Mercy and Grace

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Grace and mercy are not words you will normally encounter in business and this is understandable but sad.

Grace and mercy should characterise all that we do or say whether at home, in our social life, or in the marketplace.

Every week I hear stories about people and from people who have been hurt, cheated or taken advantage of. While some of the matters are legal or contractual, often the only reason is that one party has used certain advantages (bargaining power, superior intelligence, sleight, etc.) to take advantage of the other party.

Before I go further, let me first define what I mean by “mercy” and “grace”.

Mercy is not doing to a person what he deserves. E.g. not punishing someone who has done wrong.

Grace is doing something good to a person when he does not deserve it. E.g. giving gifts to a person when there is no justification for them.

One of the most well known Biblical scriptures is 2 Corinthians 8:9:

“You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty might be made rich.”

The majority of kind actions is characterised by mercy and this is laudable. But acts of grace deserve even greater respect.

Grace is often defined as unmerited favour.

The employer who employs a worker for only two hours and yet pays him a full day’s wages shows grace, even if he is called a poor businessman.

The father who receives back the prodigal son who had demanded his inheritance and squandered it is showing grace.

The victor who releases his captives shows grace of another kind.

Strangely, grace is often seen as “unfair” by others who do not enjoy the same grace. E.g. the workers who work for a full day and get a full day’s wages are usually not happy with the employer who pays the full day’s wages to the worker who is employed at the eleventh hour.

Such is human nature which begrudges others who receive grace and would rather have “equal misery” for all.

The good news of God’s gift of salvation by His sovereign grace is often thought of as bad news for those who think everyone should work for his own salvation. Justice and fairness are more common than mercy and grace, although not prevalent enough.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” speaks of justice and not exacting more for a person than what has been suffered. Loving your enemy and going the second mile for someone who ill treats you speaks of a much higher standard.

One of the ways to show mercy is to give a second and third chance to one who has committed an offence. How often should we forgive a person – as often as seventy times seven was Jesus’ answer to Peter. “Mercy” should flow like a river, unending and inexorable.

I have benefited greatly from the merciful acts of many people – from teachers, army officers, bosses and friends.

I have also encountered the opposite – abuse of power and privilege, backstabbing, slandering gossip, cheating, corruption, bullying, etc. In the course of preserving self interest, many would disregard others’ interest. In the fight for survival and racing to the top, many would use others as stepping stones or even stab others’ backs.

In our society, success is often measured by the prize won, not the rules observed.

Everyone loves a winner and few have time for “losers”. Unfortunately, there will always be winners and losers, and the poor we will have with us always. Not all poor are poor by choice or because of lack of industry. My generation benefited from the rising tide of economic growth which lifted the standard of living of many. But while there are many successes, we know of others who had fallen through the cracks or were sidetracked.

I hope I have also been merciful and gracious to others in need of mercy and grace.

My brother who is helping in “Helping Hand”, a Christian half-way house, tells me of many stories of hardcore drug addicts and criminals who had turned around because they were touched by the mercy and grace of others. There are also those who go back to crime and this only goes to show that the recipients of mercy and grace must still do their part and be “worthy” of the gift of another chance in life.

Despite the risks and often the cost involved in giving people a second or third chance, we must remember that the alternative of not helping is worse.

Singapore is often called a “fine” country in more sense than one. Fines are fine if they help to keep people in check, but justice or law should always be tempered with mercy. The prophet Habakkuk prayed to God that “in wrath remember mercy”.

There will be injustice, broken promises, disappointments, and offences of all kinds, and we will have the wrong end of the stick at times. I must remember to be merciful and gracious. But I also need to be as wise as a serpent, as gentle as a dove, and to discover the thief in sheep’s clothing, and to be able to separate the sheep from the goat.

That is another challenge.