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Happy Are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7 November 5, 1978 2202


The gospel of Matthew presents Jesus Christ as King. The Sermon on the Mount is the manifesto of His kingdom. There Christ proclaimed a twofold message: how to enter His kingdom and how to live while in it. Only those who are broken in spirit, mournful, meek, and hungering after righteousness can enter (vv. 3-6). Once they have entered they continue to have those attitudes.

Matthew 5:7 says, "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy." Like the other Beatitudes it contains a twofold pattern: to get into God's kingdom you must seek mercy; when you are in His kingdom you will show mercy to others.

A. The Rebuke

The religious practices Jesus encountered in His day were superficial and external. Judaism was very ritualistic-- the Jewish religious leaders thought God's kingdom could be obtained through good deeds. They were proud, indifferent, and selfish. They thought their formalized religion qualified them for leadership under Messiah's rule.

While they may have appeared righteous, there was no true righteousness in them. The Lord said to them, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matt. 23:27). John the Baptist said to a group of Sadducees and Pharisees, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance" (Mat. 3:7-8). They obviously didn't manifest the results of true repentance. John continued, "And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham as our father; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I, indeed, baptize you with water unto repentance, but he who cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the granary, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (vv. 9-12).

John spoke of a fiery judgment that will come on those whose religion is only external. The Sermon on the Mount confronts such people with what really matters: being broken in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peaceable. Those are all internal qualities. Christ dismissed as worthless all the credits the Jewish religious leaders had given to themselves.

B. The Requirements

Christ emphasized that it's what's inside a person that counts. Now that doesn't mean He wasn't concerned about how we behave. Jesus's emphasis was that those things inside us are what produce our behavior: righteousness on the inside is what produces right behavior. A person can try to act correctly without being right internally but that is only legalism.

Christ wants right actions based on right attitudes. After He taught the Beatitudes Jesus did speak about actions in the Sermon on the Mount. But the premise on which that teaching was built is the right kind of heart attitude. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "A Christian is something before he does anything" (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], p. 96). He also said, "We are not meant to control our Christianity; our Christianity is rather meant to control us" (1:97). When we control our Christianity we have fallen into legalism; when we let what is inside control us we possess true spirituality. Christianity is not a facade. A relationship with Christ transforms the center of our being and from there manifests itself in our actions.

God has never been interested in superficiality. He was not interested in just the blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament sacrifices (Heb. 10:4-6). He is not interested in any of our spiritual activity unless our hearts are right. In Amos 5:21-24 God told the Israelites they could stop their worship, sacrifices, and music because their hearts were not right. God is concerned with the motives that produce the right behavior.

Jesus rebuked the religious externalists of His day with some stinging statements. The impact of Matthew 5:3 is that every man and women needs to recognize his or her own spiritual bankruptcy. We need to recognize we are spiritually destitute beggars with nothing to offer God, whose only hope is to reach out and beg God to do what we can't do ourselves. Verse 4 warns against being satisfied with self-righteousness. Rather we are to mourn over our sinfulness. Verses 5-6 point out the need for meekness in the light of God's holiness--no keeper of the law could possibly compare himself with God. Mankind is starving because of a lack of righteousness. Believers recognize their condition and hunger and thirst for righteousness.

C. The Results

The first four Beatitudes deal with inner attitudes--how a person sees himself before God. The fifth Beatitude begins Christ's teaching about the manifestations of the first four. If we are broken in spirit, mournful, meek, and hungry for righteousness, we will be merciful towards others. It is rightly said that those who in poverty of spirit acknowledge their need of mercy begin to show mercy to others; those who mourn their sin begin while they mourn to wash their hearts clean with the tears of penitence; the meek spontaneously make peace; and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are willing to be persecuted for righteousness' sake. Each of the first four Beatitudes corresponds to one of the last four.



When Jesus said, "Blessed [happy] are the merciful," His Jewish audience would probably have been surprised. Both the Jews and the Romans were merciless peoples. They were egotistical, self-righteous, and condemning.

A. It Is Often Misunderstood

Many try to define Matthew 5:7 in a humanistic way. They speak of mercy as a human virtue, saying that if you are good to everyone, they will be good to you. In Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice (IV.i.180-85) Portia said,

The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown.

Shakespeare's character was saying mercy is the most becoming thing a king can wear. The Jerusalem Talmud quotes the rabbi Gamaliel as speaking of mercy as a human virtue: "Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy upon thee; if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy upon thee" (quoted in John Broadus's Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Valley Forge: Judson, 1886], p. 91.). Some people also think that if you are good toward God, He will be good toward you. That is true, but don't try to put God on the spot by saying, "If I do this for God, He will do that for me."

Matthew 5:7 has been paraphrased to say that if people see us care, they will care." Unfortunately it's not that simple. While it's true that if we honor God He will care for us, the world doesn't necessarily work that way. The Romans glorified justice, courage, discipline, and power--not mercy. They considered mercy to be a sign of weakness. When a child was born the father had the right of patria potestas. If he wanted the child to live he held his thumb up; if he wanted it to die he held his thumb down. If he didn't want the child to live it would be exposed or killed. Roman citizens could kill slaves they no longer wanted; there was no recourse. A husband could kill his wife if he wanted to. In our society as well as the one existing at the time of Christ's earthly ministry it might have been more accurate to say that if you are merciful to others they will step on your neck!

B. It Was Modeled by Christ

1. He reached out to others

Jesus Christ was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He never did anything to harm anyone. He reached out to the sick and healed them. He enabled the crippled to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. He showed love to tax collectors, prostitutes, debauched people, and drunks. He redeemed them and set them on their feet. Our Lord wept with those who were in sorrow, and made the lonely feel loved. He gathered little children in His arms and loved them.

Luke 7:11-15 records that as Jesus entered a city a funeral procession went by. He saw a mother weeping because her only son was dead. She was a widow so she had neither her husband or son to care for her. Jesus stopped the procession, put His hand on the casket, raised her son from the dead, and gave him back to his mother. In John 8:3-11 some scribes and Pharisees brought to Christ a woman who had been caught in the act of committing adultery. When her accusers had been confronted and had left He said to her, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?... Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more" (vv. 10-11). When the scribes and Pharisees saw Christ eating with tax collectors and sinners they said to His disciples, "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with tax collectors and sinners?" (Mark 2:16). He continually sought out those in need.

2. He was despised by others

Mercy given isn't necessarily mercy returned. Our Lord was the most merciful person who ever lived yet people screamed for His blood. If mercy carried its own reward the Lord Jesus Christ wouldn't have been nailed to a cross, spat upon, and cursed. Christ received no mercy from those He gave mercy to. The merciless Roman and Judaic systems united to kill Him. Mercy is not a human virtue that brings its own reward.

Our Lord's emphasis was that if a person is merciful to others, God will be merciful to him. God is the subject of the second phrase of Matthew 5:7.

C. It Has a Specific Meaning

1. Seen in the action it produces

The Greek noun translated "merciful" in Matthew 5:7 (eleemon) is used only twice in the New Testament: here and in Hebrews 2:17, which reads, "In all things it behooved [Jesus] to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest." Christ is the great illustration of mercy because He intercedes for us before the Father. It is from Him that mercy comes.

The verb form of "merciful" is used many times in the Bible. It means "to have mercy on," "succor the afflicted," "give help to the wretched," or "rescue the miserable." That's a very broad definition: anything you do of benefit to someone in need is an act of mercy.

We tend to think of mercy as the forgiveness of God in salvation, but it has a much broader application. It speaks of compassion in action. Mercy goes beyond merely feeling compassion or sympathy. It is doing something good to anyone who has a need. Matthew 5:7 doesn't speak of the pity a selfish person may feel but doesn't act on. Nor does it speak of a person who salves his conscience by token giving yet indulges his own flesh. True mercy is genuine compassion with a pure and unselfish motive that reaches out to help those in need. Jesus meant that the people in His kingdom don't condemn others; they show mercy. They don't set themselves above anyone; they stoop to help others.

a) Illustrated by the merciless

The Lord indicted the Jewish religious leaders by what He said. They elevated themselves above others--they didn't give of themselves to anyone. In Matthew 15 our Lord spoke of those who wouldn't give to support their parents because they had supposedly committed their money to God (vv. 3-9). He said to the scribes and Pharisees, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" (v. 3). They were merciless even to their own parents.

b) Illustrated by the merciful

If you are a citizen of God's kingdom you will be merciful. You will think the thoughts and feel the emotions of those who are in need and respond in a tangible way. One who is truly merciful gives a hungry man food and a lonely person companionship. He will give love to someone who asks for it. Being merciful is meeting a need--not just feeling it.

2. Seen in comparison to other qualities

a) Mercy and forgiveness

(1) Mercy goes with forgiveness

(a) Titus 3:5--"According to his mercy he saved us."

(b) Ephesians 2:4-5--"God, who is rich in mercy ... hath made us alive." Mercy is present when God saves us. It is His mercy that allows Him to redeem us.

(c) Daniel 9:9--"To the Lord, our God, belong mercies and forgivenesses."

(d) Psalm 130:1-7--The psalmist said, "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.... Let Israel hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy." This individual knew forgiveness comes from the fountain of mercy.

(2) Mercy goes beyond forgiveness

Forgiveness is not the only expression of mercy. God's mercy can't be narrowed down; it is infinitely more than forgiveness alone.

(a) Psalm 119:64--"The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy."

(b) Genesis 32:10--Jacob said to God, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies ... which thou hast shown unto thy servant."

(c) 2 Samuel 24:14--David said, "[God's] mercies are great."

(d) Nehemiah 9:19--Nehemiah acknowledged God's mercy to His people: "Thou in thy manifold mercies forsook them not."

(e) Psalm 69:13--David said, "O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me."

(f) Lamentations 3:22-23--"It is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness."

b) Mercy and love

Forgiveness flows out of mercy and mercy flows out of love. God's mercy is based on love. The apostle Paul said that God is rich in mercy because of "his great love with which he loved us" (Eph. 2:4). So love is greater than mercy.

Love can do more than show mercy. Mercy requires a problem for it to act; love can act when there isn't a problem. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father but neither requires mercy from the other. The Father loves the elect angels and they love Him but neither of them need mercy.

Love encompasses mercy. Mercy is a physician; love is a friend. Mercy responds to need; love acts out of affection. Mercy is reserved for times of trouble; love is constant. However there is no mercy without love. God's great love is poured out on our need through His mercy. When we are righteous and don't need mercy God still loves us. He will love us in eternity when we don't need mercy anymore. But for now one way God shows His love for us is through His mercy.

c) Mercy and grace

Mercy and its derivatives always deal with pain and distress, which are the results of sin. However, grace deals with sin itself. Mercy deals with the symptoms of the disease while grace deals with the disease itself. Mercy offers relief from punishment; grace offers pardon for the crime. Grace removes a person's sin and mercy eliminates the punishment due for sin. In 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, and Titus 1:4 Paul mentions grace and mercy as two separate things.

In Luke 10:30-35 Jesus tells of a Jewish man who was robbed and beaten. He was left lying on the side of the road. A priest went by but didn't want to help so he kept on walking. A Levite went by and did the same. Then a Samaritan saw the maimed man and stopped to care for him. He bound up the man's wounds and poured oil on them--that was mercy. He rented a room for him at an inn so he would have a place to stay--that was grace. By mercy the Samaritan dealt with the beaten man's wounds. By grace he provided him with a better condition.

God's mercy deals with the negatives of our sin and His grace does something positive for us. His mercy says, "No hell." His grace says, "Heaven." His mercy pities; His grace pardons. Mercy and grace are two sides of the same coin offered in salvation through Christ.

d) Mercy and justice

God's mercy is completely just. God says to the sinner, "I know you have done terrible things, but I love you and by My mercy I forgive you." He can do that and be completely just because He came into the world in human form and paid the price His justice requires for our sin by His death on a cross. When Jesus died, God's justice was satisfied. God had said there could be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11). There had to be a perfect sacrifice to bear the sin of the world, and Jesus was that sacrifice.

God's mercy is not a foolish sentimentality that excuses sin. Too much of that kind of thinking exists today--even in the church. The only time God ever extends mercy to anyone is through Christ. He paid the price for our sin.

Some people think mercy overrides demands of justice and means that people don't need to pay for wrongdoing. King Saul showed that kind of mercy by sparing King Agag (1 Sam. 15:9). After David's son Absalom killed his brother Amnon, David showed a false and sentimental mercy toward Absalom by letting him off easy. David thus sowed seeds of rebellion in Absalom's heart (2 Sam. 13-14). God never violates His justice and holiness in being merciful. He extends His mercy only because His justice has been satisfied.

There are people in the church who sin against God and don't acknowledge their sin. Nevertheless they expect Him to be merciful to them. However, James 2:10-11 says, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." James meant that if you break only one of God's laws you've broken them all. Verses 12-13 continue, "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shown no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment." There is a merciless judgment awaiting those who do not accept the sacrifice of Christ. God won't show sentimental mercy to those who never acknowledged His Son. If we want God to be merciful to us we must confess our sins and turn from them.

D. The Commended and the Condemned

1. The merciful are commended

The merciful don't tolerate sin--they recognize that sin will be punished. But they do bear the insults of evil men and women with hearts full of compassion. Those who are merciful are sympathetic, forgiving, gracious, and loving. Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again; but the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth."

We are to be merciful, gracious, loving, and forgiving to those who are truthful. If one of my children came up to me and said, "Dad, I did something wrong and I'm sorry," I was merciful. But I told my children, "If I find out you haven't told me the truth or admitted something you did that was wrong, I will punish you."

Abraham mercifully helped deliver his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:8- 16) after Abraham had been wronged by him (Gen. 13:5-11). Joseph showed mercy toward his brothers and met their needs (Gen. 42:25; 44:1) even after they had treated him badly (Gen. 37:20-28). When Moses' sister Miriam had rebelled against him (Num. 12:1) God afflicted her with leprosy (v. 10). In mercy Moses "cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee" (v. 13). David spared Saul's life twice (1 Sam. 24, 26). A merciful person reaches out to forgive, care for, and help others. He doesn't step on other people's necks or think of himself as superior.

2. The merciless are condemned

Psalm 109:14-16 says, "Let the iniquity of [the merciless person's] fathers be remembered with the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth, because he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart."

God has always identified with the poor and needy. When judgment comes He will tell the merciless, "Depart from me, ye cursed ... for I was hungry, and ye gave me no food; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not" (Matt. 25:41-43). They will respond, "Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?" (v. 44). Jesus will reply that when they did not give food, water, or clothing to those who represented Him, they were also refusing Him (v. 45).

God identifies with those who reach out, not with those who grasp and take. We need to reject what our corrupt society tells us about getting everything we can get. God tells us to give everything we can give--even to those offend us. If someone makes a mistake, fails to pay a debt, or doesn't return something he has borrowed from you, be merciful to him. That's the character of a kingdom citizen.

a) Proverbs 11:17--"The merciful man doeth good to his own soul, but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh." If you want to be miserable, then be merciless. If you are merciful, you will be happy.

b) Proverbs 12:10--"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." Righteous people are merciful even to animals.

c) Romans 1:29-31--The ungodly are characterized by being "filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents; without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, [and] unmerciful." The climax of the whole sordid list is that ungodly people are unmerciful.

We who have received mercy are to be merciful. We do not deserve our privileged position in God's kingdom. We can't be cruel to others when we are so dependent on God's mercy.


A. As a Gift from God

Mercy is a gift from God. He gives it only to those who are poor in spirit, mournful over their sins, meek, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness (Matt. 5:3- 6). When they receive God's mercy they can then be merciful to others. Mercy is not a human attribute-- people can't initiate mercy on their own. The platitude, "Be merciful to others, and they will be merciful to you" is rarely true. The only way to be a merciful person is to have within you the mercy of God.

Many people want to be blessed by God but don't want to do what He says. The false prophet Balaam said, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Num. 23:10). Its been well said that Balaam wanted to die like the righteous, but he didn't want to live like the righteous. People often want mercy but they don't want it on God's terms. The only people who have mercy are those who exemplify the qualities of the first four Beatitudes. The righteousness God gives to those who seek it comes with a capacity for mercy. God is merciful and Christians are indwelt by God. Ephesians 3:19 says that we are to "be filled with all the fullness of God." When we are filled in that way His mercy shows through us.

God has two kinds of attributes: those that are absolute and those that are relative. His absolute attributes include love, truth, and holiness. If no one existed but God He would still possess those attributes. But when He created man His absolute attributes took on a relative character--His truth manifests itself to us as faithfulness, His holiness as justice, and His love as grace and mercy.

God is rich in mercy and He is the One who dispenses it. The psalmist said, "As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him" (Ps. 103:11). When a person fears God he comes to Christ and God gives him mercy. That's why our Lord could say, "Be ye, therefore, merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

B. At the Cross of Christ

The supreme act of God's mercy was what He did for us on the cross. Because of what Christ did there He became our merciful High Priest (Heb. 2:17). Donald Grey Barnhouse said, "When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all of the work of God for man's salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For any one to pray, 'God have mercy on me,' is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man, He has already had when Christ died. This is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more.... [God can now] act toward us in grace because He has already had all mercy upon us. The fountain is now opened and flowing, and it flows freely" (God's Discipline: Romans 12:1; 14:12 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], p. 4).

God's mercy is spoken of in these words by Samuel Medley in the hymn "His Loving-Kindness":

He saw me ruined by the fall, Yet loved me notwithstanding all; He saved me from my lost estate-- His loving-kindness, O how great!

In the hymn "At Calvary," William R. Newell wrote,

Mercy there was great, and grace was free, Pardon there was multiplied to me, There my burdened soul found liberty-- At Calvary.

Micah 7:18 says that God "delighteth in mercy." He was merciful to us on the cross, and when we receive Christ, God gives us His mercy.


There are many Scriptures calling believers to be merciful: Romans 15:1, 25-27; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:32; and Colossians 3:12-14. Mercy can be shown in a myriad of ways.

A. Meeting Physical Needs

You show mercy by giving a poor man money, a hungry man food, a naked man clothes, or a homeless man a bed. Try exchanging a grudge for forgiveness. There are all kinds of needs to be met.

In Deuteronomy 15:8-9 God tells the Israelites to show mercy to a poor man: "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he lacketh. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nothing; and he cry unto the Lord against thee." Every seventh year all debts were to be cancelled in Israel. God said that even if a person knew he would have to cancel all the debts owed him he should still give to someone in need. In verses 12-14 God says that when an Israelite released a slave he was to provide for his former slave's needs. That too is mercy.

When someone who has a need comes to me I try to meet that need. I also try never to ask anything of anyone because mercy gives. We are not to hold grudges, retaliate, be vengeful, or recite the failures and the sins of others. St. Augustine had a large and beautiful table in his dining room to which he invited needy people to dine. Engraved on the top of the table were these words: "Whoever loves another's name to blast, this table's not for him; so let him fast" (quoted in Thomas Watson's The Beatitudes, [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975], p. 149).

If you are a Christian you will be merciful. A Roman writer of natural history said that in India he heard about an animal called the griffin. He described it as having four feet like a big beast and wings like an eagle. He said it was hard to classify whether it was a fowl or a beast, and that only the gods knew what it was. (Aelian, Hist. Anim. B.iv.c.27). When I read that I thought to myself, That reminds me of phony Christians. They profess to fly on wings to heaven, but their feet are fast to the earth. They are professed sons of the kingdom but they never get out of the dirt. Phony Christians are like the unmerciful Levite and priest who passed by the injured man laying on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35).

B. Meeting Spiritual Needs

1. Pitying the lost

St. Augustine said, "If I weep for that body from which the soul is departed, how should I weep for that soul from which God is departed?" (Watson, The Beatitudes, p. 144). We shed many tears over dead bodies, but what do we do when it comes to souls? If I as a Christian have seen and experienced God's mercy yet do not show mercy to others then I am being inconsistent. When Stephen was being stoned he said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). He pitied the souls of those who were killing him. When Jesus was crucified He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). You must look at the lost with pity--apart from Christ you are no better than they are.

2. Rebuking sin

Second Timothy 2:24-25 says, "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men ... in meekness instructing those that oppose him, if God, perhaps, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." We are to confront people with their sin so they can repent and receive God's forgiveness. People need to hear the gospel. Titus 1:13 says, "Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." It isn't unloving to rebuke a sinner--in fact it is more cruel not to say anything about someone's sin. Jude 23 says there are some we have to "save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." Snatching people out of the fire is an act of love. Mercy prods. Often you have to confront someone about his sin before he realizes his sinfulness.

3. Praying for others

Praying for unbelievers or believers living in sin is an act of mercy. Your level of mercy is indicated by how faithfully you pray for others. Do you pray for those who are lost? Do you pray for Christians who are being disobedient? Prayer is an act of mercy.

4. Preaching the gospel

The most merciful thing you can do for someone is preach the gospel to him.


Christ said, "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7). The sequel to mercy is that once God gives us mercy and we become merciful, God gives us more mercy. The Greek text of Matthew 5:7 contains an emphatic pronoun emphasizing that only the merciful will receive mercy.

A. Affirmed in Scripture

1. 2 Samuel 22:26--"With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful."

2. James 2:13--"[God] shall have judgment without mercy [on them] that hath shown no mercy."

3. Matthew 6:12--"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

4. Matthew 6:14--"If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."

5. Psalm 18:25--"With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful."

6. Proverbs 14:21--"He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he."

It is those who are merciful who receive mercy. 

Some think a person becomes saved by doing merciful deeds. Many monasteries grew out of the misunderstanding that one could earn salvation. But mercy isn't obtained by merit--otherwise mercy wouldn't be mercy. What is meritorious is deserving of reward, not mercy.

God chooses to show mercy. In Matthew 18 Christ told a story about a servant who owed a king a tremendous amount of money. The servant said, "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all" (v. 26). The king was moved with compassion and cancelled the debt- -he forgave his servant. Later that same servant "found one of his fellow servants, who owed him an hundred denarii [a comparatively small amount of money]; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what thou owest" (v. 28).

Pictured in that story is someone who asks God for mercy but doesn't show mercy to someone else. That indicates a person who was never converted--mercy and truth never kissed each other. Mercy is given by God because men need it. Even those who are merciful need God's mercy. Those who show mercy give evidence of having received mercy from God and as a result they continue to both show and receive it.


If you are a merciful person God will continually pour out His mercy on you. He will forgive your sins and meet your needs. If you are not merciful there's a good possibility that you aren't a Christian. Those who show mercy are merciful because they have received that characteristic from God.

Christ's promise that the merciful "shall obtain mercy " (Matt. 5:7) refers to both the present and future. In Psalm 86:3 David says, "Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto Thee daily." In Psalm 23 he says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (v. 6). David's request in Psalm 86 and his statement in Psalm 23 show he saw God's mercy as a present reality to be sought for and enjoyed. As our merciful High Priest Christ continually intercedes with the Father that mercy be extended to us now.

Paul's request on behalf of Onesiphorus shows the future aspect of mercy: "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day" (2 Tim 1:18). God's mercy is both a tremendous present and future reality for every believer. No wonder the psalmist said, "I will sing aloud of thy mercy" (Ps. 59:16)!

Focusing on the Facts

1. What did John the Baptist speak of in Matthew 3:7-12?

2. What did Christ emphasize in the Sermon on the Mount? Does that mean He wasn't concerned about our behavior? Explain.

3. Why did God tell the Israelites to stop worshiping Him in Amos 5:21-24?

4. What significant transition occurs from the first four Beatitudes to the fifth?

5. What is the humanistic interpretation of Matthew 5:7?

6. How did the Romans view mercy?

7. Give some examples of how Christ modeled mercy.

8. How do we know that mercy given isn't necessarily mercy returned?

9. What was our Lord's emphasis when He said, "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7)?

10. What does the verb form of the "merciful" mean in the Bible?

11. What do people tend to think of mercy as? What is its broader application?

12. What is the relationship between mercy and forgiveness?

13. How do we know that love is greater than mercy? What are the differences between love and mercy?

14. Describe the difference between mercy and grace.

15. Does God set aside the demands of His justice when He shows us His mercy? Explain.

16. Give some Old Testament examples of mercy.

17. What does the psalmist say about the merciless in Psalm 109:14-16?

18. God identifies with those __________ __________, not with those who __________ and __________.

19. How does Scripture characterize the merciless?

20. What is the only way to become a merciful person? Explain.

21. What are some of God's absolute attributes? How did those attributes manifest themselves after God created man?

22. What was the supreme act of God's mercy?

23. What did Donald Grey Barnhouse say about the act of mercy?

24. In what ways can you physically show a person mercy?

25. List four ways we can show mercy to a person spiritually.

26. Is it unloving to confront people about their sin? Why or why not?

27. Your level of __________ is indicated by how faithfully you __________ for others.

28. What does being merciful to others result in? Support your answer with Scripture.

29. If someone asks God for mercy yet doesn't show it to others, what does that indicate?

30. When will the merciful receive mercy?

Pondering the Principles

1. Thomas Watson warned against abusing God's mercy: "Think not that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy.... Nothing is sweeter than mercy, when it is improved; nothing fiercer, when it is abused. as nothing is colder than lead when taken out of the mine, and nothing more scalding when it heated. Nothing is blunter than iron, yet nothing sharper when it is whetted" (A Body of Divinity [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958], p. 97). Is your life characterized by sin that presumes on God's mercy or thankful obedience that manifests a transformed heart?

2. God's mercy is not free. Extending it to mankind cost God His only begotten Son (see John 3:16). The Puritan pastor William Bridge wrote, "Look what Christ delivered us from, that he endured for us; for he delivered us by suffering; he delivered us from death, and he endured that; he delivered us from Satan, and his temptations, therefore he endured them; he delivered us from the law, therefore he was made under the law; he delivered us from sin, and he bare our sin; he delivered us from the wrath of God, therefore he did conflict with that; and from the torments of hell therefore he did suffer them" (The Works of the Rev. William Bridge, vol. 3 [Beaver Falls, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1989], p. 211). God's mercy is a free gift that has been fully paid for. If you do not know Christ, accept God's mercy freely offered through Christ. If you do know Christ, take comfort in the rainbow of God's mercy spread over you through His Son.

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