Jesus Christ said that the merciful are blessed because they will also receive mercy. How can we apply this fifth Beatitude today?
“The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9).
One of God’s most dominant characteristics in dealing with mankind is His mercy. Mercy is a part of everything He does. (To get to know this aspect of God’s character better, read about “God the Merciful,” part of our Bible study series “Journey 1: Knowing God”).
Since mercy is such an important part of God’s character, those who follow the previous Beatitude of hungering and thirsting for His righteousness will, of necessity, see the need to develop the trait of mercy. In doing so, they will develop this fifth of the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Blessed are the merciful
Both the Father and Christ are full of mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5). And God wants us to grow in this important characteristic as well. God declared, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
It is one of the traits that God specifically requires of those who are committed to following Him (Micah 6:8). Jesus tells us, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). He also called mercy one of “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23).
Since God places such an emphasis on mercy, it’s important that we understand what it is. Mercy includes being kind and compassionate to someone who offended you when it’s in your power to do otherwise. But, according to William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible, the concept behind this Beatitude goes even deeper than that. It refers to a conscious effort to see events through the eyes of another individual—to feel what he or she is feeling.
The merciful do the best that they can to put their own feelings aside and think about how someone else feels and experiences things. Mercy is not just about forgiving people, but identifying with them and, as closely as possible, understanding their experiences.
The best example of mercy is Jesus Christ, who, since He experienced human life, can fully empathize with His creation (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, our High Priest, lived as one of us and can completely understand what it’s like to lose family members, be cold, have hunger, experience discomfort and pain, and deal with frustrating and evil people.
Due to His experiences, Jesus Christ can display mercy like no one else.
For they shall receive mercy
Mercy often produces immediate positive results since it enhances our relationships and helps to keep us from nurturing bitterness and other harmful emotions (Proverbs 11:17). And beyond that, Jesus Christ also promised that the merciful “shall obtain mercy.”
A powerful principle behind this Beatitude is the principle of sowing and reaping. The Bible teaches, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Our actions today will have consequences down the road that will affect our lives and the lives of those around us.
God chooses to extend His mercy to those who are merciful themselves (Psalm 18:25). As the Almighty God, He has the right to decide who He extends His compassion toward (Exodus 33:19).
In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35), Jesus illustrates why God only extends mercy to those who are themselves merciful.
God, like the master of the parable, forgives us a huge debt—the death penalty for our sins against Him, which required the death of His Son (Psalm 51:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Considering what God has forgiven us of, our fellow man’s offenses pale in comparison. To refuse to forgive others for these minor (by comparison) offenses shows a lack of appreciation for His mercy.
Mercy also shows our love for both God and our fellow man. Consider what the apostle John wrote: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
The way of man
People seldom want to give mercy, but instead desire to dish out vengeance as they see fit. However, if retribution is needed, we should leave that up to God, who shows mercy and justice perfectly. “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Some take as their mantra, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” and seemingly have no room for compassion or mercy. The strong take what they want from the weak—no apologies, exceptions or recompense. People naturally focus on what they want and need to the exclusion of others.
Being merciful involves considering others so that we can understand their circumstances and feelings and see how we can best help them.But the merciful look long and hard at the needs of others. Being merciful involves considering others so that we can understand their circumstances and feelings and see how we can best help them.
What mercy looks like
A major component of mercy is forgiveness. Christ’s teaching was that we’re to always be forgiving, even when we think we’ve reached our limit (Matthew 18:21-22).
Being forgiving and merciful does not mean that we have to allow everyone to walk all over us repeatedly. That would not be good for them, for others they interact with, or for us.
Even God, as great as His mercy is, does not allow mankind to sin forever. For our own good He intervenes, and His righteous wrath stops sin and brings some to repentance (see our article “Wrath of God”). Thankfully, though, He is longsuffering, and “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (Psalm 103:9).
Another key component of mercy is taking action. The merciful don’t just sit idly by and talk when there’s someone in need. They also don’t stand on the sidelines offering up advice to the downtrodden. Instead, the merciful seize the initiative and actively help others.
One of the best examples of mercy is that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37; also see our article “How to Be a Good Neighbor” and the accompanying video “What Can We Learn From the Good Samaritan?”).
When we are merciful to others and seek to do what is best for them, then we are drawn closer to the next Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).
You can find an overview of all the Beatitudes and links to them in our article “Beatitudes: Keys to Real Happiness.”