Mercy is one of God’s most wonderful attributes. God is kind and merciful. Paul was utterly dependent upon God’s mercy. So was Peter. So are we.
Paul and Peter had something in common: both were intensely aware that they were miserable sinners. Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost [the worst]” (1 Tim 1:15); and Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and arrogant. Peter tempted, doubted, denied, and abandoned Jesus. They badly missed the mark when it came to doing the right thing. They were not pleasing to God. They offended God.
After all of Paul’s wrongdoing, he should have been in serious trouble. He deserved condemnation and punishment, but he did not get what he deserved. Instead of a conviction and a fine, prison time, misfortune, or some other penalty, God treated Paul mercifully (1 Tim 1:13,16). God still loved Paul. Jesus even asked Paul to preach the gospel. Paul was completely overwhelmed by such unwarranted kindness. The mercy of God was a gracious gift. He did not deserve it but he received it nonetheless.
Paul mentions this to encourage us. Paul would like to tell us: “With how bad I was, if God was merciful to me, no matter how bad you may have been, God will be merciful to you, too.”
God is merciful. There are many aspects to God’s mercy. God gives us the benefit of the doubt. God is lenient instead of severe, soft instead of heavy-handed, gentle instead of rough, gracious instead of high and mighty, kind instead of mean, tender instead of harsh, compassionate instead of irritated or irked, understanding instead of aloof, patient instead of perturbed, sympathetic instead of hostile, quiet instead of lecturing or scolding, calm instead of angry, serene instead of furious, accepting instead of rejecting, forgiving and absolving instead of condemning, reconciling instead of isolating, and pardoning instead of punishing.
Each of us is like Paul, a sinner. It is almost impossible to make it to the end of the day unblemished. When we add up the sins of the past day or week, it is humbling, and when we add up all of the sins of our past life, it is devastating, downright demoralizing.
Despite our sins we must never lose hope. Paul states emphatically, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Jesus went to the Cross to save us. It is through the Cross that we receive divine mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. God was merciful to Paul, and no matter what sins we may have committed, God will grant us mercy!