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 for Jesus which pops into people's minds is not that of "judge." Isn't the most common image for Jesus that of 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 wrong-doing. 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 was transformative.

As cross-cultural missionaries enter other cultures, they will see satanic forces at work. They will watch 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 another country described 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 the Italians, 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 and 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.

    -- 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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