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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

The Beatitudes: Mercy

Updated: Apr 8

Matthew 5:7 says, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." To understand what it means to give mercy to others, we must first understand what it means to receive mercy from God. This verse is intentionally phrased backward, so that we might understand the burden of responsibility for how we treat people. In other words, our mercy is a sign of the mercy we already possess from God himself.

At it’s root, this word (mercy) means to help someone who is afflicted, but over time the word has come to mean punishment withheld. Mercy has both a quality of restraint and a quality of action, and this is indicative of the Gospel. When God saves us, He doesn’t just withhold punishment, He also gives us spiritual blessings.

Mercy has both a quality of restraint and a quality of action, and this is indicative of the Gospel.

God's Rich Mercy

Can you imagine if salvation was just relegated to "fire insurance"? This is the idea that we simply need to pray a prayer and we are "off the hook" for all of eternity with God. Salvation is so much more than that. God is re-establishing the garden relationship in which He walks with us, talks to us, reminds us we belong to Him, and helps us make sense of this broken existence. If that weren’t enough, He promises us a future existence that has all the perfection of the original garden of Eden restored!

Paul talked about this in the book of Ephesians. Look at mercy through Paul’s description in chapter 2 verses 4-7:

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

God’s mercy is rooted in His love for us, and God’s mercy is always an extension of His grace to us. You cannot separate love, mercy and grace; they are a triad. D.A. Carson said of mercy: “Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.” (Carson, 29). It is mercy that breaths life into dead souls, grace that allowed that breath to happen, and love that precipitated the action for God to breath life in the first place.

With that truth in mind, let’s build to our fifth beatitude upon the ones we have already learned:

  1. When we recognize we are spiritually poor, we must turn to the wealth of God’s righteousness.

  2. The state of our broken condition causes mourning, but we find joy in Jesus because he grants to us his righteousness, allowing us to be in God’s presence.

  3. We respond with meekness through the honesty that we cannot accomplish a righteous condition on our own without Jesus! As we exalt Jesus in our life, God allows us to be an influence on those around us!

  4. All of these attitudes, or beatitudes, drive us on in Spiritual desire for even more of God’s presence and wisdom because we recognize that nothing else is going to bring us satisfaction in this life.

  5. As we seek more of Jesus, what we are actually seeking is to become more like Jesus, and this results in living a life that better reflects Jesus to others. This looks like a life of love, mercy and grace extended to others.

The Pharisee In All Of Us

The unmerciful don’t receive mercy because they are Pharisees who can’t admit their own need for it. Pharisees are known for not showing mercy. No matter how much we love Jesus, we will always struggle with being a merciless pharisee, and that is what was taking place when Peter asked an honest question to Jesus about forgiveness. Ironically, Peter asked his forgiveness question after Jesus had just taught on how to pursue a brother for reconciliation, and what to do if the brother is unrepentant. It’s almost as if Peter is asking if he can treat a repentant brother like an unrepentant brother because he is sick of that brother’s behavior.

Have you ever been there? I certainly have. This is why Peter is so relatable, he tends to actually say what everyone is thinking! We read his question in Matthew 18:21-22:

"Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"

He was meeting the pharisaical standard with this statement, and even rising above it, because He was following the letter of Jesus’ own teachings from Luke 17:3, which was seven times. This tells us that we can obey the words of Jesus, and still be about ourselves! In this very sermon (Matt. 7:23) Jesus said there will be people who did all kinds of mighty works, including prophecy and casting out demons who will be sent to hell because they did not actually know God, but performed religion in the name of God for their own benefit!

If you want to know if you're a Pharisee, listen to how you treat the obligation to love, because Pharisees are only ever concerned with maximums and minimums. Pharisees ask “What is the most I’m obligated to do?” Pharisees ask “What is the least I can do?” Pharisees are at great risk of burning in hell.

If you want to know if you're a Pharisee, listen to how you treat the obligation to love, because Pharisees are only ever concerned with maximums and minimums.

Jesus responded to Peter's question of the extent of forgiveness with a parable, recored in verses 23-34 of Matthew 18. In this parable, a king wishes to settle accounts with a servant who owes him a very large sum of money. However, the servant could not pay what he owed, and the king ordered him and his family to be sold in order to cover the debt. The servant pleaded on his knees with this king, and because the king had pity on him, he forgave the debt and allowed the man to go free. The servant then found a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt than the one he owed the king and began to choke him, demanding he pay his debt. When that fellow servant please for mercy, he was shown none. The unforgiving servant threw his debtor into prison. Word reached the king, who was greatly angered by what the unforgiving servant had done. In verses 32-33, the king says, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?"The king then delivers this servant to the jailers, to pay his initial debt.

This parable of Jesus is an obvious metaphor for what God is willing to endure with us, and our responsibility to emulate that with others. I am a big believer in boundaries, and I preach boundaries. In fact, this very chapter (Matthew 18) establishes healthy boundaries in confrontation and offense. I do, however, fear that we are making the boundaries of love, mercy and grace intentionally small so that we don’t feel “on the hook” for sacrificial love. This is not the spirit of the Gospel.

On the reverse side of things, mercy is also not a permission slip to be whoever you want to be and act however you want to act. This is actually the whole point of this parable. The master expected the servant to emulate his mercy towards others. “Kindness” is not validating sinful and destructive patterns of behavior so that we don’t risk being called “unloving”. Mercy is acknowledging broken behaviors and mindsets, as well as the fallout of those behaviors and mindsets, speaking truth, and offering help. Jesus closes His parable with these words of warning for us all in verse 35: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Those who have received the richness of God's mercy have no choice but to offer that same mercy to others.

Mercy is acknowledging broken behaviors and mindsets, as well as the fallout of this behaviors and mindsets, speaking truth, and offering help.

The Gospel On Repeat

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? If you have, I'm sure you've noticed that this song will come out of you in noises and sounds like humming or tapping a rhythm if you dwell on it long enough. Then do you know what happens? It gets stuck in other people's heads without them even realizing it! It affects the world around us.

The Gospel should be for you like a song stuck in your head--but not just the Gospel, the practice of the Gospel. When mercy, grace and love permeate our lives, it has an impact. We can't help but sing the song, and the hope is that soon, others will start singing it, too.


Carson, D. A. (2018). Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount And His Confrontation With The World: A Study Of Matthew 5-10. Baker Books.

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1 Comment

Amy Thum
Amy Thum
Apr 03

Imagine a world where we all sing the gospel!!!!!

(I think it's called Heaven!)❤️

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