Blessed Are the Merciful (Matt 5:7)
Blessed Are the Merciful
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
As mentioned in previous studies, the Beatitudes are character traits of those who have entered the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3, 10). The first four are inner character changes that reflect the believers’ relationship with God; the last four are outward manifestations of the first four attitudes that reflect the believers’ relationship with others. They are the poor in spirit—they recognize their lack of righteousness before God. This leads them to mourn over their sin. They become the meek—those who humble themselves and submit to God’s control. This leads them to hunger for righteousness which God promises to fill. The fifth beatitude is a turning point. As believers hunger for righteousness, God makes them the merciful (5:7), the pure in heart (5:8), and the peacemakers (5:10). Because of this righteousness, the world persecutes them (5:10).
In this study, we will consider the fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Big Question: What does the fifth beatitude mean and how should it be applied?
Interpretation Question: What is mercy? What is the difference between mercy and grace?
Mercy is goodness offered towards those in misery or distress. It often includes compassion or forbearance shown to an offender—somebody that deserves only justice. MacArthur adds:
Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion, not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand. Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely. It is therefore one of the loveliest and noblest of all virtues.
Scriptures teaches us that God is merciful. Paul called God the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious” (ESV). In Titus 3:5, Paul said God saved us not because of our righteous deeds but because of his mercy. Hebrews 2:17 calls Christ our merciful high priest. The believer is merciful because God is merciful. When a person becomes born again, God’s mercy begins to manifest through his life in various ways. In fact, it will identify him.
Now it should be said that this concept was radical to the Roman world. Mercy was despised by Romans. MacArthur adds:
A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman. The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power. They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.
Though, at times, despised by the world, mercy is a supreme virtue since it is perfectly manifested in God.
We must ask, “What is the difference between mercy and grace?” These terms are often used synonymously; however, they are slightly different. Grace is unmerited favor to those who don’t deserve it. Mercy often includes withholding justice from those who deserve it. It is favor towards the miserable or hurting.
Application Question: In what ways should believers show mercy to others?
1. Believers show mercy by helping those caught in desperate circumstances.
This is emphasized in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Israel was commanded to take care of foreigners because they once were foreigners in Egypt (Lev 19:34). They were called to not harvest the sides of their fields, as they should be left for the poor (Lev 23:22). They were also called to care for the widow and the orphan and not oppress them. Zechariah 7:9-10 says,
This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
Similarly, James taught the same thing. In James 1:27, he said: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Like Israel before them, the early church focused on caring for those in desperate circumstances. When Paul and Barnabas were sent to the Gentiles by the apostles, they were asked to “continue to remember the poor” (Gal 2:10).
Mercy was perfectly manifested in Christ. His ministry was primarily to the despised and downtrodden. He healed the sick and fed the poor. Christ declared this about himself in Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As followers of Christ, we must also care for the poor, sick, struggling, and depressed. It is our Christian duty. Those who are part of the kingdom will be greatly involved in these ministries. They are the merciful. In Acts 2:45, the early church sold all they had and gave to the poor in the church. We should be zealous about this ministry as well.
Darren Carlson, the President of Training Leader’s International, shared this about his conversation with refugees while visiting Athens to interview people for his dissertation:
I can't tell you how many times, I have heard this from Iranian and Afghan believers:
I left my country, and everywhere on my way to Greece, there were Christians. As I left my country, Muslims were literally shooting at me and my family. But in Turkey and Greece, Christians have welcomed me, clothed me, and fed me. When I got off the boat, it was Christians that were passing out food and water. When I came to Athens, it was Christians who gave me a shower, helped me with a medical issue, and gave me a meal with spices from my home. I became a Christian because they were so different than Muslims.
Caring for those in miserable circumstances must be the ethic and practice of Christians. Are you reaching out to the poor, needy, and desperate, as our Lord did?
2. Believers show mercy by helping those caught in sin.
Obviously, Christ perfectly displayed this as well. He came to save people from their sin. He told the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) and a cripple that he healed to sin no more (John 5:14). He called people to repent, turn from their sin, and follow him. Ultimately, all those who turn to him, he delivers from the penalty and power of sin, and one day, he will deliver them from the presence of sin as well.
Followers of Christ should help people struggling with sin as well. Galatians 6:1-2 says,
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
How should we help those caught in sin? By using Scripture, we should lovingly correct other believers by showing them how they are thinking and acting incorrectly. Then, again by using Scripture, we should show them how to get right with God and help hold them accountable (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17).
Mercy towards sinners does not only include helping believers get right with God, but it also includes helping unbelievers turn from their sin to follow Christ. Sharing the Gospel is the most merciful act we can do, and every believer should participate in this ministry.
Are you being merciful by correcting believers and sharing the Gospel with the lost?
3. Believers show mercy by forgiving those who sinned against them.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The command to forgive as Christ forgave should turn us away from shallow attempts at forgiveness. Many declare, “I forgive you, but I don’t ever want to see you or talk to you again.” However, that is not how God forgives us. Scripture says God remembers our sins no more (Is 43:25). This doesn’t mean that God can forget; he can’t since he is omniscient. It means that he no longer holds our sins against us as a barrier to intimacy or usefulness. We must do the same. This doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize people’s immaturity, propensity to bend the truth, or hurt us. It just means that we love them through that and aim to help them grow in holiness—which may include things like discipline and times of separation.
Are you forgiving those who have failed you?
Application Question: What is your experience with mercy ministries like caring for orphans, widows, and the poor? What is your experience with mercy ministries like forgiving and correcting those in sin and sharing the Gospel? What makes mercy ministries both difficult and enriching?
The Promise to the Merciful
Interpretation Question: What does God’s promise to the merciful mean practically?
1. God’s promise means that God will help the merciful in times of need.
Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” In Matthew 6:1-3, Christ talks about how God will reward us, as we give to the needy with right hearts, which includes heavenly reward (cf. Matt 6:19). In 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, Paul declares that, if we are cheerful givers, God will provide grace to meet all our needs and grace to excel in good works. Verse 8 says, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” The promise of mercy applies both to our practical and spiritual needs. If we excel at mercy, God will not only provide our needs but open doors for greater service. God blesses those who are channels—not reservoirs.
Similarly, Malachi 3:10 says:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
The tithe was used to take care of the temple, provide for the needs of the priests and Levites, and also to feed the poor. God promised that if his people excelled in giving tithes and offerings, that he would open up the heavens and bless them with something so large they wouldn’t be able to receive it.
Likewise, when believers give abundantly to church ministries, mission and mercy organizations, and the needy, they spiritually and practically enrich themselves. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’” Psalm 41:1-3 says:
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them—they are counted among the blessed in the land—he does not give them over to the desire of their foes. The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.
God’s promise implies that God will discipline believers for their lack of mercy.
Proverbs 28:27 says, “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” These curses don’t just come from a lack of giving but a lack of mercy in general. In Matthew 6:14-15, we see how God disciplines those who don’t forgive others. It says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This discipline is clearly demonstrated in the Parable of the Merciless Servant (Matt 18). In the parable, a master forgives a servant a great debt—some twenty million in U.S. currency. Then the servant doesn’t forgive his fellow servant a small debt of roughly 2,000 dollars. Because of this, the master throws the unforgiving servant into jail to be tortured until he paid the debt. In Matthew 18:35, Christ said this to the disciples, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” No doubt, this torment shows up in many ways: trials, demonic attacks, sickness, etc. James 2:13 says, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
Unforgiveness and a lack of mercy in general hinder our intimacy with God and also bring harsh discipline.
3. God’s promise implies that lacking mercy proves that we’ve never received mercy, and therefore lack salvation.
Some have mistaken this beatitude to mean that we can earn salvation by being merciful. However, this doesn’t recognize the context of the Beatitudes. As mentioned, there is a progression; in the first four Beatitudes there are inner changes in believers which begin at salvation and continue throughout sanctification. Then, there are outer manifestations of these inner changes in the next four. In addition, the interpretation of mercy as a way of earning salvation also denies Scriptures’ clear teaching that salvation is by faith alone—apart from works (cf. Gen 15:6, Eph 2:8-9). Though mercy is not a means of salvation, the fifth beatitude does teach that the merciful (and they alone) are truly saved. Therefore, practicing mercy provides assurance of salvation.
This assurance manifests itself in two tests: If we are unmerciful to the needs of the world, then we are not saved. First John 3:17 says it this way: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” Additionally, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ said this to the goats:
‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Their lack of mercy proved their lack of salvation. God’s love had never changed their selfish hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). They lived to serve themselves and not God and others.
Secondly, if we are unforgiving and vengeful towards those who hurt us, this may demonstrate that we have never received mercy. For it is those who have been shown mercy who will constantly show mercy to others. This doesn’t mean that if we struggle to at times forgive others or give mercy that we’re not saved. It means that if there is no struggle—that we are just vengeful, unforgiving, and unconcerned about the desperate needs of others—then we are not born again.
Are you the merciful? Or are you unforgiving and unconcerned with the pains of others?
Application Question: How have you experienced a change in your life towards being more merciful as you’ve grown in Christ? What ways have you experienced God’s promise either for giving mercy or lacking it?
Growth in the Practice of Mercy
Application Question: How should we grow in the practice mercy?
1. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must remember our own sin and desperate situation.
This is often what we don’t do. We see how others have failed us, but we forget that we have both failed God and others. We consider how stupid and inconsiderate someone else is, but forget times in our past where we were stupid and inconsiderate. We condemn the person who cut us off in traffic and yet forget that we’ve made mistakes in driving as well. Forgetting our own sins and failures leads to harshness in judging others. It is sin nature to emphasize our goodness and minimize our badness. We in fact condemn others as a means of building ourselves up. We say to ourselves (and often others), “I can’t believe they did that. I could do that better. I would never do that.” Like the Pharisees, we primarily see our successes and not our failures—leading us to condemn others when they fail (cf. Lk 18:9-14). The Pharisees were unmerciful, because they thought themselves to be so righteous.
However, it is the one who deeply mourns over his sin that is truly merciful (cf. Matt 5:4, 7). Someone said, unless we recognize ourselves as chief of sinners, like Paul (1 Tim 1:15), we are not yet ready for ministry. Unless we have become like Isaiah who declared how he was deserving of death because of the sins of his mouth, we are not ready to be sent like him to serve those caught in sin (Is 6). If we don’t recognize our great depravity, we will not be gentle or affective in our ministry to others. We will not be the merciful. In fact, we may be abusive.
Are you remembering your failures? Are you gentle when others fail you or are you harsh with them?
Application Question: What ways have you experienced yourself being overly harsh with others and their failures, especially with areas you previously struggled with? How have you seen this hypocritical spirit in others? How can we grow in awareness of our sins?
2. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must identify with others.
An aspect of mercy is sympathy and compassion. It is identifying with others’ pain and struggles. It is seeing through their eyes and walking with their feet. When we truly do this, we will work to alleviate their pain and we’ll also forgive their misgivings. This is exactly how Christ sought to provide mercy for us. He didn’t stay in heaven and simply watch our pain and failures. He came down and became human. He felt and experienced poverty. He experienced the loss of a father at an early age. He was mocked, betrayed, and hurt physically. Though he never sinned, he experienced temptation and bore our sins on the cross. He identified with us so he could deliver us and forgive us.
This is the very reason why many of us don’t show mercy. We don’t want to see through the eyes and experiences of others. We want to help, but we don’t want to taste their cup of suffering. It is when touching the leper, sitting beside the person dying in the hospice, living with the poor, and eating and drinking with the lost that true compassion is developed. It is as we identify with the hurting and lost that true mercy—compassion in action—is fostered.
I experienced this while working with people with developmental needs for three years. I essentially was a house parent; I gave them meds, prepared breakfast for them, at times bathed and shaved them, counseled them, and was available to them at night if anything went wrong. Before I started working with this population, I remember being hesitant and a little scared. I was a scared simply because I had never really been around people with such needs. Theologically, I knew my hesitancy was wrong, but practically, it was still there. However, when I started working with them, I fell in love with them. They became some of my closest friends. I loved talking and hanging out with them; eventually, they started coming to church with me. But, it wasn’t until I started living with them and serving them, that my heart started to grow for them. By identifying with them, a desire to alleviate their pain grew in me.
This is why believers are often radically changed by going on a mission trip or serving in a mercy ministry. By touching the broken, as our Lord did, they’re hearts are radically changed. They start to sympathize and work for their deliverance.
This is also true with forgiveness. It is our past experiences that lead us to act as we do, including hurting others. As people start to really consider the paths others have walked, in order to empathize with them, it becomes easier to forgive their failures. It has often been said, “Hurt people, hurt people.” By understanding the hurts of those who hurt and fail us, it will be easier to forgive them.
Have you developed compassion for the hurting? Are you identifying with them?
Application Question: Why is identifying with others so important not only for mercy ministry but ministry in general? In what ways have you experienced the importance of identifying with others as the one receiving ministry or giving it?
3. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must develop our love for others.
God does not just want people to give or to help others in pain. He wants them to do it with the right attitude—an attitude of love. Paul said, “If I give all my possessions to the poor and don’t have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:10, paraphrase). He also said we should not give out of necessity or compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). God wants believers to be just like him. He wants us to love serving others.
Micah 6:8 says: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV 1984). Micah says we must not only show mercy but love it. It is very possible for our acts of kindness and forgiveness toward others to have the wrong motive or simply be done out of obligation. First Peter 4:9 says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
This is important to hear because people who serve in mercy ministries tend to struggle with bitterness and burn out. This happens because the work is hard and the people are often difficult and ungracious. Christ was hated by the people he served. Mercy ministers will constantly experience criticism, attacks, and a lack of gratefulness from those they serve as well. It can be hard to keep a right heart at times.
However, God not only commands our actions, but he commands our hearts. He commands us to love him with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:30-31). He calls us to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for our lives (1 Thess 5:18). Also, through living in the Holy Spirit, he provides us with the fruit of love, patience, perseverance, and self-control (Gal 5:16, 22-23). He will give us grace to be merciful and do it with the right heart.
Do you love showing mercy? Or is it simply an obligation? As we show mercy, we must have the right hearts—ones’ filled with love.
Application Question: Why is it so common for those serving in mercy ministries to become bitter and lose a right heart? In what ways have you experienced hurt from those you served? How did you overcome it or remain faithful? How can we grow to love mercy?
4. To grow in the practice of mercy, we must remember God’s promise to the merciful.
Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” God promises to bless and refresh those who serve others. When Christ was burn out, God refreshed him with the ministry of angels (Mark 1:13). When Elijah was weary, he refreshed him with food brought by ravens (1 Kings 19:3-6). When David, was weary, he was strengthened in the Lord (1 Sam 30:6). This promise brings encouragement especially when we, as ministers, feel like quitting or giving up. God promises to bless and refresh us.
It also should be an encouragement to those too depressed or discouraged to serve. Sometimes, the best way to receive encouragement or relief is to have mercy on others; for then, God will have mercy on us. Christ promised that by taking on his yoke of service, we will find rest for our souls (Matt 11: 29). God’s promise is a tremendous motivation to practice the ministry of mercy.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s refreshment in ministry? Is there anybody that you feel God wants you to encourage and refresh for their faithful ministry efforts?
Christ is our merciful high priest (Heb 2:17). He identified with us, as he came down to this world as man. He preached the good news to the poor. He set captives of sin free. He fed the poor and healed the sick. He died for our sins, and therefore was the perfect manifestation of mercy. If he lives in us, these characteristics should manifest, at least imperfectly, in our lives. Blessed are the merciful for they (and they alone) shall receive mercy.
Are you growing in mercy?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to pursue growth in mercy and seek his promise to the merciful?
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 186–187). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 190). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 188). Chicago: Moody Press.