflow of what we have received from God. And so should you.
This year when you gather with family and friends to exchange gifts, remember that everyone is looking for the two gifts that matter the most. Grace and mercy. They are the perfect gifts for you to give and for anyone to receive. Will you receive them from God today? And will you give them to others as well?
This article was originally published in the December 2016 Newsletter.