Mercy is an outward action. We can see this clearly when we think of how God shows mercy to us. He pours out mercy on us though we’ve done nothing to deserve His forgiveness and compassion. Jesus died for us. The Father provides for us. They alleviate the consequences of our sins. Their mercy is active and changes things in the lives of people who come to Them for help and relationship.
What about our mercy? I think sometimes we expect God’s mercy to be active yet think it’s okay for ours to be more passive. We mercifully forgive others on the inside (mostly) and don’t take action against them, so that’s good enough. We feel compassion for those in distress, and that’s a kind of mercy, right? We don’t really have to do any merciful acts to be considered merciful, do we? After all, God’s more concerned with what’s inside us than what we’re actually doing.
While God does look on our hearts, if our hearts are in the right place that should motivate us to take certain actions, including deeds of righteousness and mercy. Belief, repentance, and salvation are only the first steps in our walks with God. We’re to enter covenant with Him and start becoming like him. An integral part of this is learning to be merciful as God is merciful.
Mercy Starts With God
In Greek, the type of mercy we’re discussing is elos (G1656). There are other words for feelings of pity or compassion. Elos involves acting on those feelings. Spiros Zodhiates explains it in contrast to “charis (5485) which is God’s free grace and gift displayed in the forgiveness of sins as offered to men in their guilt. God’s mercy (elos) is extended for the alleviation of the consequences of sin.” Mercy is applied grace. It is passing over deserved punishment. It is reaching out to relieve suffering. It is active loving kindness, corresponding to the Hebrew word chesed which we talked about last week.
But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6, WEB)
God’s mercy prompts Him to take life-changing, life-saving action. We can’t apply mercy at the same level God does, but we need to learn how to be merciful in the same way that He is.
A Word for Mercy in Action
The word eleemosune (G1654) refers to actions of mercy. It’s the things we do when motivated by elos. The King James Version translated it “alms” and the concept has come to mean charitable giving in much the same way that the Hebrew word for righteousness, tzedakah, is equated with righteous giving. Originally, though, it was not just about giving money although that was definitely included.
This word is used to describe Tabitha’s “acts of mercy” and Cornelius’ “gifts to the needy” that have “gone up for a memorial before God” (Acts 9:36; 10:4, WEB). Also in Acts, Luke records the story of a lame man who sat in the door of the temple each day “to ask gifts for the needy,” or “alms” (Acts 3:2). When Peter saw this he said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” (v. 6). Peter didn’t have money but he still gave a gift of mercy.
Another example of mercy in action is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer asked Jesus who qualified as his neighbor for the command “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answered by telling the story of a Jewish man who was left for dead by robbers. A priest and a Levite passed him by, “but a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion” and helped the man. When Jesus asked this lawyer which of the three who encountered the injured man “‘seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”
How to do Merciful Deeds
Being recipients of God’s mercy is supposed to motivate us to follow His merciful example. If we don’t, God can withdraw His mercy from us. It’s a scary thought, but that’s what Christ teaches (see Matthew 18:21-35, which I discuss in “Are You Participating in God’s Forgiveness?”).
So speak and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13, WEB)
God wants to show mercy and we should too. We should delight in loving kindness, as He does (Jer. 9:24). Twice in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks out against those who don’t understand what it means when God says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). His Jewish audience would have known He was quoting Hosea, where God laments Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant (Hos. 6:1-7).
God is not satisfied with obedience only when we feel like giving it or only in the areas we want to surrender to Him. He wants an ongoing, heart-transforming relationship with us as we seek to become more like Him and embrace our Godly identity. And that includes desiring and showing mercy.
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, WEB)
This is a partial description of how God’s personality, character, and mind work, which means it’s also a list of character traits we should develop as people who follow him. And it includes being “full of mercy.” Let us be wise, godly people who learn to actively show mercy through our actions as well as by having feelings of compassion.
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