In this third session of Cru’s latest webinar conference series, UNVEILx (13 & 27 August, 10 & 24 September) on The Beatitudes, we hear Senior Pastor Benny Ho of Faith Community Church in Perth teach on "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:7)
“We live in a society built upon merit rather than mercy. Being merciful is not on the list of top 10 attributes of successful people. One of our preoccupations in modern living is fighting for our rights,” said Pastor Benny.
The Roman world during Jesus’ time did not admire mercy either, with some seeing it as a disease of the soul and characteristic of the weak. Flying in the face of societal norms, Jesus lived out the counter culture value of mercy wherever He went and called His disciples to do the same.
God's ministry to the miserable
“Mercy is when we have a deep concern for people in need. Someone once said mercy is God’s ministry to the miserable,” said Pastor Benny.
The Greek word for mercy, eleemon, means being actively compassionate. The Hebrew word, checed, means getting into another’s shoes and seeing from their point of view. In doing this, we understand how others feel and act on behalf of people who are hurting. Jesus did exactly this when He came to Earth in human form.
“When we show mercy, we are practising one of the attributes of God. Showing mercy makes us representatives of God in someone else’s life,” said Pastor Benny.
Who does God give mercy to?
With mercy being something people do not deserve, it is has to be given by choice. God says “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Exodus 33:19). God is obligated to give justice to everyone but is free to give mercy to whomever He chooses.
Pastor Benny elaborated on two groups of people that God gives mercy to:
Those who ask for mercy
God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) yet few people think they need to ask for mercy. Instead, most feel that they are unfairly treated and ask for justice to be done.
The Bible shows how mercy was given to those who asked for it. In Jesus’ parable, the prayer of the tax collector who cried out “God, have mercy on me a sinner” was contrasted with the Pharisee’s self-righteous one which boasted of his deeds (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee went back empty handed, while the tax collector was justified before God. During Jesus’ crucifixion, one of the criminals crucified with Jesus asked for mercy and was eternally saved (Luke 23:40-43).
Those who pass it on
In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls us to be a constant channel of God’s mercy. “Mercy must flow out of your heart before new mercies can flow into it,” said Pastor Benny.
Jesus told His disciples while teaching them how to pray, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14). This may lead to an assumption that God takes a tit for tat approach to mercy and forgiveness. Pastor Benny used this analogy to explain why this is not so.
“Imagine a flower growing beautifully because God sends rain. The mercy of God is like constant rain that allows us all to survive. Holding on to unforgiveness in our hearts is like drawing a plastic sheet over ourselves. God has not stopped being merciful. Rather, you have caused a plastic sheet of unforgiveness to come over you. As a result, you cannot receive the mercy of God.”
When we hold on to unforgiveness, our emotions are chained, thoughts are bound and our spiritual growth becomes stunted. On the other hand, when we show mercy we are liberated and set free from grudges.
Two enemies to merciful living
Pastor Benny cited two enemies to living a merciful life:
Rigidity – becoming religious but not spiritual
Rigidity is a trademark of legalism. Once that takes root, the church becomes cold and unwelcoming. People are made to feel guilty when they do not measure up and become overly concerned with what others think. There is increasing religiosity but not necessarily spiritual growth.
In Micah 6:8, we are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God. “When we have mercy without justice, it can become indulgence. When you have justice without mercy, it becomes legalism,” said Pastor Benny. “Only a truly humble person can have a sense of both justice and mercy.”
Psalm 85:10 celebrates the marrying of both mercy and truth - “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Additionally, James exhorts those under the new covenant to live by the law of love. The law gives liberty and extends mercy to others beyond solely judgement (James 2:12-13).
“We can sometimes be so rigid about small things that we miss what is important,” said Pastor Benny citing the example of the Pharisees mentioned in Matthew 23:23. He continued, “Justice, mercy and faithfulness must come together.”
Retaliation – the need to fight back
“One of the best ways to destroy your enemies is to make them your friends. Unforgiveness is a prolonged form of suicide. When we forgive, we set ourselves free. God’s presence is real to you when you forgo the right to retaliate and choose to show mercy,” said Pastor Benny.
We retaliate when we are unable to surrender things to God’s control. Paul says in Romans 12:17-19 that we should not repay anyone evil for evil, but leave room for God’s wrath.
Pastor Benny elaborated, “Letting love enter the picture does not mean cancelling out the truth. We choose to show mercy even though it is underserved. It is because of God’s love that we choose to give mercy.”
An example of mercy in action would be Joseph’s forgiveness towards his brothers for their harmful actions towards him. It would have been justified for Joseph to seek revenge against his brothers.
However, Joseph chose not to remember his offence. He named his first-born son Manasseh, saying “God has made me forget all my troubles and all my father’s household.” (Genesis 41:51). As someone who was rejected, wronged, misunderstood and disgraced, Joseph could be a candidate for bitterness. Yet he chose the road of mercy and grace as he saw the glory of God.
To exercise mercy is a supernatural act that we cannot do on our own. Isaiah said, “Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:4-5)
“God promises us that we can forget the offences towards us because He will personally take the place of our painful memories. The living God can replace awful memories with Himself when we choose to forgive,” said Pastor Benny.
“Jesus demonstrated mercy on that cruel cross so that we can all be forgiven. He was not shown mercy but he chose to show mercy by declaring, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We are underserving recipients of God’s mercy and grace. The only logical response we can make is to show mercy to those who have wronged us.”
God assures that those who are merciful will obtain mercy. When we live that out, the line in David’s song, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6) will be true in our lives.
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