Matthew 5:7, gives us the fifth step in the ladder of spiritual progress leading a person to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Another translation reads, “Blessed are the compassionate, for they shall receive compassion.” Of all the beatitudes, this is one that causes us to search our hearts. How many times have I made cutting criticisms of someone? How many times have I passed prejudiced judgments before I had all the facts? How many times have I said or done something that has resulted in wounding somebody else? When we think about it, the prayer of the tax collector seems very appropriate. He said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13, last part)! But the Bible makes it abundantly clear that there is a certain kind of person who will not be allowed any mercy in the day of judgment.
Without the experience of the first four steps it will be impossible for a person to experience the fifth step, because no person can really be compassionate in his dealings with others until he has first recognized his own spiritual destitution, mourned over his sins, become meek and humble in heart causing him to hunger and thirst for a righteousness outside of himself, which he cannot generate. Only when a person has experienced these things is he able to be compassionate or merciful to others who may be stumbling and making mistakes like himself.
Those who are spiritually blind do not understand their condition or need and they tend to become more unmerciful to those with whom they are dealing. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were destitute of mercy and sympathy because they were proud in spirit. Remember, the beatitudes begin with the declaration, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Having themselves never been humbled by a recognition of their own spiritual poverty, the Pharisees looked with contempt and disdain upon the weaknesses of others. Since they believed that they were perfect (Luke 18), they were harsh and even cruel in dealing with the imperfections of others. This spirit is sure evidence of what the Bible calls a carnal or fleshly mind, an unregenerate heart.
This spirit is characteristic of people who have not been born again for the spirit of Phariseeism is not something foreign to us, but is the natural spirit of human nature. In fact, this same spirit controls everyone who has not been made a new creature and a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3, 4). However, there are given to us promises, “… exceedingly great and precious promises” (verse 4) so that we might be partakers of the divine nature.
If we are unconverted, if we have the spirit of the Pharisees, then we will use human standards to judge all who fail to come up to the standard that we have made. This spirit creates an atmosphere of selfish and narrow criticism and causes men to become self-centered judges and petty spies. Their own ideas and attainments are made the standard of morality by which they judge and condemn their fellow men who are not coming up to the standard that they have set.
If we are unmerciful, then we cannot obtain mercy ourselves. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” In this beatitude, there is restated by Jesus, not something new, but an old truth, an eternal and unchanging law. It is everywhere and always operative in nature and in human society. It has been called the self-acting law of retribution or, in simple language, “we get what we give.” What we give to others eventually comes back in full measure to us. Jesus stated this truth to Peter on the night of His betrayal. Notice in Matthew 26:52: “But Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ ” If you deal the sword to others, you will receive the sword from others.
How accurately this has been fulfilled in the history of mankind. The great kingdoms of the past have perished by the very weapons they used against others. Those who showed no mercy, received no mercy. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
If I am friendly to others, I will have friends in return. But if I give out enmity to others, I will receive enmity in return. Friendship bestowed upon others brings a reward in friendship. But if I deal out captivity, the sword, death to others, the same will return to me. It’s restated again, many times in the Bible. Revelation 13:10 says, “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
Proverbs 11:25, literal translation, says, “The liberal soul [one who has a giving spirit] shall be made fat: and he that waters shall also be watered himself.” As Jesus said, even if you only give a cup of cold water to someone, you are not going to lose a reward. What you give to someone else will eventually come back to you.
A stingy person will eventually receive back in the same measure that they give. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
This is a natural, a self-operating law even in this life. And it is the law by which God will measure the reward that will be given to His servants. “And, behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
Jesus said that you will be rewarded for what you work out here, whether good or bad (Matthew 16). The apostle Paul stated the same thing in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Jesus further developed this principle in Matthew 7:12, calling it the golden rule. It is the greatest of all codes of ethics and the basic principle of all true courtesy and genuine culture. Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” If we are merciful to others, we will receive mercy. If we retaliate, we will receive retaliation. If we are unjust with others, we will receive injustice ourselves. If we impart evil to others, that evil will return to us again.
Jesus also stated the golden rule in the negative when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1, 2).
To be merciful is to show a person compassion, forgiveness, and forbearance. The merciful person does not nurse grudges nor does he brood over wrongs or show a revengeful spirit. He does not go about with a microscope hunting to find the mistake or the flaw in someone else’s character when he knows he has flaws in his own character. If we render judgment before evidence, then we can be sure that we will receive the same kind of judgment in return. In fact, prejudice is simply an abbreviated form for pre-judgment. Pre-judgment is the result of prejudice. This instruction regarding judgment is more evident in the principles of the fifth beatitude when we read Luke 6:36, 37, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Mercy includes having a spirit of forgiveness. In fact, this is so important that Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14, 15).
To receive mercy and forgiveness from God, I must have the same spirit toward those who have injured me. This law of reciprocity is stated in different ways in several places in the Bible. Paul says, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:1–3)?
Jesus illustrated this in a very striking parable that is hard for many people to read and accept. He said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:15–20).
Jesus gave His disciples explicit instructions about how they were to deal with someone who was sinning against them. They were to go directly to the person who had sinned against them and talk to them about it in an effort to resolve the matter. If the matter could not be resolved, then they were to take two or three others and talk to this person about the matter that was disturbing the whole church. If they would not listen to them, then the third step was to “tell it to the church.” The church then needs to labor with the brother or sister, but if they will not listen to the church at large and persist in living a sinful life, then let them live outside the church. As Peter was listening to this, he thought, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him?
In Jesus’ day the Jewish leaders had rules about how many times you needed to forgive someone. Some thought that three times was plenty. Peter thought that he would be very liberal and very forgiving in spirit. The Bible says, “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times’ ” (verse 21)? Surely, if my brother hasn’t ceased to sin against me after forgiving him seven times, then I shouldn’t have to forgive him anymore, should I?
In response to that request, “Jesus said, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents’ ” (verses 22–24).
This person did not have enough money to pay his debt. The Bible says, “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold [into slavery] with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all’ ” (verses 25, 26). Now actually, he never would be able to pay that big a debt and the master knew it.
And so it says, “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [that is, just a few dollars]; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison” (verses 27–30).
So this man was thrown into debtor’s prison until he should pay the debt. “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (verses 31–35).
You see, if we do not forgive, then we cannot be forgiven. We must realize just how much we have been forgiven. As a result of my sins, Jesus Christ went to the cross of Calvary. That was the price that had to be paid to cancel our debt of sin; it is a price that we cannot pay. The only way that we could pay this debt is if we were to die eternally and never wake up. But to make it possible for us to enter the gates of paradise and not have to die eternally, Jesus Christ went to the cross of Calvary, to pay the price in our behalf and forgive our debt.
And, after having done that, if we do not forgive and exercise mercy toward our fellow servant, then Jesus said, our heavenly Father will not have mercy upon us, either. The Bible is very clear that the Lord is very merciful, even to His enemies because He delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). James 5:11 says, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.
O friend, if you and I want to be forgiven, we must become merciful people ourselves, because the Bible says in James 2:13, that “judgment will be without mercy upon him who has shown no mercy.”
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.