What does it mean for Christians to be merciful? Jeremiah Johnson, a writer for Grace to You, has written a blog post titled “Blessed are the Merciful” on GTY.org. He starts out by quoting Martyn Lloyd Jones from his work, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount:
“A Christian is something before he does something.”
This reflects what Jesus says in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:2-11:
“And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’
‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.’
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’” (bold emphasis added)
These beatitudes reflect a heart attitude; righteousness comes from the heart and not works. This doesn’t mean that good works don’t have a place in the Christian’s life because they do…but what motivates good works matters to Christ.
Johnson quotes John MacArthur from his book, The Only Way to Happiness:
“Living as a Christian means there is to be no veneer, no facade. Christianity is something that happens to us at the very center of our being, and from there it flows out to the activities of life. God has never been interested in only the blood of bulls and goats. He has never been interested in any superficial spiritual activity unless the heart is right. (see Amos 5:21-24) ”
The beatitude relating to mercy address an inward heart attitude, but it also relays how we are called to relate to others. So it follows that if God has granted us mercy, we will grant mercy to others. Johnson quotes MacArthur again in his definition of mercy:
“Mercy is seeing a man without food and giving him food. Mercy is seeing a person begging for love and giving him love. Mercy is seeing someone lonely and giving him company. Mercy is meeting the need, not just feeling it.”
So how can we show mercy to others, and how can we live it out every day?
Mercy shows up in our relationships: friendships, family, marriage, parenting, work, people we meet, etc. Our natural tendency is to act in sinful, selfish ways; it is only with a transformed heart that we can truly be merciful toward someone else. Johnson references MacArthur’s direction for showing mercy through pitying, prodding, praying, and preaching.
1. Mercy pities.
Today pitying has a negative tone associated with it, as no one wants to be pitied for fear they’ll lose their pride. However, there is a righteous pitying which Stephen displays in Acts 7:60:
“And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
2. Mercy prods.
Prodding also has a negative association in that people tend to find prodding by others to be annoying. This also has to do with pride and wanting to accomplish everything on our own. But merciful, gentle prodding done with the right motivation can aid in the confrontation of sin. Christians are called to prod with compassion and care, offering truth with grace and mercy.
3. Mercy prays.
It is merciful to pray for those who do not know God, and it is also merciful to pray with those who do not know God. As Christians we are called to pray for the lost, our neighbors, and the disobedient. MacArthur explains, “Our prayer is an act of mercy, for it releases God’s blessing.”
4. Mercy preaches.
How do you preach mercy to others? By sharing the gospel; for it is through the gospel that you first learned of mercy. MacArthur states, “I believe preaching the gospel is the most necessary and merciful thing you can do for the lost soul.”
If we’re not pointing those we love, those we know, and those we just met to the gospel then “we’re withholding the greatest mercy imaginable,” writes Johnson.
Johnson brings us full circle to Matthew 5:7 by pointing out:
“Getting back to the blessing of Matthew 5:7, what can we expect as the result of showing such mercy to others? Christ says the merciful “shall receive mercy.” That’s not, as some have tried to claim, a promise of reciprocal kindness, peace, and harmony between man. Christ isn’t guaranteeing us that people will treat us the way we treat them. Instead, He’s explaining that the merciful will receive mercy from God.”
Since we have received mercy from God, we are called to be merciful in all things and to all people. Because we have been forgiven, we are called to forgive all wrongs against us. As merciful Christians, we are called to show mercy just as Christ showed us mercy. This means mercy to those we love, mercy to those we disagree with, mercy to the refugees, orphans, widows, and the lost.
To read Jeremiah Johnson’s article in its entirety, please visit GTY.org.
Crosswalk Contributor Michael J. Kruger advises,
“In summary, we should be clear that both gospel proclamation and deeds of mercy should be part of the life of the church. We are not forced to choose. But we must also be careful to distinguish between them. Deeds of mercy are not the gospel.”
An act of mercy can be sharing the gospel with someone, but good deeds should never be substituted for the gospel. No matter how many good deeds we carry out, even with the right motivation, people still need to hear the gospel. Though we are called to extend mercy, our mercy cannot save someone…only God can, and God’s mercy must be shared through the words of the gospel.
"Better is open rebuke than hidden love." (Proverbs 27:5 ESV)
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 30, 2017
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.