“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
(Matthew 5:7 ESV)
The first four beatitudes deal with how we see ourselves. They describe being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, and thirsting for righteousness [Matthew 5:3-6]. The next four beatitudes, starting with number five which we study today, identify how we deal with others. All the beatitudes discuss characteristics that should be a part of anyone who considers himself a disciple of Jesus.
People who are true followers of Christ know they are spiritually impoverished, as we learned in the first beatitude. They realize that they are sinners who cannot earn salvation. They understand that the penalty for their sinfulness is eternal separation from God (aka “hell). Instead they trust in the death of Jesus on the cross as the payment for those sins that they could not make themselves.
Such people have received mercy from God. God gave forgiveness to those who did not deserve it simply because they recognized their need for it and asked for it. As a side note, God’s mercy is available to anyone and everyone who likewise repents of their sins and accepts Jesus’ death as necessary and complete on their behalf.
When we (God’s children through faith [John 1:12]) are likewise merciful to those who hurt us we shall receive mercy. Since this verse is already directed towards people who were Jesus’ disciples it is clearly not stating that we can earn the forgiveness of our sins from God by being merciful to others as we know salvation is not earned [Ephesians 2:8-9].
What Jesus is talking about here is being merciful to others as a way of imitating God and demonstrating God’s love for mankind to those around us. This is exactly what Jesus did throughout His life, most notably as He asked God to have mercy on those who killed Him [Luke 23:34].
The reward for being merciful is that we shall receive mercy. Like all the rewards listed in the beatitudes, this one comes from God. This verse is not promising that we will receive mercy from our fellow human beings. We may or may not. But when God sees us acting mercifully towards others when they sin against us, He will be merciful to us when we sin. That is a promise.
We see an example of this in the life of David. David screwed up a lot. But David showed amazing mercy to King Saul when Saul was trying to kill him. Saul did not deserve David’s mercy. But David showed it anyway. In return, God showed mercy to David when he did not deserve it later in his life.
Sadly mercy is missing from our culture today. When we are wronged by someone else, even for the slightest offense, we take them to court or disparage them through social media. We protect our so-called rights as an alternative to being perceived as weak.
But mercy is not weakness. It is strength from knowing that are loved by God. Mercy means being patient and forgiving to others because God has been patient and forgiving to us [Matthew 18:23-35].
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