Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy.
How do you read this verse? As a command or as a promise? The understanding of this beatitude and indeed all of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Ten Commandments given at Sinai and even all of scripture is determined by how we view the covenants. The covenant question will also directly affect how we understand the character of God. Let’s look at Matthew 5:7 as an example of different ways to understand the same scripture.
God tells me that if I want to receive his mercy and be blessed I better try to show some mercy to others even if I don’t really like their behaviour or what they did to me.
What is wrong with this understanding? Believe it or not this is the way I used to read it. Well firstly, it is based on very selfish motives. I want Gods mercy but at the same time I feel compelled to show the same towards another. Secondly it portrays God as only extending mercy on condition of your obedience. When broken down like this you can see how ridiculous that sounds. If God places a condition on His mercy then it is not mercy at all and if we feel any compulsion or obligation to show mercy then that also is not mercy at all.
Now, how should we view Matthew 5:7?
God is nothing but merciful. It is not possible that He can be anything else. It is His character, His person, an attribute of His Agape love.
But You, O God, are God full of pity, and gracious, long-suffering, and rich in mercy and truth. Psalms 86:15
For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
When we see God through the revelation of His Son we are transformed. Mercy becomes a promise to us fulfilled. Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy. We obtain it by seeing God just as He truly is. Mercy is a gift of the holy spirit. It is something we become not something we have to do.
Let us look at another simple illustration but this time from the Ten Commandments.
You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make to yourselves any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Exodus 20:3-4
Do we look at this as a stern command from a dictator?
When we understand that God is the life giver and that there is no other source for us to receive life from, then this becomes a wonderful promise.
The Father gave all things unto His Son,
John 5:26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life within Himself, and since Jesus is the only way to the Father we can understand Exodus 20:3-4 being repeated in light of these words.
Jesus said to him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. John 14:6
In Genesis 3:4 we find -
And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die…. This was and attack on the first commandment which deceived humanity into believing that somehow the source or life lay within themselves. This leads me back to my first point on the covenants. If I hold to a dispensational viewpoint that people in the Old Testament were kept in check by the law but now we are under grace our understanding will become confused.
The outward obedience to the letter of the law could never suffice. The law was always to bring us to the grace that abides in Jesus. As Paul states in Romans 7:13 that sin might become exceedingly sinful by the commandment.
One final illustration. In Exodus 20:14 it says:
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Let’s peel back some layers so that sin may appear exceedingly sinful. Was the commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery given simply as a fearful warning by God to curb man's bad behaviour? We'll on the surface that could appear to work.
Suppose a man held a responsible position in the church and out of fear of ruining his reputation he resisted the temptation to commit adultery. Would that be obeying the commandment? How would his wife feel if he said, look honey, I had the opportunity to cheat on you but because I am head elder in the church I thought better of it. Would they go on living happily ever after? And Jesus magnified the law even further in the new testament when he said,
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Matthew 5:28
Here is another way a man might reason. I have two beautiful children and I don't want to hurt them by cheating on their mother. Sounds a bit nobler doesn't it? Would that satisfy the demands of the law?
Or how about this, a man thinks about leaving his wife for another but suddenly becomes overwhelmed with guilt at the thought of his beloved sobbing at home alone wondering what she did wrong. Would that satisfy the claim of the law? After all he changed his mind and stayed with her.
There is really a simple answer. It did not exist in any of the selfish and abhorrent motives above. His wife could tell you. All I want is his love.
No wonder in Romans 13:9-10 it says, For: "Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not lust;" and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Love works no ill to its neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.
True unforced love from the husband is the only thing that could fulfil the requirements of the law, thou shalt not commit adultery and true love received into our hearts which alone, comes from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, is the only way that any of His commandments can be fulfilled in us. A true understanding of the character of God is the key in keeping the commandments of God. Will you join the inheritance of Abraham who received the Lamb slain, from the foundation of the world?
The old and new covenants are conditions of the human heart and not dispensations in time. With this understanding we can begin the journey in discovering the character of our wonderful God.
Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints. Here are the ones who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.