MATTHEW 5:7a (part two)-b
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:7a (part two) “Blessed are the merciful:. . .”
Happy are all who seek to relieve misery in others. See the deep furrows in sad faces, and sow in them seeds of mercy. By God’s grace, carry our own sunshine with us, seek burdens to ease, tenderly touch the wounded. Offer a reassuring handshake, an embrace, a visit, a smile, a monetary gift. If we have no gold to give, offer words which carry a world of wealth in themselves. Encourage the discouraged with kind words of hope, “You’re not finished yet. Life’s not over.” In Israel’s sadness, YHWH commanded that words be used to heal, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem” (Isaiah 40:1-2a).
In word and deed, let God develop in us a habit of gentleness. Mercy should be the gentle, gracious atmosphere in which we move and breathe. There must be a kindness and a softness about us that reflects the disposition our Lord displayed.
The pursuit of mercy has been the ongoing quest of my adult life. In school, I adopted a rough facade to convince the other guys on the seamy, south side of Cape Girardeau that I was as tough as they were. To survive, I put on a gruff demeanor, and hoped no one would ever call my bluff. My adult years have been an effort to undo this hardness, to please Jesus by softening my personality.
My quest has been frustrating. In developing preaching skills, I have done fairly well. Learning principles of leadership has been satisfying. Becoming more effective as a pastor has been rewarding. The pursuit for a merciful spirit, though, has frustrated me. What makes my frustration even worse is that mercy is more important than eloquence (1 C 13:1), good leadership skills, or being an effective pastor. The most important trait in life is to please God by being like Jesus. To sense frustration in life’s most important area is discouraging, but the quest goes on.
We should everyone be desiring to develop a Christ-like, merciful personality so full of love that even when we say no to someone else’s request, that person will leave our presence with no less a feeling of love than if we had said yes. We ought to be able, as Christ was, to hate sin and yet at the same time have sinners know we love them. Mercy must never condone or smile at sin; we neither pretend we see no evil nor downplay its awfulness. Mercy is not spineless, winking at people’s evil behavior. Sin has to be exposed, but even this can be done in a merciful way.
Toughness and harshness abound in our society; mercy is in precious little supply. I want our whole church to be an oasis of mercy, an island of softness. May congregational mercy begin in my heart, spread to my words and deeds, filter out through my staff, and waft through our congregation to the world at large.
Matt. 5:7b “. . .for they shall obtain mercy.”
Beware the most common error in interpreting this phrase. Jesus’ meaning is not, if we are merciful to others, they will be merciful to us. This is often, but not always, the case. Sometimes the most merciful people are treated with meanness, ingratitude, and unkindness. Jesus, who showed more mercy than anyone, was rejected, betrayed, beaten, and crucified. The mercy we “obtain” is not from people, but from God. Ever remember, the promises in the beatitudes are God’s gift to us.
As we demonstrate mercy, a trait of God, we serve as extensions of His very self, and He will never let anyone be a loser on His account. God will be in no person’s debt. Mercy displayed is never unregarded or overlooked. God Himself will see to it that an atmosphere of mercy shall follow and overtake the merciful one. God’s blessing, being contained in the doing of mercy, engulfs the merciful doer.
Everyone needs mercy. The very fact the merciful themselves “obtain mercy” implies they have miseries of their own which need mercy applied. Every human breast has miseries, pains, hurts. As we step outside our own griefs to relieve the misery of others, the relief we give them recoils as a relief for our own miseries.
Truly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35). Truly, “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul” (PR 11:17). Truly, “He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he” (PR 14:21). The satisfaction of helping another is much more fulfilling than the gratification one gains through selfishness. “A life of selfishness is Hell” (Maclaren). Covetousness is foolish. God called the covetous rich man, “Thou fool” (LK 12:20). What we give away and share is what we enjoy.
What we keep, not what we give away, is what causes us grief. We lie awake at night worrying not about the things we have given away. Our worries center in things we have kept–our house which has payments too high, our car that is wearing out before being paid for, our clothes which are now out of style or no longer fit. Many of us are worried about credit card debts; some will be unable to relieve the misery of others tomorrow, next month, or even next year because yesterday, last month, and last year they spent money on themselves they did not yet have. None of us is losing sleep over money we put in the church offering plate, but many are restless about money we have kept for ourselves in the stock market. We have the right to care for ourselves, but only after we have given to God and others.
Joy is found in relieving the misery of others. We were born again to show mercy, and will be unfulfilled and discontent until we bring our actions into line with our purpose. To enjoy the blessings of the kingdom, we must express the traits of the King. In other words, be like Christ, carry on His work.
A word of caution. Do not think Jesus calls us in this beatitude to be mercenary. Never try to bargain with God. Do not try to use bribery, or do kind deeds expecting tit-for-tat. God’s blessing, including His mercy, is not something we earn. Our primary task is to do our duty, not to pursue a reward. We know the blessing is there, but our motivation is to do right at all cost, leaving consequences to God.
“An humble soul denies himself, yea, even annihilates himself. He thinks how little it is he can do for God, and if he could do more, it were but a due debt. Therefore he looks upon all his works as if he had done nothing. The saints are brought in at the last day as disowning their works of charity. “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee. . .?” (Matthew 25:37). A good Christian not only empties his hand of alms, but empties his heart of pride. While he raises the poor out of the dust, he lays himself in the dust” (Thomas Watson).