The Ministry Of Mercy
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy"(Matthew 5:7).
Over the past several months we have looked at four different beatitudes. It appears that the Father, in His wisdom, has given us the blueprint for His perfect plan to bring us to maturity in Christ. The beatitudes are written as a sequential process designed to bring about God’s righteousness in His people. The first three (Matthew 5:3-5) bring us face to face with the poverty of our spirits, and the realization that we are spiritually bankrupt. There is grief involved when, as believers, our sinful condition becomes completely clear to us. When, in humility, we recognize our sinfulness and seek forgiveness, our lives can be completely submitted to the authority of God in meekness – strength under God’s control.
The fourth beatitude, in Matthew 5:6, can only be completely taken to heart when we have successfully navigated through the process of emptying ourselves of self (a lifelong pursuit which must be continuously repeated due to the pervasive nature of sin). It is only at this point that we are able to become acutely aware of our hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, extended to us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has no obligation to fill us with His righteousness other than His own promise that He will do so when we are desperate enough to cry out for this divine work of God’s mercy.
It is mercy, poured out on us, that commissions us to minister mercy to others. The fact that God had compassion on us and forgave our sins, should clearly direct us to do no less for one another. Being merciful (Matthew 5:7) is the first of three beatitudes (the other two being purity in verse 8 and peacemaking in verse 9) that describe how righteousness can thrive in the hearts of those who hunger and thirst for it.
Understanding God’s Grace
Parents, before we can fully understand mercy, we must first teach our children about God’s grace. To do so, we need to be sure we can clearly communicate to them what the Lord has done for us. Probably one of the most difficult concepts for those who have asked for and received the forgiveness of sins through belief in and relationship with Jesus is grace, sometimes expressed as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. We cannot earn grace – we can only receive it as a free gift from God. I have watched way too many Christians waver in their faith because they have never fully grasped the truth of the Father’s grace. Some even doubt their salvation when they continue to sin, and won’t yield to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness because they feel that they have completely lost the right to do so.
Christians, when we sin we are obligated by our relationship to Christ to release our struggles into His capable hands. Even when we seem incapable of changing or altering certain damaging behaviors…we must remember that Jesus accepted us just as we came to Him. Even in our sinful state, He expects us to take steps forward to change into His likeness, fully understanding that in our humanity, we will often fail. Becoming a Christian is not an automatic guarantee that we will suddenly become perfect. Ultimately perfection is impossible in this life, but we are still compelled by God to consistently grow in that direction.
Please, parents…if you and/or your children have not fully understood this, please talk to your pastor, or someone who can mentor you and answer your questions about God’s grace. Once that happens, you can begin to realize what moved the hand of God to extend grace to sinners. Mercy! God’s grace forgave our sin when we didn’t deserve it. Yet, it was mercy that motivated Him to do so. Salvation cannot be achieved by our human efforts. It only comes through God’s mercy: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy" (Titus 3:3-5a).
Understanding God’s Mercy
"But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5). The Lord was moved by His merciful heart to send His Son to die on a cross for our sins. Mercy preceded the gift of grace.
God not only had so much mercy that He sent Jesus, He sent Him in human form so that we could relate to Him, and He to us! Jesus consistently demonstrated mercy and compassion for those around Him, and could understand our temptations because He also was tempted: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).
God demonstrated His mercy to teach us how to be merciful. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states that, "Mercy embraces both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. No particular object of the demanded mercy is specified, because mercy is to be a function of Jesus’ disciples, not of the particular situation that calls it forth."
Establishing a Ministry of Mercy through Your Family
How do we become families of merciful children and adults? Perhaps the first step is to help everyone in the family, from youngest to oldest, understand mercy in a clear way.
John Piper asserts that the only way to effectively show mercy whenever it is called for is to get as close to Jesus as possible – only in knowing Him well can we know what He would do in each circumstance involving mercy. God wants to produce merciful people…not those who follow a set of rules about how to be merciful. According to Piper, "The beatitude says, ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ not ‘Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances.’ We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice." Sometimes a child will need to be disciplined, an employee fired, or a criminal prosecuted. However, the way a merciful Christian handles each of these situations will be different than those who walk hand in hand with the ways of the world. Mercy shows through even difficult circumstances like those mentioned above. A parent may cry when disciplining a child…an employer might help the fired employee find other employment…and a criminal might receive encouraging letters, or the knowledge that his children will be cared for while he is in jail.
To truly understand mercy, we must see it through the eyes of God. Mercy is not something we earn by the "work" of being merciful. Warren Wiersbe says, "…How thrilling to go through life sharing God’s mercy and not having to judge people to see if they are ‘worthy’ of what we have to offer. We stop looking at the externals and begin to see people through the merciful eyes of Christ. Every Christian we meet is a person in whom Jesus lives; every lost soul we meet is a person for whom Jesus died. In both cases, we have candidates for God’s mercy." So, as a family, we need to realize that mercy is to be extended to Christians and unbelievers alike.
Wiersbe continues, "When you experience mercy, and share mercy, then your heart is in such a condition that you can receive more mercy to share with others…Jesus is not asking us to be merciful occasionally; He is asking us to be constant channels of mercy." We receive mercy as a by-product of being merciful, not as a condition of it. It is important to trust in the Lord to teach us mercy in its most perfect form – through His Word, and in the example of His Son. So, let us consider some examples of mercy in the Scriptures, as primarily demonstrated through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life in a human body. Read through these passages and parables together and discuss what God is trying to teach you about mercy. As you do so, a solid understanding of mercy should emerge:
Be Merciful as Your Father is Merciful – Read Luke 6:32-36 out loud together and discuss what it means: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Discuss how your family can respond to the people in your life who need a touch of mercy from you, as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. Make a plan to show mercy to someone in need this week. The person may be a believer or an unbeliever. Remember that Jesus loves everyone. Sometimes showing mercy to unbelievers will draw their hearts closer to the Father. Let people see Jesus shining in and through your family.
Blind Bartimaeus – Read Mark 10:46-52 and discuss the boldness of this man who dared to cry out to Jesus for mercy. What does this say about Bartimaeus’ faith? Jesus showed mercy in healing this man. How can your family show mercy to those who need a healing touch from the Lord? Hint: James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Praying for people is a powerful extension of God’s mercy into the lives of others. Determine to pray regularly for people who have physical and/or spiritual needs!
Seventy Times Seven – Study this parable that Jesus told Peter in Matthew 18:21-35. Discuss how forgiveness is an important part of mercy. How was the king merciful to his servant? In light of what the king had done for him, what should the servant have done to the man who owed him money? What was his penalty for not showing mercy? Ask family members to search their hearts to see if there is anyone they need to forgive. Discuss how mercy can be extended to these people and challenge each family member to do so!
The Good Samaritan – Read this familiar passage together in Luke 10:30-37. True neighbors show mercy to one another. Discuss how your family could demonstrate mercy to those in your neighborhood and beyond in response to Jesus’ commission: "Go and do likewise."
The Lord’s Requirement – We are not simply to be merciful…we are to love mercy! Read Micah 6:8: "He has shown 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." Discuss together what it means to love mercy. What is the difference between a merciful act that is done because it is the "right thing to do" and a merciful act that is done out of love? Can you think of a merciful act that your family could do from hearts of love?
Always be aware that you are never completely immune to sin. "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh" (Jude vv. 22-23). It is possible to become tempted by sin in situations where you are trying to share God’s mercy. The enemy is actively looking to find ways to trap your family. Never allow a spiritually unprepared family member to get into a "mercy" situation that could possibly lead him or her to stumble.
Will Mercy Spark Revival?
D.A. Carlson said, "I am persuaded that, should the Spirit of God usher in another period of refreshing revival in the Western world, one of the earliest signs of it will be the admission of spiritual bankruptcy which finds its satisfaction in God and His righteousness, and goes on to be richly merciful towards others."
May your family learn to embrace the ministry of mercy: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…" (Titus 3:4-6).
For additional help in this area, see the August 2002 edition of the Herald of His Coming and the article, Prayers of Forgiveness (Raising Merciful Children).