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Show No Pity

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Date January 7, 2011

In Deuteronomy 13:8 God tells Israel to show no pity. The situation is this: a dear one, whether father, mother, brother or sister is enticing other family members ‘to go and worship other gods’. God tells Israel, ‘. . . do not yield to him or listen to him – show him no pity.’ We are all aware of the importance of compassion, mercy and forgiveness. James 2:13 informs us that ‘Mercy triumphs over justice.’ And certainly we all need lessons in forgiveness and pity. But is there a time to show no pity. A time when the quality of mercy is strained? I wonder!

For example, we are all familiar with Eli and his refusal to discipline his sons. His boys were priests of the Most High God, but were violating the sacrifices and corrupting the morals of God’s people. Eli was warned by God to rein his sons in (1 Sam. 2:22ff.), but all he did was give a stern lecture. Also, in David’s own household one of his own sons raped his sister, but tragically David held his peace (2 Sam. 13) and showed ‘pity’ rather than meting out proper punishment. In both cases the failure to act and do the hard work of discipline, ended in tragedy for both families. Often a pastor in observing his congregation can recognize parents making a terrible mistake in the raising of their children by their failure to discipline as an act of love or kindness.

Churches can also fall into the same trap and show pity when no pity ought to be shown. Even though it is a violation of God’s will for his church, friendship, sentiment and false compassion can undermine truth and righteousness. It can also cause those who are observers to distrust and even lose their awe of God. Peter’s quick response to Ananias and his lie caused ‘great fear’ to all who heard what happened (Acts 5:5). I recall early in my ministry urging my congregation not to attend a ‘Women’s World Day of Prayer’ in the United Church of Canada, because the guest speaker was a Jewish lady. Following the service my hand was squeezed very forcibly as I was reprimanded for picking on a dear little Jewish lady. The truth is there were times in Scripture where God taught his people to show no pity, no matter how close or how dear that person was or is to us.

Certainly, one of the ways heresy makes its way into our churches is by false pity. The professor is a very nice person with a very loving personality, and so we can make allowances. Sincerity is also a quality that demands ‘pity’. This is also true in the sentimentalizing of the Gospel. We hold back certain truths of the gospel because they are unpalatable, or we deem them rather harsh. Funeral services are the worst. Granted one needs to tread softly, and wishes to be kind and comforting, but to say things that are patently false causes unbelievers to think that heaven is gained simply by dying.

One place where we are to show no pity is the cross of Jesus Christ. The temptation to sandpaper the cross was very strong even in Paul’s day. But his response was to show no pity. So in Galatians 1:9, ‘As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!’ Strong words, but words that need to be heard again in our meeting places. To show false pity marks us out as men pleasers, which in the long haul does harm to the message and those for whom it was intended.

John Stott in his book The Cross of Christ warns about reducing Christ’s cross work to something to be pitied. He writes,

The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross. If we reinterpret sin as a lapse instead of rebellion, and God as indulgent instead of indignant, then naturally the cross appears superfluous. But to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves not only dispenses with the cross; it also degrades both God and man (p. 110).

False pity is also rampant in our society as a whole. We find that justice is weighed now with considerations of someone’s rearing, poverty or some social aberration, or a minority status. Judges hand down sentences that in no way do justice to the crime or the criminal. In Israel a man was to be given stripes not over forty depending on the offence. God commanded men to shed the blood of those who shed blood (Gen. 9:6), but because of false pity we allow killers access to the streets to kill again. We may out of ‘pity’ abrogate capital punishment and feel good about it, but our failure to obey God by shedding the blood of killers has caused untold pain and sorrow.

Mercy is a wonderful thing, and our Lord taught us to pray for forgiveness only as we ourselves forgive others. So when is pity false pity? When we see what God has commanded, and fail to apply both the precept and the punishment for disobedience. Pity can be freely given where offences are personal, but there should be no pity when God’s commands are deliberately violated. In some cases it may mean time in prison, or even the death penalty. In some cases discipline administered in the church, so that others might fear. In other cases it may mean a public rebuke as we see in Galatians (Gal. 2:11-14). But in the Bible there is a case for no pity. And while we may well pity those who know not our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they must be warned that there is no pity for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation.

Brian Robinson is Pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church in Pickering, Ontario and Editor of the Sovereign Grace Journal of Canada.

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