Summary: We must be before we do. Our Father who is "rich in mercy" expectes as much of His children and promises the same merciful treatment to them as they extend to others.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
A Christian must be something before he can do something. One bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, and living with an insa¬tiable hunger for righteousness is now ready and able to live out the life he has been called to live. That calling begins with the manifestation of a merciful spirit. Our Father, who is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4), expects as much of His children and promises the same merciful treatment to them as they extend to others.
While Chuck Swindoll calls mercy “God’s ministry to the miserable,” I would remind us that as Christians, our lives and work are but an exten¬sion of His. William Barclay described mercy as “getting inside another’s skin until we can see things with their eyes, think things with their mind, and feel things with their feelings; to move and act on behalf of those who are hurting.” Mercy is compassionate action. It is being Jesus, who upon often being moved with compassion, always moved to meet the needs He saw before Him.
The Bible presents two sides of mercy.
In what is known as The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), we are confronted with our need to grant mercy and forgiveness because of the mercy and forgiveness that has been granted to us. One without mercy and refusing to forgive is imprisoned by the past and destroys future opportunities for growth. Few people are more miserable or misguided than the unforgiving. Lewis Smedes wrote, “When I genuinely for¬give, I set a prisoner free and then dis¬cover that the prisoner I set free was me.” Jesus ended the story by asking a simple question: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you?” The forgiven should freely forgive. One shown mercy should extend it to others.
Another side of mercy is presented in the familiar story of The Good Samari¬tan (Luke 10:25-37). Beaten and left for dead, one lies on the side of the road only to be ignored by most that pass by. In this story we see at least four essential elements of what it means to be merciful. (1) Merciful peo¬ple see needs. Like the priest and Levite, we all see those in need daily, but like the Samaritan, only a few really see “the need.” (2) Merciful peo¬ple are moved by the plight of others. Mercy begins when another’s hurt comes into my heart. The Samaritan “took pity on him.” Mercy involves an emotional response the Bible calls “compassion.” John tells us (1 John 3:17) that without such a response God’s love is not present in our lives. (3) Merciful people are moved to take action. The Samaritan “went to him….” Mercy in theory is meaningless. Like faith, without works, it is dead (James 2:14-17). Merciful people are not reac¬tors, but responders. They lovingly respond to human needs. (4) Merciful people carry through in the meeting of needs. The issue is character (mine), not criteria (their worthi¬ness). While we attempt to define “neighbor,” Jesus says “anyone in need fits the bill.”
Biblically, mercy is Abraham who res¬cued his nephew Lot after Lot had taken advantage of him (Gen. 14:13-16); Joseph who forgave and provided for his brothers though they had mistreated him horribly (Gen. 50:15-21); Moses who pleaded for God to heal Miriam after she had rebelled against him (Num. 12:13); David who spared King Saul though Saul wanted him dead (1 Sam. 24:1-7); Stephen who asked forgiveness for the very ones stoning him (Acts 7:54-59); and Jesus as He met the physical needs of the very ones who would cry out for His death (Matt. 14:14). Mercy is meeting people’s needs wherever they are, in whatever situation they find themselves. More than feeling, mercy involves doing. It is meeting the needs of others in a tangible, practical way. Mercy is liv¬ing, acting, and doing the things that Jesus would do if He found Himself in the same situation.
A quick review of the above situations makes it clear that mercy extended is not about one’s worthiness of such. There is a story of a woman who appeared before Napoleon pleading for the life of her son, who was due to be executed. Napoleon responded that the punishment fit the crime and justice was being served. The woman responded, “It wouldn’t be mercy if he got what he deserved. Mercy is what I am asking for.” So taken by her response, Napoleon granted her son a pardon.
In praising God for His mercies, David stated, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). If God will extend such mercy to us, who are we not to extend mercy to others? Therein lies the first of the two great motivators to extending mercy. (1) I must always remember how merciful God has been to me. Like the servant in the Matthew 18 parable, my huge sin debt has been forgiven; how can I not be like my Father and return the favor? (2) I must always remember my own need for mercy. It couldn’t be clearer: Those who show no mercy receive none (James 3:13-16); those who refuse to forgive will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15). The wise man said it best, “The merciful man helps himself” (Prov. 11:17).