Sometimes when we read scripture we come across a passage that may seem to be out of place, or contrary to another scripture that we have read. In Matthew 5:7, 9:13 and Romans 12:1 we have such passages. They seem to be contradictory, but upon a closer study they support each other and create a full circle.
Matthew 5:7 is a part of the Beatitudes. A beatitude is simply a blessing. In this passage of eight blessings, Jesus does not elaborate but simply lists the blessings. This blessing states “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” So what is mercy? Mercy has been described as an active virtue that Christians can show to each other because we have been given mercy ourselves. That’s a nice definition, but I need something I can sink my teeth into.
A person who shows mercy will see distress in people. It’s almost as if they have a sixth sense and can detect when someone is facing overwhelming issues. Their initial response will be one of compassion for this individual and may quietly offer up a silent prayer for the person and the difficulties they face, even though they are unknown to us. But internal compassion is not enough.
We are to enact an external response, where appropriate. A response that seeks to relieve the distress or comfort the one suffering. There are times where just an encouraging word will be all that is appropriate. Other times we may not be in a position to do even that. We must use discernment to determine how to react. Jesus makes it abundantly clear in Matthew 25:35-43 that when we minister to the downtrodden, we are doing it to Him. So mercy shown to our our fellow human is showing mercy to Christ also.
Finally, mercy knows no enemies. We are to act even when the person in distress is an enemy. God has shown us the distress, we are to act. The parable of the good samaritan comes to mind in this case.
When we read Romans 12:1, Paul states “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The first thing that I see here is that Paul references mercy. Our sacrifice is our response to God’s mercy.
So what is a “living sacrifice?” Simply everything. Nicky Gumbel said “God wants you to offer all of yourself and all of your lives – your time, ambitions, possessions, ears, mouths and sexuality – as well as your mind, emotions and attitudes. Paul’s description of a living sacrifice also reminds us that you have to go on offering your life as a sacrifice to God, offering the whole of your life for the whole of your life.” If that sounds extreme, it is. Remember that we are talking about sacrifice. The Old Testament concept of animal sacrifice was replaced when Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us, but both sacrifices illustrate the same concept. The sacrificial lamb and the sacrificial Jesus gave their lives. They gave everything.
I desire mercy and not sacrifice
So we have gone full circle. Jesus sacrificed, Jesus died on the cross for our salvation. God extended great mercy to us and we should extend such mercy to others. In making this mercy operational in our lives, we will sacrifice. How often have you had the thought of what you could do with the ten-percent tithe you give to your church? It takes a sacrifice. In a church I once belonged to, there was an elderly widower who was struggling financially. In order to pay his wife’s medical bills he reduced his tithe and it bothered him. The deacons took up a collection to help him out. His grateful response to the deacons astounded all of us. He said this was an answer to prayer, that he could now catch up on his tithe. Mr. Nelson knew about sacrifice.
I have a friend who is a very good counselor. After a long day of meetings, I asked if I could talk with him after dinner. He agreed. He came to my room and I unburdened myself. He was able to provide me some useful counsel that helped me deal with the issue I was facing. As he was leaving, he told me that he really didn’t want to come talk with me. He was exhausted from a long day and wanted nothing more than to kick back and relax. But he felt God calling him. He closed by saying his spirits and body were lifted, “When God is in it, you get energized.” David Carter knows sacrifice.
Both of these gentlemen were abundantly grateful for the sacrifice and mercy shown them by Jesus. Both lead lives of mercy. Both have sacrificed for the cause of the Cross.
God had mercy on us. His mercy led to His sacrifice. His sacrifice should lead us to be merciful and to sacrifice everything we have for Him. The scripture is not saying God doesn’t want sacrifice. It is telling us that we must be merciful before our sacrifice is one approved by God.