Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- Dave opened the series by looking at Matthew 5:1-3.
- In the second post in this series, Dave explored Matthew 5:4.
- In the third post in this series, Zach looked at Matthew 5:5.
- In the fourth post in this series, Jason looked at Matthew 5:6.
- Today Dave looks at Matthew 5:7
When Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7), it is no isolated remark. It flows from both the fourth beatitude, describing our hunger, and our thirst. When Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, He promotes mercy, for the poor in spirit are merciful. When we recognize our spiritual poverty, our weakness and sin, we see the weakness and sin of others differently. If we are poor in spirit, we come to understand our own failings and develop a certain patience with them. As a result, we learn to be tender, empathetic, patient, and compassionate with the failings of others. Then we no longer condescend, asking, “What’s wrong with him?” or “How could she ever do that?” We know that we could do (or have done) the same thing. When we see a troubled friend, we empathize. We ask, “How can I help?” not “How did he ever get into that ridiculous situation?”
The feeling of compassion also leads to action. The poor in spirit are merciful. We offer help to others, whether they have a claim on us or not. Mercy is a gift to mankind, yet a demand from God. He says, “I desire mercy” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Jesus says that mercy is one of the “weightier matters of the law” (23:23 ESV; cf. 25:31–46).
But, as we’ve seen in our study on the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are also a portrait of Jesus. His demand is also His gift. The Father bids His people to conform to the Son. As Augustine said, “Demand what you will, and give what you demand.” We show mercy because we have received His mercy (Matt. 18:21–35). God promises to give His mercy to those who live by His mercy.
The miracles of Jesus show how mercy breaks into action. Compassion moved Him to heal crowds (Matt. 9:36; Matthew 14:14), to feed four thousand hungry followers (Matthew15:32), to restore sight to the blind (20:34), and to bring a widow’s only son to life (Luke 7:11–15).
We cannot perform miracles, but we can say what Peter once said to a needy man: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you” (Acts 3:5 ESV). So let us ask, when we see the needy do we ask ourselves, “How can I help?” or “What can I give?” Need takes many forms. We may meet it with a meal or a bed, with our time or with our counsel. Whatever the need may be, if we are hungry for righteousness, we will show mercy.
God is merciful to us by saving us through Christ; in obedience are are merciful to others; and God in faithfulness give us even more mercy, pouring out blessing for our needs and withholding severe chastening for our sin.
Jesus point here in Matthew 5:7 is only those who are merciful qualify to receive mercy. David sang of the Lord in 2 Samuel 22:26, ““With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;” Speaking of the opposite side of the same truth, James says in James 2:13, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” At the end of the disciples’ prayer Jesus explained in Matthew 5:14, ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The emphatic truth is that God will respond with chastening for an unforgiving disciple.
Neither in that passage nor in this beatitude is Jesus speaking of our mercy gaining us salvation. We do not earn salvation by being merciful. We must be saved by God’s mercy before we can truly be merciful. We cannot work our way into heaven even by a lifetime of merciful deeds, any more than by good works of any sort. God does not give mercy for merit; He gives mercy in grace, because it is needed, not because it is earned.
To illustrate the working of God’s mercy Jesus told the parable of a slave who had been gracious forgiven a great debt by the king. The man then went to a fellow slave who owed him a pittance by comparison and demanded that every cent be repaid and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of the incident, he called the first man and said to him in Matthew 18:23-35, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
In that parable Jesus gives a picture of God’s saving mercy in relation to forgiving others in Matthew 18:21-22. The first man pleaded with God for mercy and receive it. The fact that he, in turn, was unmerciful was so inconsistent with his own salvation that he was chastened until he repented. The Lord will chasten, if need be, to produce repentance in a stubborn child. Mercy to others is a mark of salvation. When we do not show it, we may still be disciplined until we do. When we hold back mercy, God restricts His flow of mercy to us, and we forfeit blessing. The presence of chastening and the absence of blessing attend an unmerciful believer.
If we have received mercy from a holy God unlimited mercy that cancels our unpayable debt of sin—we who had no righteousness but were poor in spirit, mourning over our load of sin in beggarly, helpless condition, wretched and doomed, meek before almighty God, hungry and thirsty for a righteousness we did not have and could not attain—it surely follows that we should be merciful to others.