Mercy is certainly in short supply these days. Movies are based on vengeance, or out and out violence against the innocent. The headlines are saturated with the likes of ISIS atrocities, suicide bombers, the sex trade, brutal shootings that have no meaning, and much more that reflect human depravity and total lack of compassion and mercy. We may not like it, but we should expect it because that’s the way the human mind without God works. To them, mercy is a weakness. But it’s not a weakness in God’s eyes. Jesus made this eminently clear in His fifth Beatitude: Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous— with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy! (Matt. 5:7).
The mercy that Jesus is describing is an interesting trait. It involves a healthy dose of both God-centered forgiveness and Agape love, neither of which is possible without God. It is most interesting that the only phrase that Jesus commented on in the “Lord’s Prayer,” was the one about forgiveness. After giving the disciples this prayer example, He went on to say, For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses (Matt. 6:14, 15).
That’s a rather harsh statement at first glance. Almost a “take it or leave it,” attitude on God’s part, it would seem. Well, first glances can sometimes be right, but other times they can be way off the mark. First, doesn’t it seem odd that we have to forgive others to get God to forgive us? After all, Jesus died on the cross so that we could receive the ultimate forgiveness and become a child of the living God, no string attached. I see no place in scripture where God says we have to forgive everyone that has trespassed against us before we can receive His forgiveness and salvation. That doesn’t even make sense. Neither do I find any place in scripture where God is resentful. Also, why should I have to forgive them instead of God forgiving them? So obviously Jesus is talking about something slightly different.
The word “trespass” comes from the Greek word, paraptoma, par-ap´-to-mah; which means a side-slip (lapse or deviation), i.e. (unintentional) error or (willful) transgression: — fall, fault, offence, sin, trespass. This is a fault or slip that has somehow caused us offense. And we are to forgive the perpetrator, not the act. So, a better way to think of what Jesus is saying is to insert “can” in the place of “will,” like this: “If you cannot forgive others, God cannot forgive you.” Suddenly, this passage becomes an issue of the heart, and not just an “I forgive you” issue. Words are cheap, mighty cheap in fact, and often filled with half-truths and downright lies. It’s easy to say “I forgive you,” and not mean it in any way shape or form. But God searches the heart. David clearly told Solomon, And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father [have personal knowledge of Him, be acquainted with, and understand Him; appreciate, heed, and cherish Him] and serve Him with a blameless heart and a willing mind. For the Lord searches all hearts and minds and understands all the wanderings of the thoughts. If you seek Him [inquiring for and of Him and requiring Him as your first and vital necessity] you will find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever! (1Chr, 28:9).
It is with our heart, our inner person, our spirit, that we must forgive. Yes, our mouths should say “I forgive,” but that must be the truth in our inner being, not just because we are “supposed” to say it. As a child, when someone did something wrong to you, like hit you, your mother may have forced you to say “I forgive you,” after the other child’s mother had forced him/her (certainly under duress) to say “I’m sorry,” or “please forgive me.” I guarantee you (having had such childhood “teachings” from both sides of the equation ) that there was no sorrow in the “I’m sorry,” and no forgiveness in the “I forgive you.” There was only anger and resentment—mostly toward the mother.
God cannot forgive you (bless you) if your heart is hardened and unwilling to release your resentment. His forgiveness cannot replace your resentment. Remember, we are agents of free will. God set that in His Blood Covenant with us (Deut. 30:19, Josh. 24:15). We can tell Him to “get off my back,” and He will. When we choose to be resentful and angry toward others, then that resentment and anger fills up all the places in our hearts (our inner being) where God could put any forgiveness for our trespasses against others. And by the way, that resentment and anger is what constitutes our trespasses against the “others” that have committed “trespasses” against us.
It’s a simple matter of keeping ourselves open to all that He has for us. When we get filled with the things of the world, there’s no room left for the things of God. Don’t hang on to all the “filthy rags” of the world; heave them out and allow the cleansing and healing salve of Jesus’ Blood to wash over you.
Now, let’s take a little trip down the old forgiveness lane and see exactly how to do this. Saying it is one thing, doing it is something totally different. The key here is to be the king that God made you to be (Rom 5:17, Rev. 5:10), use the name of Jesus as your badge of kingly authority (Col. 3:17), and bring into play your right to bind in your life whatever has been bound in heaven and loose in your life whatever has been loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19, 18:18). Let’s say you hold something against “X” because they have done something to offend you. Go to God with an honest heart and say something like: “Father, I’m having a hard time with “X.” He/she has done “abc” to me, and I don’t like it. I want to forgive them, but boy it is hard. So, In Jesus Name, the Name above every name, I bind this anger and resentment in Your presence and cast it out. I loose in myself, the fruits of the Holy Spirit to operate in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self control. Thank you gracious King.”
Then, accept what you have done, and relax in it. But, it isn’t going to go away without a fight. And it might be a rather long one. Long or short, however, it is your job and your responsibility, not God’s, to get rid of it. God doesn’t do this, you do! You do it willfully and you do it purposefully. Stay at it. When the feelings come back, bind them and toss them out and loose the fruits of the Holy Spirit in you once again. Stay at it. You will win if your hang in there and use the authority that God has made available to you.
Now, “mercy” also involves Agape. That is the kind of love that is willing “to give the best you have without regard to the consequences to yourself.” That’s tough. But true forgiveness says that the Agape that God has put in me (Rom. 5:5) must be the dominant force in my life, and I must exhibit it, regardless. Believe me, it takes true Agape to forgive someone and not hold something is reserve against them. After all, there were consequences to you from their actions. You have to shake them off, and get your feet on the right path (Heb. 12:12-13). Again, the only way you can do this is with God’s help and strength (Eph. 1:19-20, Phil. 2:12-13).
The more we exercise our God given right (read “responsibilities”) the easier it becomes to do what God asks, so that He may shine through us and touch the lives of those that don’t know Him. After all, isn’t that what you want?
When we truly extend this God-centered mercy to others, it is flowing from God, through us, to the other person, and one never knows where that can lead them. When mercy flows from us, it also flows to us from the throne of the King. That’s what Jesus is saying in this fifth Beatitude.