Merciful and forgiving

Missionary ministry that reflects Christ

"Judge" is one of the titles or roles ascribed to Jesus. Matthew 25, Acts 10 and 17, and 2 Corinthians 5 all call Jesus our judge. That being said, the most common image of Jesus that pops into people's minds is not that of "judge." Isn't the most common image of Jesus that of a merciful and forgiving Savior?

Sometimes, we think of justice as the harsh opposite of mercy. That's not true in the case of Jesus. He did denounce sin and warned of consequences for wrongdoing. He condemned the hypocrisy of those whose walk fell extremely short of their talk. He railed against money changers who were desecrating the Temple.

On the other hand, didn't Jesus pray, "Father, forgive them"? There is also His encounter with the woman at a well in Samaria and His forgiveness for Peter's failure. At the same time, however, it must be clear that the merciful, forgiving side of Jesus did not turn into a co-dependency with sinners who remained entrapped. Jesus' mercy and forgiveness were transformative.

As cross-cultural missionaries enter other cultures, they will see satanic forces at work. They may watch what seem to be corrosive patterns of living destroy relationships and even people and they will feel impelled to speak up. They will feel called to denounce sin. They must stand up against oppressors. Even while doing that, however, because they are Christ's ambassadors, shouldn't they also reflect the merciful and forgiving side of our Lord?

Some time ago, I listened as people in a European country describe a missionary from the U.S.A. who had spent four years in their country. They said that missionary was hard to figure out. To them, he was somewhat like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde figure. They said that whenever that American missionary preached, he seemed very tender-hearted even to the point of weeping. However, they said that out of the pulpit, it was a different story. When he was not preaching, that missionary came across as harsh, brittle, and unforgiving. The people he was trying to minister to did not question the man's call or his determination to follow Jesus. Sadly, however, I never heard anyone hold him up as a role model or point to him as a significant spiritual mentor.

In cross-cultural situations, differing expectations and misunderstandings can be the order of the day. Missionaries will make cultural blunders and will fall short in other ways. They will need mercy and forgiveness. In return, they themselves must be merciful and forgiving, following the transformative pattern of our Lord and Savior.

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of mercy and forgiveness align with the role of missionaries as ambassadors of Christ?
  2. In what ways can the merciful and forgiving nature of Jesus be transformative in missionary work?
  3. What are the potential consequences when missionaries fail to reflect the merciful and forgiving side of Jesus in their interactions with others?
  4. How can the balance between denouncing sin and exhibiting mercy and forgiveness be maintained in cross-cultural missionary work?
  5. How do differing expectations and cultural misunderstandings impact the ability of missionaries to demonstrate mercy and forgiveness, and how can these challenges be addressed effectively?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on Christlike attitudes and actions that need to be present in cross- cultural missionary service is one of a dozen articles in the "Misssionary ministry that reflects Christ" series published in Engage magazine.

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