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5. Blessed Are the Merciful (Matthew 5:7)

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7 (NET)

As mentioned previously, the Beatitudes are character traits of those who have entered the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt 5:3, 10). We have learned that believers are the poor in spirit—they recognize their lack of righteousness before God. This leads them to mourn over their sin. They become the meek—those who humble themselves and submit to God’s control. This leads them to the fifth beatitude—hunger for righteousness and the promise of God filling that hunger. This is a turning point in the Beatitudes. The first four are inner character changes that reflect the believer’s relationship with God; the last four are outward manifestations of those character changes, which reflect the believer’s relationship with others.1 As believers hunger for righteousness, God makes them the merciful (5:7), the pure in heart (5:8), and the peacemakers (5:9). Because of this righteousness, the world persecutes them (5:10).

In this study, we will consider the fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Big Question: What does the fifth beatitude mean and how should it be applied?

The Merciful

Interpretation Question: What is mercy? What is the difference between mercy and grace?

Mercy is goodness offered to those in misery or distress. It often includes compassion or forbearance shown to an offender—somebody that deserves only justice. John MacArthur defines it as follows:

Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion, not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand. Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely. It is therefore one of the loveliest and noblest of all virtues.2

Scripture teaches us that God is merciful. Paul called God the “Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious” (ESV). In Titus 3:5, Paul states that God saved us not because of our righteous deeds but because of his mercy. Hebrews 2:17 calls Christ our merciful high priest. The believer is merciful because God is merciful. When a person becomes born again, God’s mercy begins to manifest through his life in various ways. In fact, it will identify him.

Now it should be said that this concept—the very idea of mercy—was radical to the Roman world. Mercy was despised by Romans. MacArthur adds:

A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman. The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power. They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.3

Though at times despised or considered weak by the world, mercy is a supreme virtue since it is a character trait of both God and his people.

We must ask, “What is the difference between mercy and grace?” These terms are often used synonymously; however, they are slightly different. Grace is unmerited favor to those who don’t deserve it. Mercy is unmerited favor towards the miserable or hurting. It often includes withholding justice others deserve.

Application Question: In what ways should believers show mercy to others?

1. Believers show mercy by helping those caught in desperate circumstances.

This is emphasized in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Israel was commanded to take care of foreigners because they once were foreigners in Egypt (Lev 19:34). They were called to not harvest the sides of their fields, as they should be left for the poor (Lev 23:22). They were also called to care for the widow and the orphan and not oppress them. Zechariah 7:9-10 orders, “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’”

Similarly, James wrote to scattered Christians saying: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). Like Israel before them, the early church focused on caring for those in desperate circumstances. When Paul and Barnabas were sent to the Gentiles by the apostles, they were asked to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10).

Mercy was perfectly manifested in Christ. His ministry was primarily to the despised and downtrodden. He healed the sick and fed the poor. Christ declared this about himself in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In Acts 2:45, the early church sold all they had and gave to the poor among them. As followers of Christ, we must also care for the poor, sick, struggling, and oppressed. We should be zealous about this ministry as well. It is our Christian duty. Those who are part of the kingdom will be greatly involved in these ministries. They are the merciful.

Darren Carlson, the President of Training Leader’s International, shared this about his conversation with refugees while visiting Christians in Athens:

I can't tell you how many times, I have heard this from Iranian and Afghan believers:

I left my country, and everywhere on my way to Greece, there were Christians. As I left my country, Muslims were literally shooting at me and my family. But in Turkey and Greece, Christians have welcomed me, clothed me, and fed me. When I got off the boat, it was Christians that were passing out food and water. When I came to Athens, it was Christians who gave me a shower, helped me with a medical issue, and gave me a meal with spices from my home. I became a Christian because they were so different than Muslims.

Caring for those in miserable circumstances must be the ethic and practice of Christians. Are you reaching out to the poor, needy, and desperate, as our Lord did?

2. Believers show mercy by helping those caught in sin.

Obviously, Christ perfectly displayed this as well. He came to save people from their sin. He told the woman caught in adultery and a cripple that he healed to sin no more (John 8:11, 5:14). He called people to repent, turn from their sin, and follow him. Ultimately, he delivers all who turn to him from the penalty and power of sin, and one day, he will deliver them from the presence of sin.

Followers of Christ should help people struggling with sin as well. Galatians 6:1-2 says,

Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

How should we help those caught in sin? By using Scripture, we should lovingly correct other believers by showing them how they are thinking and acting incorrectly. Then, again by using Scripture, we should show them how to get right with God and help hold them accountable (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17).

Mercy towards sinners does not only include helping believers get right with God, but it also includes helping unbelievers turn from their sin to follow Christ. Sharing the Gospel is the most merciful act we can do, and every believer should participate in this ministry.

Are you being merciful by lovingly correcting believers and sharing the Gospel with the lost?

3. Believers show mercy by forgiving those who sinned against them.

Colossians 3:13 says, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.” The command to forgive as Christ forgave should turn us away from shallow attempts at forgiveness. Many declare, “I forgive you, but I don’t ever want to see you or talk to you again.” However, that is not how God forgives us. Scripture says God remembers our sins no more (Is 43:25). This doesn’t mean that God can forget; he can’t, since he is omniscient. It means that he no longer holds our sins against us as a barrier to intimacy or usefulness. We must do the same. This doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize people’s immaturity, propensity to bend the truth, or hurt us. It just means that we love them through those events and issues, and aim to help them grow in holiness—which may include things like correction, discipline, and times of separation (cf. Matt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:9-13).

Are you forgiving those who have failed you?

Application Question: What is your experience with mercy ministries, such as caring for orphans, widows, and the poor, as well as correcting those in sin and sharing the Gospel? What makes mercy ministries both difficult and enriching?

The Promise to the Merciful

Interpretation Question: What does God’s promise to the merciful mean practically—“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy”?

1. God’s promise means that God will help the merciful in times of need.

Proverbs 19:17 says, “The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.” In Matthew 6:1-3, Christ talks about God’s reward for those who give to the needy with right hearts, which includes heavenly reward (cf. Matt 6:19). In 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, Paul declares that if we are cheerful givers, God will provide grace to meet all our needs and to excel in good works. Verse 8 says, “And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.” The promise of mercy applies both to our practical and spiritual needs. If we excel at mercy, God will not only provide for our financial needs but open doors for greater service. God blesses those who are channels—not reservoirs.

Similarly, Malachi 3:10-12 says:

“Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord who rules over all. “All nations will call you happy, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the Lord who rules over all.

The tithe was used to take care of the temple, provide for the needs of the priests and Levites, and feed the poor. God promised that if his people excelled in giving tithes, he would open the heavens and bless them with something so large they wouldn’t be able to receive it. Because of God’s blessing, all the nations would call Israel blessed.

Likewise, when believers give abundantly to church ministries, mission and mercy organizations, and the needy, they spiritually and practically enrich themselves. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.’” Psalm 41:1-3 says:

How blessed is the one who treats the poor properly! When trouble comes, the Lord delivers him. May the Lord protect him and save his life! May he be blessed in the land! Do not turn him over to his enemies! The Lord supports him on his sickbed; you completely heal him from his illness.

2. God’s promise implies that God will discipline believers for their lack of mercy.

Proverbs 28:27 says, “The one who gives to the poor will not lack, but whoever shuts his eyes to them will receive many curses.” These curses don’t just come from a lack of giving but a lack of mercy in general. In Matthew 6:14-15, we see how God disciplines those who don’t forgive others. It says, “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.”

This discipline is clearly demonstrated in the Parable of the Merciless Servant (Matt 18). In the parable, a master forgives a servant a great debt—the equivalent of twenty million in U.S. currency. Yes, immediately after this, the servant refuses to forgive his fellow servant a small debt of roughly two thousand dollars in today’s currency.4 Because of this, the master throws the unforgiving servant into jail to be tortured until the original debt was paid. In Matthew 18:35, Christ said this to his disciples, “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” This discipline shows up in many ways: trials, demonic attacks, sickness, etc. (cf. 1 Cor 5:5, 11:21-22, 30-31). James 2:13 reminds us that, “For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy.”

Unforgiveness and a lack of mercy in general hinder our intimacy with God and also bring harsh discipline.

3. God’s promise implies that lacking mercy proves that we’ve never received mercy and therefore lack salvation.

Some have misinterpreted this beatitude to mean that we can earn salvation by being merciful. However, this doesn’t take into account the context of the Beatitudes. As mentioned, there is a progression. The first four Beatitudes are inner changes in believers which begin at salvation and continue throughout sanctification. Then there are outer manifestations of these inner changes in the next four. In addition, the interpretation of mercy as a way of earning salvation clearly contradicts Scripture’s teaching that salvation is by faith alone—apart from works (cf. Gen 15:6, Eph 2:8-9). Though not a means of salvation, practicing mercy is both a fruit and proof of salvation. It provides believers with assurance of whether they possess saving faith or not.

This assurance manifests itself in two tests: First, if we are unmerciful to the needs of the world, then we are not saved. First John 3:17 says: “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” Additionally, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ said this to the goats:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Matthew 25:41-43

Their lack of mercy proved their lack of salvation. God’s love had never changed their selfish hearts (cf. Rom 5:5); they lived to serve only themselves, not God and others.

Secondly, if we are unforgiving and vengeful towards those who hurt us, this may demonstrate that we have never received mercy. For it is those who have been shown mercy who will constantly show mercy to others. This doesn’t mean that if we struggle at times to forgive others or show mercy that we’re not saved. It means that if there is no struggle—that is, if we are just vengeful, unforgiving, and unconcerned about the desperate needs of others—then we are not born again.

Are you the merciful? Or are you unforgiving and unconcerned about the pains of others?

Application Question: How have you experienced a change in your life towards being more merciful as you’ve grown in Christ? In what ways have you experienced God’s promise either for showing mercy or neglecting to show it?

Growth in the Practice of Mercy

Application Question: How can we grow in the practice of mercy?

1. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must remember our own sin and desperate situation.

This is often what we don’t do. We see how others have failed us, but we forget that we have both failed God and others. We consider how stupid and inconsiderate someone else is, but forget times in our past when we were stupid and inconsiderate. We condemn the person who cut us off in traffic and yet forget that we’ve made mistakes in driving as well. Forgetting our own sins and failures leads to harshness in judging others. It is sin nature to emphasize our goodness and minimize our badness. In fact, we tend to condemn others as a means of building ourselves up. We say to ourselves (and often others), “I can’t believe they did that!” “I could do that better.” or “I would never do that!” Like the Pharisees, we primarily see our successes and not our failures—leading us to condemn others when they fail (cf. Lk 18:9-14). The Pharisees were unmerciful because they thought themselves to be so righteous.

However, it is the one who deeply mourns over his sin that is truly merciful (cf. Matt 5:4, 7). It has been said that, “Unless we recognize ourselves as chief of sinners, like Paul (1 Tim 1:15), we are not yet ready for ministry.” Unless we have become like Isaiah, who declared that he was deserving of judgment because of the sins of his mouth, we are not ready to be sent, like him, to serve those caught in sin (Is 6). If we don’t recognize our own great depravity, we will not be gentle or effective in our ministry to others. We will not be the merciful. In fact, we may be abusive.

Are you remembering your failures? You can tell by whether your response is typically gentle or harsh when others fail you.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced yourself being overly harsh with others and their failures, especially with areas you previously struggled with? How have you seen this hypocritical spirit in others? How can we grow in awareness of our sins?

2. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must identify with others.

An aspect of mercy is sympathy and compassion. It is identifying with others’ pain and struggles. It is seeing through their eyes and walking with their feet. When we truly do this, we will work to alleviate their pain, and we’ll also forgive their misgivings. This is exactly how Christ sought to provide mercy for us. He didn’t stay in heaven and simply watch our pain and failures. He came down and became human. He felt and experienced poverty. He experienced the loss of a father at an early age. He was mocked, betrayed, and hurt. Though he never sinned, he experienced temptation and bore our sins on the cross. He identified with us so he could deliver us and forgive us.

This is the very reason why many don’t show mercy. We don’t want to see through the eyes and experiences of others. We want to help, but we don’t want to taste their cup of suffering. It is when touching the leper, sitting beside the person dying in the hospice, living with the poor, and eating and drinking with the lost that true compassion is developed. It is as we identify with the hurting and lost that true mercy—compassion in action—is fostered.

I experienced this while working with people with developmental needs for three years. Essentially, I was a house parent: I gave them their medications, prepared breakfast for them, bathed and shaved them, counseled them, and was available to them at night if anything went wrong. Before I started working with this population, I remember being hesitant and a little scared. I was scared simply because I had never really been around people with such special needs. Theologically, I knew my hesitancy was wrong, but practically, it was still there. However, when I started working with them, I fell in love with them. They became some of my closest friends. I loved talking and hanging out with them; eventually, they started coming to church with me. But, it wasn’t until I started living with them and serving them, that my heart started to grow for them. By identifying with them, a desire to alleviate their pain grew in me.

This is why believers are often radically changed by going on a mission trip or serving in a mercy ministry. By touching the broken, as our Lord did, their hearts are radically changed. They start to sympathize and work for their deliverance.

This is also true with forgiveness. It is the past experiences of others that lead them to act as they do, including hurting others. As people start to really consider the paths others have walked, in order to empathize with them, it becomes easier to forgive their failures. There is a French proverb that says, “to understand all is to forgive all.” In addition, it has often been said, “Hurt people, hurt people.” By understanding the hurts of those who hurt and fail us, it will be easier to forgive them.

Have you developed compassion for the hurting? Are you identifying with them?

Application Question: Why is identifying with others so important not only for mercy ministry but ministry in general? In what ways have you experienced the importance of identifying with others as the one receiving mercy or giving it?

3. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must develop our love for others.

God does not just want people to give or to help others in pain. He wants them to do it with the right heart—one full of love. Paul said, “If I give all my possessions to the poor and don’t have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:10, paraphrase). He also said we should not give out of necessity or compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). God wants believers to be just like him. He wants us to love serving and giving.

Micah 6:8 says: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV 1984). Micah says we must not only show mercy but love it. It is very possible for our acts of kindness and forgiveness toward others to stem from wrong motives, including simply being done out of obligation. First Peter 4:9 instructs us to “Show hospitality to one another without complaining.”

This is important to hear because people who serve in mercy ministries tend to struggle with bitterness and burn-out; the work is hard and the people are often difficult and ungracious. Even Christ was hated by the people he served. Mercy ministers will constantly experience criticism, attacks, and a lack of gratefulness from those they serve as well. It can be hard to keep a right heart at times.

However, God not only commands our actions, but he commands our hearts. He commands us to love him with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:30-31). He calls us to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for our lives (1 Thess 5:18). Also, through living in the Holy Spirit, he provides us with the fruit of love, patience, perseverance, and self-control (Gal 5:16, 22-23). He will give us grace to be merciful and do it with the right heart.

Do you love showing mercy? Or is it simply an obligation? As we show mercy, we must have the right heart—one filled with love.

Application Question: Why is it so common for those serving in mercy ministries to become bitter and lose a right heart? In what ways have you experienced hurt from those you served? How did you overcome it or remain faithful? How can we grow to love mercy?

4. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must remember God’s promise to the merciful.

Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” God promises to bless and refresh those who serve others. When Christ was burnt out, God refreshed him with the ministry of angels (Mark 1:13). When Elijah was weary, God refreshed him with food brought by ravens (1 Kings 19:3-6). When David was weary, he “drew strength from the Lord” (1 Sam 30:6). This promise brings encouragement especially when we, as ministers, feel like quitting or giving up. God promises to bless and refresh us.

This also should be an encouragement to those too depressed or discouraged to serve. Sometimes, the best way to receive encouragement or relief is to show mercy to others; for then, God will show mercy to us. Christ promised that by taking on his yoke of service, we will find rest for our souls (Matt 11:29). God’s promise is a tremendous motivation to practice the ministry of mercy.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s refreshment in ministry? Is there anybody that you feel God wants you to encourage and refresh for their faithful ministry efforts? In what ways is God calling you to pursue growth in mercy and seek his promise to the merciful?

Conclusion

Christ is our merciful high priest (Heb 2:17). He identified with us, as he came down to this world as a man. He preached the good news to the poor. He set free captives of sin and the devil. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He died for our sins, and therefore was the perfect manifestation of mercy. If he lives in us, his characteristic of mercy should manifest in some way, no matter how small, in our lives. Blessed are the merciful for they (and they alone) shall receive mercy. Are you growing in mercy?

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 186–187). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 190). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 188). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 49). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

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