Sermon: Three Virtues
Scripture: Matthew 5:7-9
In this week’s lessons we look at three beatitudes that describe our Christian character, which other people must observe and experience.
Theme: The Quality of Mercy
In yesterday’s study, we noted that the first three beatitudes show how a person must see himself as a sinner before God—that of being spiritually bankrupt, sorry for sin, and meekly humble. Then, in the fourth beatitude, we find the promise of God’s righteousness for the one who comes to God in the ways described in those preceding beatitudes. We said that, given this progression, it is logical to expect that the beatitudes to follow will show the transformed life that marks the one being remade in Christ’s image.
This is exactly what we do find. For with the fifth, sixth, and seventh beatitudes a turning point is reached and the character of the Christian man, particularly in regard to others, is delineated. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matt. 5:7-9). According to Jesus, the man who has tasted God’s righteousness is now to show mercy to others, he is to be pure in heart, and he is to be a peacemaker.
I think that the points to be made about each of these qualities are so similar in their general outline that I propose to treat all three in one message. The salient points are these: 1) all three qualities are essentially divine qualities; 2) we can understand them (if we do understand them) only because we have first experienced them in Christ; and 3) because we have experienced them in Christ we are on this account to exhibit them to others. The conclusion is that we shall be able to do this only as our lives are yielded to him.
The first of these three practical beatitudes then deals with mercy. What is mercy? Shakespeare once defined mercy in the well-known speech by Portia in The Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d.It droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath. It is twice blest:It blesses him that gives and him that takes.’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomesThe throned monarch better than his crown.
Here we see the qualities of mercy: impartiality, gentleness, abundance. But this is not the full definition; only the Bible gives mercy its true scope and spiritual significance. In some ways mercy may be compared with grace—that is, it is undeserved. But it is not grace itself, and in the pastoral letters Paul even adds mercy to his normal Christian greeting—grace and peace—thereby implying a distinction between them. To Timothy and Titus he writes, “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2; cf. 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4).
Well then, what makes mercy different from grace? Primarily it is the quality of action. Grace is love when it is undeserved; mercy is grace in action, love reaching out to help those who are helpless and need salvation. Mercy identifies with the miserable in their misery.
What do the fifth, sixth, and seventh beatitudes have in common?
How are mercy and grace similar? How do they differ?
Application: In what ways will you seek to show mercy to others this week?