In Matthew 5:7, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The mercy that God will give refers in this passage to the divine favor that God will grant to his merciful children on the day of judgment. But what does it mean to be merciful now?
In my Sunday sermon, I sought to answer that question and here is the answer I gave.
In response to the gospel and enabled by the Spirit, mercy gives to the needy, forgives the offender, in order that all might give thanks to God.
Thematically, mercy gives and forgives for the sake of thanksgiving. Let me unpack that definition.
In the days of Jesus, giving alms to the poor was a regular part of the faith. In the same sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches that giving is an expected practice of his disciples, although it is not supposed to look like the giving of those who do it as an outward expression of righteousness. Jesus teaches that his followers should give so that they might be rewarded by their Father in heaven. Simultaneously, he warns against giving to be seen by men.
Nevertheless, Jesus teaching is clear. Giving is part of the faith. In fact, some commentators believe that Jesus’ fifth beatitude refers to a couple Old Testament beatitudes found in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 14:21 – “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”
Proverbs 17:5 – “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished”
In point of fact, our English translations end where the Hebrew ends, but in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew) there is added a final line: “But he who has compassion will find mercy.” As usual, Jesus’ instructions do not change the meaning of the Old Testament, they fulfill and flesh out the Old Testament (cf. Matt 5:17).
And as it concerns mercy and giving, giving to the poor is part of the faith. At the same time, neglecting the poor exposes an unbelieving heart.
Now Christians differ on how to give to the poor. And it is not my aim to tackle that thorny subject here. I want to ask a more simply: “Do you do anything to alleviate the suffering of those around you? To those in your church? For your family? In your neighborhood?
Are you merciful?
Mercy not only gives, though. It forgives too. And it is here I would imagine that some of the best ‘givers’ may stumble. In fact, there is a danger of living a life of service—giving generously to others—because it exposes our hearts to frustration, bitterness, and anger when those to whom we give do not thank us, repay us, or use the gifts wisely.
Have we not taken up a grudge (or been tempted to take up a grudge) against those who do not do with our giving what we want? Beware of giving without the grace of the gospel. A heart that gives often but forgives reluctantly will lead to a hardening of the heart, and an unavoidable bitterness that stifle future giving.
Those who are merciful must give and forgive!
Because God has given his children everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4) and because he has forgiven us of all our debts (Matt 6:13-14; 18:21-34), we must give and forgive. That is not because forgiving others earns us merit badges before God, but because it proves that we are truly forgiven by God.
Mercy Seeks to Increase Thanksgiving
The last thing to see is that genuine mercy acts for the glory of God. While giving and forgiving are the activities of the merciful; Christian mercy cannot be divorced from living to magnify the mercies of God. In other words, those who have tasted and seen the goodness of God’s mercy will not simply be merciful in the quietness of their hearts, they will perform good works (of mercy) that will lead to the praise of God.
This is perhaps the aspect of mercy that is most uniquely Christian. It is what separates acts of Christian charity from those good deeds done by Muslims, Jews, or agnostics. It tells us that giving and forgiving is not enough to receive mercy on the Last Day. No, only those who give and forgive because of God’s mercy, will receive mercy at the judgment seat. Only those who give and forgive for the sake of increasing God’s praise will enter the Kingdom.
Jesus makes this point clear in Matthew 5:16, when he says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” In context, Jesus has just finished his beatitudes. He has told his disciples they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Therefore, because they are these things, they should let their light shine by doing good deeds.
Jesus calls his followers to be abounding with good deeds that God would be glorified. As it relates to mercy: The Christian is commanded to be a factory of good works, giving and forgiving, so that others would give thanks to God for the good being done. In other words, we should not be indifferent about mercy; we should passionately pursue acts of generous giving and sincere forgiveness, such that God gets the glory.
Jesus beatitude requires mercy from kingdom citizens because mercy not only confirms that a man or woman has been forgiven, but that he or she also has a heavenly desire to make God’s mercy known to the world. As I sought to show on Sunday and as I am laboring to live today, mercy is an activity of giving and forgiving for the sake of increasing thanksgiving to God, by means of leading others to the mercies of God.
Might God be pleased to make us merciful, so that his mercy might be evident for all to see.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss