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Beatitudes-Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

There is hardly a finer trait known to man than that of mercy.  Mercy entails compassion, sympathy, love, forbearance, and sacrifice.  Mercy seeks to relieve suffering rather than ignoring it.  Mercy gives second chances to the guilty rather than coldly applying the full penalty of law.  Mercy goes hand-in-hand with forgiveness, for a forgiving heart must be a merciful heart.  Mercy is truly a divine trait, for we know how to practice mercy through God’s immeasurable mercy for us; “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Tit. 3:5).

In this beatitude, the Lord taught mercy and the law of reciprocity.  Reciprocity is a word that means we get what we give.  The law of reciprocity is present throughout the Scriptures, for over and over again we are taught, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7), and again, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2Cor. 9:6).  The Lord teaches us by this law that if we desire the full mercy of God, then we must be willing to practice mercy toward others in the same measure.

Notice an illustration of mercy and reciprocity in the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:23-35.  In the parable, a slave was called to settle an account with his master, but he owed so much that he would never be able to repay it.  At first, his master ordered that he, his wife, his children, and all his possessions be sold.  However, after the slave begged his master for patience, his master felt compassion for him and forgave the debt.  After this, the slave went out and found his fellow slave who owed him a small debt.  When his fellow slave could not repay the debt, he refused to grant the same mercy that had been extended to him.  Instead, he had his fellow slave thrown into prison.  When the master heard of this, he called in the unforgiving slave and said, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”  With this, the wicked slave was handed over to the torturers until he repaid his debt.  The lesson of the parable is expressed by the Lord in verse 35: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (also see Matt. 6:14-15).  Truly, the wicked, unmerciful slave illustrated the truth of Proverbs 11:17 – “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.”

In another of the Lord’s parables, we find a good example of how we ought to practice mercy.  The good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) had mercy upon a wounded man who had been neglected by others.  The man had been robbed, beaten, and left by the side of the road half dead.  A priest and a Levite had seen the man, but they passed by without offering help.  When the Samaritan saw the wounded man, he felt compassion and cared for the man at his own expense and inconvenience.  The point of the Lord’s parable was to teach what it means to be a neighbor, and the Samaritan was the only person who proved to be a neighbor to the wounded man because he was the only one who showed mercy.

If we expect to receive the mercy of God, then we must be as the Samaritan and not as the unforgiving slave.  Notice the instruction of Jude 20-23 and focus on mercy in this passage:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.  And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 20-23)

Notice how the instruction of Jude is really the same as the Lord’s teaching in the fifth beatitude.  While we anxiously await the mercy of the Lord, we must practice mercy toward others.  In particular, the mercy Jude commends is spiritual in nature, for it is a matter of saving souls from destruction.

Like the other beatitudes, the fifth beatitude is a formula for happiness.  The Lord pronounced the blessedness (happiness) of persons who practice mercy toward others because they are guaranteed to receive mercy themselves.  Also like the other beatitudes, this present happiness comes as the result of anticipation of the future fulfillment of this guarantee.  How happy are those who have the sincere expectation of the eternal manifestation of God’s mercy!  They will be relieved of their suffering, forgiven of their sins, and saved forever.

Next: “Blessed are the Pure in Heart”

Stacey E. Durham




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