Have you noticed the cyclical patterns of relationships? It can go two directions:
When one person demeans another, the recipient will often react negatively and hurtfully, giving more grounds for hard feelings, a pattern of conflict gradually escalating as the lists of wrongs grow longer.
One the other hand, a display of kindness can spark a reciprocal positive word or action, and mutual encouragement can be become a constructive pattern.
It isn’t hard to do something nice for someone who has been generous and loving toward you; but what about those who have wronged you? It is difficult to avoid getting into the negative downward spiral when feeling attacked, judged, or hurt.
Yet in the Kingdom of God, we are asked to put aside how we are treated by others. Jesus said:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
The promise of God’s mercy to all those who receive salvation through Christ is clear. There is never a doubt that despite our sins, if we choose to follow Jesus—and therefore to extend mercy toward others as he does—we have the hope of eternal salvation.
But what does it mean for us to show mercy? Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines mercy as:
“…compassion for the miserable. It’s object is misery. By the atoning sacrifice of Christ a way is open for the exercise of mercy toward the sons of man, in harmony with the demands of truth and righteousness.”
We need mercy in the misery of sin. We need to show compassion to others who are sinners, even when their sins might be against us, replacing condemnation with love.
Mercy is part of Christ’s tender love for the hurting, the shamed, the needy. It is more than forgiveness—it is restoration.
Three Ways to Show Mercy
So how can we pass on the mercy we are receiving from God?
- To be truly merciful we must first see misery through God’s eyes. He looks at the bitter, drunk, angry man and sees not only the physical misery of dependence on alcohol, but also the emotional pain from a history or rejection and the spiritual hunger for freedom from sin. He views woman who is constantly demeaning others as the one who has heard hurtful words since being a young child, who never experienced the loving relationship that would teach her kindness toward others, whose broken heart tries to protect itself by shutting others out. We too can start growing compassionate when looking at others from God’s perspective.
- Mercy offers forgiveness. For us as humans, offering forgiveness doesn’t mean absolution from sins—we are not the ones who judge and a person’s wrongdoings may still bring consequences. Forgiveness might not even mean reconciliation, particularly if the offender is unwilling to admit to being in the wrong. Rather, forgiveness on our part is the process of replacing hurt and resentment with compassion. We receive mercy in the freedom from the chains of bitterness, the healing that can only come when we let go of our anger. Fortunately, we have the help of God’s grace, and don’t have to depend on our own wills to give genuine forgiveness.
- Mercy is not limited to those who have wronged us; we can be a vessel of God’s mercy to all those longing for healing. God can use us to shine his light into the dark places of a person’s heart with both truth and compassion. We may not know the exact needs or internal struggles faced by those around us, yet a habit of showing acts of kindness, saying encouraging words, or offering a listening ear can impact lives.
What displays of mercy have you witnessed lately? Who are the people around you in need of “compassion for the miserable”?