Mercy: Received and Shared (Matthew 5:7)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo by Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mercy is one of God’s traits, and He wants His children to look like Him. He wants us to be merciful.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48; see here for a closer look at this passage).
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

God wants us to be like Him. He is merciful. His mercy inspired Him to save us and adopt us into His family.

What is mercy, though? How can we be merciful?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives a few definitions of mercy:

  • “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power”
  • “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion”
  • “compassionate treatment of those in distress”

This article will focus mainly on the second and third definitions. Mercy does manifest itself in compassion, patience or forbearance, and forgiveness. However, mercy is also God’s opportunity to work through us, His children, by extending His divine favor or compassion to others as we care for those in distress.

Throughout the New Testament, “mercy” means more than a feeling. Many people confuse mercy with pity. They are similar—pity can inspire mercy—but they are not identical. Pity feels sorry for somebody; mercy acts on that feeling.

Many charitable organizations run television fund-raising commercials that appeal to our emotions. Perhaps you have seen commercials for the ASPCA, showing footage of sad-looking dogs who had been rescued from abusive or neglectful situations. Another commercial might show footage from a natural disaster, with people examining a pile of rubble that was their home just a few hours earlier. It could be scenes of destruction in Ukraine or another war-torn region.

Mercy in action: a disaster relief team reaches offers assistance after a 2014 flood in Serbia. Photo by Nina Bazza, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pity stares and says, “That’s so sad.” Mercy says, “How can I help?” Mercy does what it can to alleviate suffering.

Most Christians are familiar with Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus said that, when He returns in glory, He will separate the nations from one another, setting the “sheep” on His right and the “goats” on His left. The sheep would be those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats would be the people who did not do these things. Jesus did not say the goats were immoral or irreligious; for all we know, they may have prayed for all of these needs. However, Scripture tells us that prayer or faith without action is worthless:

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:15-17).

Pity says a prayer or pronounces a blessing. Mercy chooses to be the answer to a suffering soul’s supplications. The goats of Jesus’ parable might have felt sorry for the distressed; the sheep took action.

While good deeds do not save us, such good deeds—particularly those that display mercy—are proof of our salvation. This is how people know that we are children of God: because we look like Him; because we portray His mercy and other attributes of His holiness.

Jesus said that, when we are merciful, we will be shown mercy. It is a sign that we have already experienced the mercy of God. Having received His mercy, we can show mercy to others. As such, we will enjoy the fullness of His mercy at the end of our days, when we stand before His throne.

Let us be merciful because our heavenly Father is merciful. He has given us His mercy, and He wants us to share it with others.

Lord, You have been merciful to us. Lead us to be merciful to others so they may receive Your love through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How have you seen God’s mercy in your life? How can you show His mercy to others? Is there somebody to whom God wants you to show mercy today? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright © 2023 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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