To be merciful is to show compassion and help those who are in need (especially to do for someone what he may be unable to do for himself). It is to have pity on someone who is unable to bring about a result that is needed. Even more, mercy forgives someone who deserves to be treated harshly for his actions.
God Is Full Of Mercy
God has repeatedly demonstrated his mercy on mankind. There have been countless times when God would have been fair and righteous to have brought serious consequences upon mankind; but, instead He chose to show mercy and pardon. Make a search through the pages of Scripture for the many references to God’s mercy and observe that God’s mercy is shown both toward man’s physical condition and (especially) toward his spiritual condition.
Particularly, I want you to consider the mercy/pity God has for man’s spiritual condition. You see, since God is a perfectly holy God, He would be right to destroy mankind the moment that he sinned against God. Certainly, there is nothing man has done to deserve for God to make provisions for the forgiveness of his sins. But, these are both demonstrations of God’s great mercy. Therefore, God’s mercy is demonstrated in that God does not give us what we deserve (i.e. we deserve to experience the consequences/wages of our sin, see Romans 6:23).
First, God gives us the opportunity to be forgiven of our sins through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:1-3 demonstrates that we were all guilty of sin. We were, therefore, “dead in trespasses and sins.” Then, consider Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” God’s mercy/pity toward mankind (who was helplessly lost in his sins) resulted in God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross to provide an avenue to have our sins washed away! Thus, “according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5) and we have been given the opportunity to have eternal life in Heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5)!
Second, God is longsuffering toward us when we do sin. As I mentioned, God would be perfectly right to destroy us the moment that we violate His commandments. However, He chooses not to do this. His love and goodness is demonstrated in that He shows mercy and patience toward us when we sin. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says that God desires everyone to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God has not sent Jesus Christ, in part, because He is giving us the opportunity to repent of our sins, enduring the wrongs we do to Him. However, He does warn that His patience will run out one Day when He will send Jesus Christ and end this world.
Third, God has provided the Christian with the avenue of prayer to find help and mercy in time of need. God knows that we struggle as we live our lives. And, He knows that those who have become His people will sin on occasion. Even still, God has provided the avenue of mercy through Jesus Christ that we might find the forgiveness of sins and the help that we need (see Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:8-2:2).
Certainly, God has made His mercy available for everyone – if we will simply come to Him and be obedient to His commandments! But, He will not force us to partake of His mercy.
God’s People Are Expected To Be Merciful
Realizing that God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4), God’s people are also expected to be merciful. In fact, Jesus condemned individuals who professed to be God’s people when they were very careful to follow some detailed points of God’s law but neglected the weighty matter of mercy (see Matthew 23:23-24). Certainly, we can notice numerous passages to understand that God (who has shown such great mercy on us) wants us to be merciful to others.
Luke 6:36 says that you must “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” So, God’s mercy becomes the standard for the way in which we are expected to show mercy to others. The same thing is seen in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In the parable, Jesus describes how one servant was indebted to his master for an unpayable amount of money. When the master justly commanded that he and his family be sold so that payment could be made, the servant pleaded for patience from the master. The master, then, had compassion on the servant and forgave the great debt. That is us whenever we sin – we incur a spiritual debt against God that we can never repay! Then, that forgiven servant found one of his fellow servants who was indebted to him (a much smaller debt than the one he had been forgiven of). When he refused to have compassion on his fellow servant and threw him into prison for failing to pay the debt, the master of the servants was angry and punished the servant for failing to show mercy toward his fellow servant. That is us whenever we refuse to show mercy on others after God has shown mercy on us!
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” God simply will not accept His people when they refuse to show mercy to their fellow man after He has demonstrated such great mercy on us!
How God’s People Can Show Mercy
As we recognize that the standard for our mercy is the mercy God has shown to mankind and the fact that He requires His people to show mercy to others, let’s consider how God’s people can show mercy. Again, just as God shows His mercy upon us both physically and (especially) spiritually, the same is true concerning how we ought to show mercy on others.
(1) Show mercy on others physically. Luke 6:35 says that God is even “kind to the unthankful and evil.” So, our responsibility is to show compassion on anyone who we have opportunity and ability to do good toward – regardless of how they have treated us in the past (note Luke 6:36). Particularly, the parable of the good Samaritan provides a wonderful example of how one man was merciful to someone who was physically in need by taking advantage of the opportunity and ability he had to help another (Luke 10:25-37).
(2) Show mercy on others spiritually. Just as there will be times when we will need God’s mercy because of our sin, there will be times when others sin against us. And, as we saw from the parable of the unforgiving servant, we must be willing to demonstrate complete forgiveness toward those who have wronged us! In addition to forgiving those who sin against us, another way in which we can demonstrate mercy toward others on a spiritual level is to have enough pity on their souls that we attempt to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, when we teach them, we certainly cannot cause their sins to be forgiven, but we do point them to the one who is able to forgive! Read 2 Timothy 2:24-26 to see the great amount of compassion that is involved in teaching someone else the gospel (compare with Matthew 9:36-38 and Luke 15).
We would all be hopelessly lost in our sins had it not been for the great mercy God has shown toward us! Certainly, then, having recognized our great need for mercy we should desire to show mercy toward others – according to God’s standard of mercy! If we fail to do so, God will not be merciful toward us (see Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:35).