Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7 (NKJV)
Mercy is kind of a strange thing. It’s something that we are glad is there most of the time, but then there are other times when we wish it wasn’t. Usually the way this works is that we are glad to see it when it shows up to help us out of a situation, but we aren’t always as glad to see it help someone else out of a jam. We tend to have certain people that we really would prefer to get no mercy at all. Not from a judge, not from us and not from God. After all they ought to get what they deserve.
So what does it mean to be merciful? Before talk about what it is to be merciful, let me take a minute and explain what it’s not. Being merciful isn’t tolerating, ignoring, excusing or affirming sinful actions and attitudes. It’s unfortunate that many people in our world today think that being merciful to others means that we are not concerned about sinful attitudes and actions nor do we confront them. This is extremely unbiblical. There is nothing loving, compassionate or merciful about excusing, ignoring or affirming sinful attitudes and actions. Really, doing so may be the most unloving, uncompassionate and unmerciful thing we can do.
So what does it mean to be merciful? It means to have a forgiving spirit and a compassionate heart. It is being compassionate and benevolent towards others because God has been compassionate and benevolent towards you. It includes forgiving those who wrong us but it’s more than just offering forgiveness. It is a deliberate effort on our part to try and understand another person, their actions, attitudes and situation, and then doing what we can to help them. This may include forgiving them if they’ve wronged us, or a more tangible act of mercy such as physically or financially assisting them in their time of need. There are any number of things it may mean we do, but make no mistake it certainly means we do something. It is compassion in action. In a way this is the opposite of being hard hearted, unforgiving and uncaring about others.
It is important for us to see here that Jesus doesn’t specify the categories of people we are to be merciful toward. We are not told to be merciful to those who have been overcome by circumstances beyond their control. He doesn’t say we are to be merciful to those who are hungry, sick, oppressed or outcasts. He doesn’t say we are to be merciful to those who have wronged us. He didn’t give us any categories because He expected us to understand that all categories were included. We are to be merciful to all kinds of people just as our Heavenly Father is merciful to all kinds of people (Luke 6:36).
The promise associated with this attitude is that those who show mercy will be shown mercy. This is a pretty interesting thought. Really it’s the spiritual law of sowing and reaping. If I sow mercy in my life then I will reap mercy in my life. People are more apt to be merciful to those they know are merciful. Let me give you a personal example of this.
There was a guy in my unit in German that was an odd duck to say the least. He worshipped the sun and seemed to be morally opposed to personal hygiene. He also wasn’t a very good soldier and didn’t care that he often got everyone in trouble because of his poor performance. Needless to say he didn’t have many friends in our platoon.
Now in the Army there is an organization that helps soldiers be able to get home if someone in their family dies and they don’t have any money. Every year there was a big drive to get people to sign up to give to them. We were pretty much expected to give to this group and so we all did. You could give as little as $10 up to as much as you wanted.
All of us gave some to this organization but this soldier I was telling you about gave around $200 out of his check. Now he was a private and really didn’t make much more than $200. He gave more than the rest of us and really more than some officers. We asked him why he gave this much and he told us that it wasn’t right for a soldier not to be able to go home when a family member died.
As time went on his mother died and he was short on cash. He applied to this organization for help and we all figured he would get it. He met what we understood the criteria to be and he gave so much to them. For some reason they denied his request. We were shocked to find this out. Our platoon got together and we took up donations and basically made sure was able to go back and be with his family during this time. Honestly, the only reason we gave to help him was because we all knew how much he gave and that he would have given to help us. Because he was merciful to others we were more inclined to be merciful to Him.