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WHAT ARE YOU STREAMING? Wrestling with Scripture #17

Our look at the Beatitudes has shown how each truth builds on the previous one and can be seen as a progression of our spiritual maturity. Some suggest that the first four verses center on our relationship with God while the last four emphasize our dealings with people. We’ve also wrestled with the extremely challenging idea that the object of each blessing could be interpreted as “these and these only,” implying that if we don’t possess or exhibit the specific characteristic mentioned, we may not qualify for the ensuing blessing.


Last week, we studied the difficult concept of what is means to become God’s righteousness, so at first glance, our current verse, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7) may seem like something of a reprieve. Ater all, most of us like to think of ourselves as kind and caring people, perhaps donating to charity, sponsoring or fostering children in need, or volunteering at clothes drives, food pantries, or homeless shelters. We try not to hold grudges and do our best to be forgiving. So, do we get a pass?


Scripture uses a variety of words that are translated merciful. I found it interesting that early in the OT, they typically involve commiseration or pity for others, but in the Psalms, King David, a man after God’s own heart, chose a different Hebrew word, chacadh, which conveys a word picture of someone bending or stooping in kindness to an inferior.


So, what can we learn from David? Once he recognized, mourned over, and repented of his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and God, David cried out to the Lord to change his heart and grant him a willing (obedient) spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12). When David hungered and thirsted after God and His righteousness, he was blessed to see and understand the expansive nature of God’s mercy. The Sovereign Ruler of the universe and of all eternity heard David’s contrite prayer and stooped down to a mere man in lovingkindness and compassion. A solid understanding of the magnitude of God’s grace leaves us with no option than to be merciful to others.


Psalm 145:8 says “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy ...” The Hebrew word for compassion rakhum is derived from the word “womb” which conveys that, deep within our core, the pain of others should cause us anguish, stirring such strong emotion that we’re compelled to act. Heartfelt mercy will do what it can to alleviate suffering.


Although we obviously can’t meet all the needs of a broken world or heal the wounds of everyone who’s hurting, we can make a difference. It might mean offering financial aid or a meal to a needy family, visiting a lonely shut-in, or mentoring a struggling teen. It might involve befriending a stranger, comforting a grieving heart, or shepherding a lost soul.


But Biblical mercy goes even deeper. From God’s perspective, mercy involved withholding our just punishment in order to reveal the depth of His compassion and love. It encompasses both an attitude of extreme empathy and a generous act of forgiveness. Jesus modeled both when He humbled Himself, took the form of a man, and died on a cross to redeem us.


Since we’re called to reflect God’s character, streams of mercy should flow from us as it did from Him—even to those we feel are “lesser” or undeserving of forgiveness. That sort of selfless grace is hard. Especially if we’ve been badly hurt by those dear to us. The effort becomes nearly impossible if the ones who have sinned against us never apologize, seem unremorseful, or go on to repeat the offense. (Imagine then how God feels about our habitual sins …)


So, how do we move from natural feelings of resentment, hurt feelings, or wounded pride to a sincere posture of forgiveness and mercy? It might help to remember that Scripture tells us that God showed us mercy despite our disobedience (Romans 11:30) and that “… He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy” (Titus 3:5). In 1 Tim 1:3, Paul marvels, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Jesus Himself warned, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged...” (Matt 7:2), and echoes this sentiment in the prayer He taught us to pray: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12).


To be blessed, or to have a right relationship with God, we need to be merciful. In truth, it doesn’t matter what the other person did or whether or not he or she feels any shame. It doesn’t matter if the person is a believer or not. God calls us to feel empathy for one another and to show the same mercy to others that He showed to us. Paul states it clearly, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).  It’s hard to imagine any hurt or slight we’ve experienced, no matter how deeply felt, that could compare with what our sin caused Jesus to endure. To deny another person forgiveness is basically the same as rejecting God’s mercy for ourselves.


Blessed are the merciful, for these and these only will be shown mercy. It doesn’t mean that we can earn forgiveness by forgiving others. But if we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, our hearts will gladly want to reflect His loving and merciful character to those around us.

 

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