12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
As Christians we should love mercy and we should extend it whenever it is possible. The reason that we should do so is quite simple – we have been given mercy ourselves. As James has just stated in the previous verses, we are all sinners. It doesn’t matter if our sin is different from someone else’s sin, it still separates us from God and God will judge fairly. Only God’s mercy and forgiveness can solve the issue of sin.
Jesus told several parables about how we should be merciful to others even if they do not deserve it. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is well known because of the loving father who accepted his son back even after he had left home and squandered his inheritance. What is often missed or ignored in the story is the reaction of the other brother who was upset by his father’s treatment of the wayward son. Christians should not be like the wayward son who became upset that his father extended mercy to someone who didn’t deserve it.
Even more hard hitting is the parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. In it, a man is forgiven a great debt by the king but then holds a much smaller debt over another man. When the king discovered that the man who owed a great debt held the small debt against the second man, who reacted strongly by having the first man thrown into prison for being so unmerciful after having being forgiven such a large debt.
The short summary of both of these parables is that we need to show mercy to others because we have been shown mercy.
As mercy applies to sin however, we need to remember that we are not the ones responsible for judging sin and we are not capable of extending mercy. We should not treat someone differently because they sin differently than we do. For instance, if they were an adultery or a thief before, we shouldn’t treat them any differently than we treat anyone else within the church.
This idea only extends to past sins however as we’re not actually granting mercy but acknowledging that we’re all sinners. If a person is currently an adulterer or a thief, we have every right as Christians to call that sin a sin and try to lead that person into repentance.
When it comes to mercy, only God can extend mercy and forgive a person of their sin. When we look at a person though, we need to view them as either a person who has been given mercy just like we have been, or we need to see them as a person who needs God’s mercy, just as we’ve already received.