MATTHEW 5:7a (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:7a (part one) “Blessed are the merciful:. . .”
Our poverty of spirit (5:3), our own utter insufficiency in spiritual matters, leads us to a mourning (5:4) over sin which lets the power of God make us meek (5:5), placing all our appetites under control. Once granted control over our passions, the next step is to gain all the positive traits we lack and need added to our lives. We pursue a righteousness (5:6) which has, as one of its traits, mercy (5:7).
“Mercy” is the relieving of misery in others. “Happy are the merciful” is a contradiction to many. The world generally reckons as happy those who concern themselves as little as possible with the miseries of others. Most people are too much obsessed with their own feelings to be concerned with the feelings of anyone else, and think happiness is found in consulting one’s own ease, not another’s. Jesus, though, says the happiest ones are those who share the afflictions of others.
Mercy begins as an attitude, a disposition. We must first of all develop the habit of properly feeling toward others. Paul said, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 C 13:3). Quintilian, the orator, deemed it a cruelty to feed the poor without sympathizing with them. We are not to help others as if throwing bones to a dog. Truly sorrow over the sufferings of others, “bleed in other men’s wounds” (Trapp), let our tears run down their cheeks with their tears. Have a melting heart. Icebergs belong in the North Atlantic, not in a Christian’s breast. The Sun of righteousness shines within us to melt away cold. Take to heart the miseries of others.
A Christian must choose–and it is a conscious choice–to feel the pain others feel. We have to decide to ache, to cry, to hurt with them. Feeling the hurt of another is painful, and thus we by nature seek to avoid it, but to succeed for God, we must learn to absorb the pain of others. A word of caution–before we seek to assimilate the pain of others, we must learn how to cast our burdens on the Lord. Ministry is painful, and all who attempt it must not only imitate Jesus, but also wholly lean on Him for strength. The pain of ministry drains away life-essence. When the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, He felt power leave His body. Ministers need to stay close to the fount which replenishes their supply.
Upheld by God, enter people’s minds to see life from their perspective. Jesus literally got in our skin to see things as we see them, to feel what we feel; and when He arrived here, He chose to be neither remote, aloof, detached, nor isolated. His decision to walk among the crowds was a conscious choice to risk letting Himself be exposed to people’s hurts. Oft He heard the plea of woe, “Lord, have mercy,” and it stirred Him. He could instantaneously feel deeply what others felt. At the cry of need, Jesus’ whole demeanor and countenance could change in a moment.
With Jesus, feeling came first. Before He fed the crowd, He had “compassion on the multitude” (MT 15:32). Before raising Lazarus, He wept (JN 11:35). Before healing the blind, He was moved with compassion (MT 20:34 NAS). Attitude and mindset must precede action. Christians too often try to do deeds of kindness solely from a sense of duty or guilt. Knowing we are supposed to be merciful, we try to force mercy rather than let it be the overflow of a heart full of compassion. As we accept the pain of others, it sinks deep into our innermost emotional cauldron, where God somehow miraculously turns the pain into a springboard for joy.
Only as our deeds bubble as fountains from within us can they be done in joy, and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 C 9:7). The latter statement, by the way, was made in the context of helping the poor. If one gives grudgingly, his contribution is not an offering, it is a tax. Some people give so grudgingly that they should date every check they write to church with April 15. Some people give with the same scowl they would have if they were being robbed. They see a striking resemblance between a thief’s pistol and the church offering plate.
A Christian has to make the choice to feel pain. The classic New Testament illustration of being merciful is the parable of the Good Samaritan. He dressed wounds, transported a body, and made provision for the victim, but his first choice was, “he felt compassion” (LK 10:33). It is interesting to note that both the priest and levite who earlier found the victim “passed by on the other side” (10:31,32). Why did they move to the complete opposite side of the road? They knew if they looked too closely they would hurt and care. They preferred to do religious things which required no feeling than to suffer mercy’s pain–religious, but uncaring, and thus willing to give only the minimum required. What Thomas Watson said three hundred years ago is still true, “Devout misers are the reproach of Christianity.”
Mercy begins as an attitude, a disposition, but then quickly progresses to action. More than a feeling, mercy is an operative principle which stirs the heart, and then moves the hand to render help. We feel to the point of being moved to action. If the inner compassion is real, it will have to vent itself, it will of necessity sprout, and seek a way to relieve the misery it sees. Being a concerned observer is not enough. One has to be inconvenienced with actually relieving another’s troubles.
Sacrificial, merciful deeds are the sum of true Christianity, the essence of real spirituality: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (JM 1:27). Jesus, moved with compassion toward hurting people, left us the model to follow. He showed mercy to the blind, the hungry, the demon-possessed, lepers, the cripple, sick, bereaved. Wherever misery was, He showed mercy. He even touched the misery of human lostness. Trajan, the Roman Emperor, would tear off pieces of his own royal robe to wrap his soldiers’ wounds. Jesus tore His own flesh, making His body and blood medicine to heal our spiritual misery.
This world is the abode of much suffering. Oceans of misery surround each of us. Can we not squeeze drops of mercy from our hearts? God leaves Christians here for this very reason, that we might be channels of His kindness.
Turkish nobles were once so eager to do kind deeds daily that they would hire servants whose main assignment was to find every day poor people to help. This perfectly pictures our assignment as believers. Our Master is sensitive to doing merciful, kind deeds and has assigned His servants to find the needy daily.
Titus, the Roman general, was so committed to doing deeds of mercy daily that if the sun set without his having given something away, he would say, “I lost a day.” Surely a Christian’s creed must rise above a Roman general’s. Do not lose a day. Servants of the merciful God, go find those in misery and show the mercy of our Lord. “Move amongst men as copies of God” (Maclaren). Be a moving oasis of mercy. Other groups minister only to mind and body. Believers alone can touch the whole person, and through their mercy point the hurting to the God of mercy.