In my last post, which was on the subject of MERCY, I explained finally that mercy flows in two directions, from God to us, and from us to others. In this post, I will focus on being merciful. What is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount is actually a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, and it begins in the Gospel According to Matthew with the Beatitudes, which declare God’s favor toward those who practice these principles for living righteously (i.e. those who realize that the teachings of Jesus are designed for practical use, and for whom His teachings become their blueprint for living in a manner that will bring God’s blessing: “O the blessedness of …”).
There are nine be-attitudes (i.e. attitudes that are necessary for “being” followers of Jesus who practice their faith). Our attitudes precede our actions. Our deeds were once thoughts. What we believe determines how we behave. We choose to live a certain way because it is a matter of will. It is volitional. Our choices determine our conduct. The Bible says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul speaks of those who were living foolishly and recklessly because they had filled their minds with the wrong thoughts, and had made the wrong choices: “They became futile in their thinking, their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22), and then Paul becomes very specific in naming their foolish ways (verses 23-32). It is a long list of sinful actions that Paul gives us, and then he says “…according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ will judge the secret thoughts of all” (2:16).
There is nothing wrong with our minds except we fill them with the wrong thoughts. Our minds were not made to think the thoughts of this world – crooked thoughts, wicked thoughts, evil thoughts. Our minds were made to think the thoughts of God! The prophet, Isaiah, realized this when he acknowledged, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, O God” (Isaiah 55:8). In the Letter to the Hebrews the author wants his readers to understand that by His Word (i.e. His instructions for living, living in obedience to His commandments, being doers of His Word and not hearers only, His Word which is “living and active” and “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit”) God is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
In his Epistle to the Colossians, Paul uses very strong language to stress the importance of having the proper “focal point” in our minds, so we will think the right thoughts and right attitudes that are necessary for living righteously (i.e. having the right relationship with God and others). He says “seek the things that are above” and “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are of earth,” and also “put to death whatever is in you that is earthly” (Colossians 3:2-5) – strong words – setting the mind implies effort, concentration, determination, requiring a disciplined mind. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs.16), and “..whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus“ (making Him the focal point of your mind, and His Word the authority for your faith, and the practice of your faith).
This brings us right back to where we started, the “be-attitudes” Christ has given us, and the fifth Beatitude in particular, which is the theme of this post: BEING MERCIFUL. There are many people who are quick to judge, and even condemn (which is really the literal meaning of the New Testament word that is used for “judge”). It has been said that Christians are the only ones who “shoot their wounded.” That is a terrible indictment, but let us admit it is often true. We are slow to “restore the fallen,” as we are commanded to do, and quick to judge, which we are commanded not to do! A popular columnist, and former lawyer, once wrote: “If I am ever on trial, a trial by jury, I hope it will not be a jury made up of good men and women – good people in the sense in which this word is generally understood – for such people have little sympathy for bad people, they are seldom kind and merciful. Being good men and women themselves, they think the law should make everybody else good. In my long experience as a lawyer I always struck off such people whenever I had the opportunity to do so, because good people are convictors!”
That may be an exaggeration, but all of us recognize the kind of people he had in mind. Perhaps people a lot like us, quick to condemn and slow to pardon, slow to forgive – quick to judge, and slow to show mercy! A number of years ago there was a man in Scotland who was convicted for murdering his mother. While he was in prison he was converted in the “Church behind bars.” When he appeared before the parole board for the third time, the prison Chaplain testified on his behalf. He had been a model prisoner. He had suffered greatly for his crime. He had earnestly repented, and was a new man. He had felt called to preach, and wanted to become a Minister of the Word and Sacraments. Finally, he was released, and enrolled in seminary. However, when he tried to become a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, his application created quite a stir, as you might imagine. It caused a passionate debate and painful controversy in the Presbytery of Saint Andrews. His candidacy was finally approved, but the controversy continued to divide the denomination.
Fourteen of the forty-five presbyteries objected to the approval of his continued preparation for ordination. The candidate himself, appealing to the General Assembly, said: “I have repented of my crime, and I repent of it still. I believe God has forgiven me, and I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. I know God has called be to be a minister, and I firmly believe that Christ’s Church is never brought into disrepute by seeking to be faithful to the Gospel of salvation which it proclaims. I am not trying to make any point at all. I am just trying to respond to a call from God.”
He was finally accepted, welcomed, and ordained. How do you feel about it.? Was it a question of justice or a matter of mercy? Was the final action of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland consistent with the Gospel of pardon which it preaches, or was his acceptance and approval straining the quality of mercy? Be very careful how you answer this question, for it will tell you a lot about your understanding of both mercy and grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and also tell you a lot about yourself!
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
“O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong..”
“There’s wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea…”
“Grace, grace, God’s grace – grace that is greater than all our sin…”
As Christians this is the faith we sing. Do we sing it with our lips only, or with our hearts as well? What about those “unclean” people who cried out to Jesus for mercy? How did He respond? What about those “unclean” people (i.e. “unclean” in our eyes) who are crying out for mercy today, who long to be accepted, to be included, to be seen as people created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and members of God’s forever family, but not really welcome in so many of our churches?
“BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL, FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY,” JESUS.
THE APOSTLE PAUL SAID, “ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL” – WHAT ABOUT YOUR GOSPEL?