Living the Merciful Life (A Study on the Sermon on the Mount)

Matthew 5:7

How blessed are those who are merciful, because it is they who will receive mercy!

Landing on the bleak Massachusetts shore at Plymouth in December of 1620, the Pilgrims endured a desperate winter filled with hunger—a winter in which about half of them died. As luck would have it though, an Indian in the area by the name of Squanto spoke English. He had been kidnapped in 1615 by an English sea captain and taken to Spain, but he soon escaped and made his way back to England. By 1619, he had made his way to America where he stayed. To the Pilgrims, he was “a special instrument sent of God for their good.” Not only did he serve as an interpreter, but he also showed them the best places to fish, how to plant, and how to cultivate. They worked hard, got their crops in the ground, had a bountiful harvest, and invited their Indian neighbors to a November Thanksgiving feast.

Having mercy shown to us and then showing mercy in return is wonderful. This is the way things should work in our interaction with others.

Christ incorporates the idea of mercy and tells us to be happy. We must show mercy to others as he has shown mercy to us. Mercy is not an option, but an attribute God expects from his people.

Understand the Meaning of Mercy

When Jesus says we must be merciful, he means we must be charitable or beneficial to others. We are to show compassion, help those who are helpless, and care for those who are afflicted with the pains and problems of this world. This attitude of concern will motivate us to reach out to the hurting.

The greatest example of what Jesus is talking about can be found in his own example of going to the cross to pay humanity’s sin debt. Beyond that, it is found in the mercy he shows us day by day.

In our demonstration of mercy, we must be careful of the motives and intentions behind our acts, not performing them because we have a guilty conscience or because we have some ulterior motive. Our mercy acts should come from a heart of love, not a feeling of guilt because we may have more than them.

Neither are we to be merciful to impress people. We must not perform our deeds of mercy, and then announce to the world what we have done. Our motive should not be praise from them. We should not look for a pat on the back. Jesus said if we perform our acts with this attitude, then praise from others will be our only reward. We must perform our merciful acts out of love for God and others.

Jesus faced a lack of mercy and a complete misunderstanding of mercy by many who lived in his time. The typical teaching was to love those who loved you and hate those who hated you. But Jesus taught having such an attitude was as bad as the worst sinner. There is no reward in that kind of lifestyle.

When we show mercy simply to get something in return, we have missed the entire meaning of the word. We must show mercy expecting nothing in return. We must perform acts of mercy because we love others even as God does.

Consider the response shown to the mercy Jesus demonstrated to others. He healed the blind, lame, deaf, and sick. He allowed prostitutes, tax collectors, drunkards, and the worst kind of sinners to experience his forgiveness. The response he ultimately received was crucifixion.

But the verse says when we show mercy we will receive mercy in return. If this mercy does not always come from others, from whom does it proceed? Sometimes from others, but always from God. When we show mercy to others, God will show mercy to us by pouring out his blessings on us. Not only will we receive blessings from God, but we will also find true happiness in doing for others.

The Romans did not think highly of this attribute. For them, it was a “disease of the soul.” To show mercy was a sign of weakness. When a Roman child was born, the father decided whether or not the child would live. At birth, the child was shown to the father. If it pleased him, he gave a thumbs up sign, which meant the child could live. If he gave a thumbs down sign the child was killed by drowning.

The Romans also had this option for slaves. For good reason, or for no reason at all, they could order the slave put to death. They faced no threat of arrest or reprisal in any way for this decision. The same held true for the wife. If a Roman wife provoked her husband, he could order her killed.

Perform the Practice of Mercy

The practice of mercy leads to happiness and also more mercy from God, but in what ways do we show mercy to others? The ways are as varied as there are people because we all respond differently to different situations.

First, we can do it through physical acts. The story of the Good Samaritan is a wonderful example. A man had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead by thieves. A priest came by, but neglected his chance to show mercy. Likewise, a Levite came by, but he too neglected the opportunity. Finally, a half-breed and hated Samaritan walked by. He is the one who decided to show mercy. He bandaged the man’s wounds, took him to a nearby inn on his own donkey, and paid the innkeeper to care for him.

Physical acts of mercy can include feeding those who are hungry, clothing those who need clothing, and visiting those who are sick and in prison. In fact, these are the very things Jesus tells us to do and the way he says we serve him.

We can also show mercy through our attitudes. This involves not holding grudges against others and removing any resentment we may have. Rather than majoring on the faults and failures of others, look for the good. We all make mistakes, we all have failures, and we need to hold each other up, not tear each other down.

We can also show mercy through spiritual means. We should have pity on the lost. Jesus showed this by praying for those who crucified him. He showed it to the thief who asked to be remembered by him. We show it by lovingly confronting others with the offer of forgiveness. We must let them know that we and God want them to have a relationship with him. We can pray for the lost and Christians who have lost the joy of their salvation. We can show mercy by sharing the love of Christ with others.

Experience the Results of Mercy

The first result is salvation. As we share this mercy with others, we receive more mercy from God as well as a life of happiness as we see people come to know Christ as their Savior and as we experience the joy of meeting people’s needs in Jesus’ name.

Jesus illustrated this by telling of a slave forgiven by a king. The slave owed a debt he could not pay, but after begging for mercy, he was forgiven the debt. Yet this same slave went to a fellow slave who owed him far less than he owed the king and demanded payment. When the slave begged for time, he denied it and had him thrown in prison. When the king heard of it, he rebuked the forgiven slave for not showing the same mercy he had been shown.

When we have experienced mercy from God, we will understand the true meaning of the mercy Jesus speaks of and we will find practical ways to show mercy to others. When we do this, we will discover true happiness.

Martin Wiles
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