Romans 12:8: The Gift of Mercy


  • Mercy defined
  • Mercy exampled


Plato once said, ‘How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?’ This question highlights the tension between joy and commanded service, duty and desire. Yet this is the very thing that Paul is calling us to as he moves on in his discussion of the spiritual gifts, ‘the one who does acts of mercy with cheerfulness.’ It has been said that all the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 relate to the office of elder and deacon, this could be the case, but we are trying to show how there is the calling of office but also a universal responsibility for all Christians. Spiritual gifts have too often been used as an excuse for opting out of general Christian responsibilities. Today we are looking at mercy, something that would have been officially administrated by the office of deacon, but something which is also a universal Christian responsibility.
Please notice with me the last three gifts mentioned. They feature differently in the list than the previous four. Notice how the one who contributes must do so with generosity; the one who leads with zeal, and now the one who shows mercy with cheerfulness. In each case Paul calls not only for right action but right feeling. Not only external correctness but a heart that agrees. This throws us right into the conundrum of commanded love.

Let me amplify this problem slightly. We all know that you cannot command love. The heart is not like a hand. It does not follow commands, it must be won. Add to the issue a sinful heart that is made to be love; but because of sin is naturally selfish. Add to this the problem of heartless obedience which God despises, so it isn’t an option. And then add another layer of difficulty in the problem of legalism manipulating action through guilt, which is not how God motivates His children. This difficulty has resulted in an eternal conflict. There are those who see the importance of human joy and freedom and who sacrifice the right for rights. And on the opposing side are those who see the necessity of love and doing good who put the deed before the doer. In the gospel there is a third way where God can command us to do and want the good we can’t do or want by enabling us to want to do it. God serves us by His grace in the gospel that we want to give with generosity because of how He has given to us; we want to lead with zeal because of our deep desire to please love; and our mercy can be cheerful because of the mercy we have received.

So today we want to look at mercy defined and then mercy exampled for us.