If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
This is the fifth week of our study of the Beatitudes. First, we had to submit ourselves for God to make us teachable (Blessed are the poor in spirit). Once we became teachable, we were ready for God to give us empathy (Blessed are they who mourn). Then we were ready to learn that by humbling ourselves to depend upon the strength of God we would inherit the earth (Blessed are the meek). Last week we discussed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Assuming we have allowed God to form each of these attitudes in our character, we are ready to move on today to the fifth Beatitude.
This one is found in Matthew 5:7, rendered in the New American Standard Bible as: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The King James Version translated this “. . . for they shall obtain mercy,” while the New International Version says “. . . for they will be shown mercy.” Williams words it “Blessed are those who show mercy, for they will have mercy shown them.”
Normally I find Williams to give a clearer exposition of the meaning God intends to show us in His word, but in this case, I think the standard translations give a more accurate picture. By using the phrasing “Blessed are the merciful . . .” they describe the nature of a Christian—his being rather than his doing.
The gist of the entire New Covenant (Testament) deals with our being, not our actions. The Old Covenant dealt with actions—sins—and demanded sacrifice for them. The sacrifices had to be made over and over, because man sins over and over. The New Covenant deals with sin—our natural proclivity to commit sins—rather than with the individual sins. One sacrifice was made one time to cover that sin nature. It’s all about who we are, not what we do.
This makes the standard translations of this verse much more in line with the New Covenant as a whole than Williams, which talks about what a man does: show mercy. This may sound like nitpicking, but the difference between who we are and how we act is profound.
Moving to the second half of the verse, I’m back in the Williams camp. His version, along with the NASB and NIV, uses passive terminology: “be shown mercy” or “have mercy shown them” or “receive mercy.” The King James, on the other hand, uses the more active verb “obtain.”
Again this may sound at first like a small point of difference, but I believe this difference is significant. Obtaining implies something that I go out and get. Action on my part brings me something. The passive terminology of the other three implies a gift given to me, which is the foundation of the New Covenant. Our salvation, our growth as Christians, everything about it is the result of grace, which is unmerited favor—a free gift from God which we did not and could not earn or deserve.
Once more, we’re talking about the difference between doing and being. The primary concern of the New Covenant is our state of being, not the deeds—good or bad—that we do.
As I’ve stated throughout this series, each of these Beatitudes is conditioned upon having the preceding one developed in one’s character first. We’re not likely to be merciful unless we hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so forth.
The progressive nature of these beatitudes gives us a method of testing ourselves to measure our own Christian growth. You can ask yourself:
Am I truly poor in spirit (teachable)?
Do I radiate empathy (mourn)?
Am I really meek (depending on God rather than my own mental and physical strength)?
Do I in reality hunger and thirst for righteousness?
If truth be told, am I merciful?
The more of these questions we can truthfully answer in the affirmative, the greater the growth we have experienced as Christians.
Please comment below. I love to hear what YOU have to say, too.
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his non-fiction Web Wisdom: Godly Thoughts and Inspiration from the Inbox and starting his new fiction work—a series of novellas set during the period from 1860 to 1880.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @davidnwalkertx