Lesson 5 – Merciful


“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”    Matt. 5:7


Mercy has been translated from the Greek word elos.  The meaning is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of the person who receives it.  It also assumes resources are adequate to meet the need.  Mercifulness (verb) is to feel sympathy for the misery of another and especially sympathy manifested in an act.

The basis from which this attitude develops is fatherly love.  All healthy attitudes of an integrated person have their roots in faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God.  It is evident that some of the attitudes taught by Jesus in the Matthew 5:3-10 belong in the exper-imental faith category.  Consider the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the meek and the pure in heart.  The emotional attitudes that have the characteristics of fatherly love are those who mourn for others, the merciful, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.  These eight attitudes should be developing on some level in every Christian’s personality.

Since faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God is the premise for all Christian personalities, as these emotional attitudes are being developed in a Christian, his or her habits will be improving in God’s righteousness (Matt. 7:24).  If indeed, Jesus is the Son of God, it must be assumed His teachings produce good mental health.  Basically this means when fear or anger dominates one’s personality, unhappiness and weak character is the result.  When faith and love are the dominating characteristics, happiness and strong character is evident.  The teachings of Jesus about emotional attitudes are mentally healthy because they have their roots in faith and love.  Jesus challenges mankind to try His teachings to see if they come from the philosophy of man or from God (John 7:17).

In order for us to develop these last four attitudes of an integrated person we must understand fatherly love.  We must take the same attitude toward others that God has toward us.  Many examples were given to us by Jesus.  For instance, the attitude of the father in the story of the prodigal son is one example (Luke 15:11-32).  Jesus also demonstrated all of His teachings in His own behavior.

Compassion is often used to define the characteristic of Jesus that led to acts of mercy.  The Greek word is “splanchnizomai.”  “Splanch” means to be moved as to one’s inwards, to be moved with compassion.  “To yearn with compassion” is frequently recorded as an attitude of Jesus about the multitudes and toward individual sufferers.  Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34.  (Definitions are from Vine’s Greek dictionary).  Compassion has been translated from “eleeo” (KJV) in Matt. 18:33.  The difference in compassion and the attitude of mercifulness appears to involve the attitude of forgiveness.  The context of the foregoing list of scriptures denoting the compassion of Jesus did not bring in to play the necessity of forgiveness; whereas, the attitude of mercifulness is often presupposed by forgiveness.  The mercy of God follows His forgiveness of faithful repentant sinners:  “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on all.”  Rom. 11:32.

One of the most difficult problems in the psychology of motivation is sustained effort.  It is not too difficult to challenge and motivate Christians to engage in a worthy program for a short period of time.  For example, church leaders develop evangelism campaigns and teacher workshops.  Many Christians are enthused during the planning sessions and some for a short time thereafter; however, their enthusiasm soon wanes.  What is the problem?  The fact is, rally type programs were not the basis for developing the “stick to it” kind of life Jesus lived and taught.

The tendency for zeal to slowly die seems characteristic of most motivational programs.  However there is one form of motivation that keeps love for the program at “peak performance.”  It is the love of a parent for a child.   We have all either observed or experienced this love.  It is out of this type of love that Christians can be motivated to develop these four attitudes of an integrated person and be happy.

And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’  And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’  ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denari, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  Which of them therefore will love him more?’  Luke 7:40-42


The emotional attitude of mercifulness involves doing something for someone that helps his or her present and future happiness.  It more often involves their future.  To render a merciful act one must use wisdom (Jas. 3:13-18).  Being merciful to someone is not always doing for them what they want you to do.  For instance, parents are being merciful to their children if they discipline them because of their disobedience.  Discipline is, or should be, the result of parents’ emotional attitude of mercifulness (Heb. 12:5-13).

Being merciful is not only doing things which will help the future of others but it has something to do with our own future.  The parable Jesus taught Peter and the other disciples in Matthew 18:21-35 shows how the attitude of mercifulness requires forgiveness.

Jesus said if we are merciful we will obtain mercy in our time of need.  He also said in Matthew 6:14, 15, if we expect forgiveness for our sins we must have already forgiven those who transgressed against us.  Consequently, mercifulness not only involves doing good deeds for others, it calls upon the person who has the attitude of mercifulness to first be willing to forgive the weaknesses of others.  Forgiveness is stimulated by love – as Jesus pointed out to Simon, His Pharisee host.  It would be difficult to show mercy cheerfully if we were not willing to forgive the person for his or her weakness (Rom. 12:8).

A person may be rallied to do acts of mercy in a national crisis.  This is commendable but it is not what Jesus taught.  Jesus’ aim is to develop children of God (Heb. 2:10-13).  He taught life, as in eternal life.  It is not just something Christians do as they rally around a charismatic leader.  It is what we are and what we will be when we leave our physical bodies for our home in heaven.

Meekness is best demonstrated when people resist pride.  It is even more so manifested, as an act of mercy, when a person is in control of the situation.  They have the controlling hand in the matter.  They can take or give.  It may be their big chance to get ahead, but somebody will get hurt.  The question is, “Shall they pass up the chance or step on the other person and go for the prize?”  The prize may be popularity or security.  If security is the prize, then fear is the problem.  People are sometimes fearful to be merciful.   They are perhaps fearful to be merciful because they are afraid it will put them in the position of needing mercy.

Jesus assures Christians we do not need to be afraid to be merciful.  He assures us we will receive mercy when we need it.  We very well may need it on Judgment Day (Jas. 2:12, 13).  A stronger faith in God and Jesus will help us to develop the attitude of mercifulness.  We can excuse the offenses of others because we know God will excuse our offenses done in our ignorance and weakness of character.  Happiness is being excused (forgiven) by God.  Happiness is not being afraid to be merciful.  Would Christians be afraid to ask God for our next meal if we were hungry?  We certainly would not if we had the habit of being merciful.  The acts of mercy performed from the emotional attitude of mercifulness are acts of love (I Cor. 13:5).

Let us make a practical application of the mercifulness emotion of a mother.  Because she is merciful in her attitude she does acts of mercy for her child.  First of all she sees the helplessness of the baby.  She loves it and has pity for it.  She understands it has needs for her capabilities.  She applies herself to serve these needs.  She performs outward acts of mercy for the child.  At first this does not demand a lot of her resources.  She only has to feed it, keep it clean and love it.  If she did not have the attitude of mercifulness she would perhaps look on the feeding and cleaning as unpleasant tasks.  As the child begins to grow she must take other outward steps to train this child.   She must teach him or her to develop strong character.  This program will require much love and forgiveness.  It will require a strong emotion of mercifulness.

One of the laws of the spirit of life is “children obey your parents.”  Parents will be merciful only if they teach their children obedience.  At times the child will require discipline in order for him or her to learn obedience.  This discipline may require giving their child a tribulation.  This tribulation is an outward manifestation of their love and mercy.  The child will make many errors as he or she matures and the parents will need to administer discipline by tribulations many times.  Often their discipline will be required for the same act of misbehavior; however, because of parental love they will forgive the child of its misbehavior and seemingly intentional unruliness.  They are able to forgive seventy times seven as Jesus instructed Peter to do without having any hate or malice toward the child.  Parents who will not forgive will not be merciful.

Parents maintain their singleness of purpose.  They are zealous to train their children to develop strong character.  They do not lose sight of their goal.  Their goal is to develop a young adult with a personality made up of the beatitudes taught by Jesus.  When this child reaches maturity and becomes a strong individual the parents will indeed be happy with their reward.  The sustained effort they have used to make this happen will be richly rewarded.  They will receive mercy during this life and also on Judgment Day (Jas. 2:12, 13).

This may appear to be a childish approach to this study; however, Christians must be able to develop this same kind of parental love for people who need their acts of mercy – within their capacity.  We cannot give more than we have, nor should we try.  Because Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom, Jesus has set up an environment in which we are able to develop this kind of love and be merciful as in a parent/child relationship.  Parents are merciful to their children.  God through Jesus is merciful to His children.  Mankind was created to function in the family of God.  Thus the entire program of God is understood in the context of family.  The attitudes Jesus taught are all in harmony with this concept.  All other concepts of the Christian religion are from the wisdom of the world (I Cor. 1:19, 20; 2:6-10; 8:6; 12:27; 14:24, 25; II Cor. 4:16-18; 6:14-18; 13:14).

God’s love was demonstrated for us while we were yet His enemies (Rom. 5:6-8).  He saw our need and knowing He could provide what was needed, He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ.  He came to show us and teach us life.  Then he became our sin sacrifice – an act of mercy.  When Christians understand God was willing to do this for us before we received the adoption as His sons, then we know He is willing to forgive with mercy now that we enjoy reconciliation (Rom. 5:9-11).   Even when we make mistakes as children often do, it is easier for us to develop the merciful attitude and be able to love and forgive when we know we are being forgiven.  We love and forgive, not only our children, we forgive our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, friends and yes, even our enemies.

God’s forgiveness stimulates love in Christians.  Christians forgive when they have been wronged.  It is at this juncture the emotional attitude of mercifulness can develop in our personality.

Questions for Discussion

  1. All of the attitudes of the integrated person taught by Jesus in His sermon must be in harmony with two basic attitudes. What are they?
  2. As we study each of the eight attitudes, individually, we see how four of them belong to the experimental faith category.  Please name them.
  3. The other four attitudes relate to parental love.  Please name them.
  4. How is a person motivated to do a certain thing (either physical or spiritual)?
  5. In the psychology of motivation what is “sustained effort?”
  6. Why is it difficult to maintain a high level of motivation in some churches?
  7. How did Jesus deal with motivation?
  8. What is mercy?
  9. What are the prerequisites to an act of mercy?
  10. Why are parents able to be merciful to their children and forgive them of their mistakes?
  11. Give the scripture in Paul’s letter to the Romans that assure Christians God forgives us and will continue to forgive us and love us as His children.
  12. What was Jesus’ point in telling Peter to forgive “seventy times seven?”
  13. Why might a person not want to show mercy?
  14. What is our reward for being merciful now and at Judgment?

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