Of all God’s qualities, His mercy is probably the one that’s most endearing to us. It encompasses so much of our lives in so many ways: It is by God’s mercy that each one of us has an opportunity for eternal life. It is through God’s mercy that we are sustained in this physical life—the air we breathe, the sunlight to warm us and help us find our way, food to sustain us, covering to protect us.
The word compassion is closely related to mercy in the Bible. The Greek word for compassion literally means “from the bowels.” It implies a visceral reaction to someone who is suffering. Mercy is a combination of this emotional feeling and the response generated from it. Jesus told the story of a man beaten and robbed, left to die (Luke 10:30). Two seemingly religious individuals passed by the man, but they offered no help. Then came a Samaritan, someone who belonged to a group of people that was pretty despised in Jesus’ day. Jesus said that when the Samaritan saw him, he had compassion on him (Luke 10:33). He took action, tended to his wounds, and took care of him. After telling this story, Jesus asked the man he was talking to: “‘Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same’” (Luke 10:36-37).
The lesson for us is to not only be moved emotionally but to take action. This is how God expresses His mercy towards us, and this is what Christ taught and did.
Jesus displayed God’s mercy throughout His ministry on earth. In the beatitudes, mercy is a hallmark of Kingdom of God behavior (Matthew 5:1-12). “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus added, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36, New International Version).
Mercy is a part of God’s character that we need to admire, praise and love. Paul referred to God as the “Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Jesus Christ embodied and manifested this attribute—one day, He faced crowds of people who were very needy. He had compassion on them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, NIV). Today we might say His heart went out to them. He had a gut-wrenching feeling of compassion. Jesus acted on His feelings of mercy by giving them comforting words of hope, healing their illnesses, or feeding them.
As followers of Christ and sons and daughters of the “Father of mercies,” are we not called to be merciful as our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are? Three areas we can extend mercy in to others are physically, emotionally and spiritually.
1. Physically, we should mark James’ words: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well. Keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14, NIV). James told us to take action where a physical need exists. We should apply this principle in our family, the Church and the world at large.
2. Secondly, providing for the emotional needs of others is an important to building relationships with people. Jesus Christ is referred to in Scripture as Wonderful Counselor, and He has the character of God the Father, who is called the God of all comfort. We too can comfort with our words when we know someone is going through a rough time, like the death of a loved one, a health issue, an employment issue or a trying relational issue. We can show mercy by listening, encouraging and giving them emotional support. Fellowshipping can be a powerful way to give this support.
3. Thirdly, demonstrating mercy spiritually can be practiced in so many ways. One way we can express this godly principle in our relationships with people is the power and process of forgiveness. This could include those who may have hurt us in our youth or offended us in our adult lives. Paul emphasized this when he wrote: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-15, NIV). He went on to point out what binds all these together is love—outgoing concern for others.
We learn from the Bible that what we receive from God, we are to extend to others: forgiveness, comfort, mercy, encouragement, providing physical necessities, and emotional support and love in its many forms and expressions. Let’s consider how we can extend mercy to the needy, fatherless, poor, widows and broken-hearted, so we can truly be children of mercies, representing our Father of mercies.