Doing Deeds of Mercy

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.

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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.'”

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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)

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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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Book Review: Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curt Landry

Back in February, I read an article on Bible Gateway interviewing Curt Landry about his new book Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage: How Understanding the Jewish Roots of Christianity Can Transform Your Faith. As a Messianic believer, I was excited that a book about appreciating the Jewish roots of our faith was being released by a mainstream Christian publisher like Thomas Nelson.

I didn’t get to read the book until recently because I was distracted by other new releases, some of which I had advance reader copies to review, and I was waiting for a library to buy it. I finally got a copy through an inter-library loan program and eagerly sat down to read. Unfortunately, while this book contains some really good content, I felt like it was too much about Curt Landry and not enough about its stated purpose of helping people understand how the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform their faith.

Our Forgotten Heritage

When Jesus arrived here on earth (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name), He didn’t come to bring a new religion. Yeshua came as the next stage in God’s plan which He’d laid out from the foundation of the world. What we now call Christianity has its roots in the faith of the ancient Israeli people and the Jews of Jesus’ time. Though this phrasing is mine, this is one of the main arguments of Landry’s book and it’s the part I found most fascinating.

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Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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The Christian Community and Our Godly Identity

In last week’s post, I talked about the new identities God gives us when we enter a relationship with Him. For those of us with a Western cultural mindset, “identity” is typically connected with “individualism” — who you are that makes you unique from everyone else. But the Bible was written by people with an Eastern cultural mindset, where identity is a more collective concept that involves how you fit in to a group or family.

When we find our identity in God, it is a collective as well as an individual thing. The Christian life isn’t meant to be an isolated one. We’re part of a community, a family. If we neglect to recognize that, then we’re missing out on a huge part of our identity as believers. And if we purposefully cut ourselves off from the community, we reject an incredible blessing.

Being in Christ Is Being in Community

I recently read a fascinating book called Participating In Christ by Michael J. Gorman. One of the key points he makes is that “to be in Christ is to be in community” (chapter 10). We miss this in English far more easily than we could if we read it in Greek.

“This life in Christ is lived not in isolation but only in community. (We must keep in mind that most of the words for ‘you’ in Paul’s letters are plural pronouns, and most often the imperatives are given in the second- [or third-] person plural form.) — (Gorman, Participating In Christ, Chapter 1)

“You (plural) are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). “By grace you (plural) are saved” (Eph. 2:5). We often read these verses, and many others like them, as a deeply individual thing but they’re addressed to a community. Our individual relationships with God are vital. But so is our communal relationship with God and His people. Read more

It’s Amazing What Happens When God Gives You A New Identity

One of the main themes of this blog is my belief that we find our true identity when we connect with God and learn who He created us to be. In order to do that, sometimes we have to let go of the old ways we used to define ourselves.

People in the Bible had to do this, too. Moses went from prince of Egypt to shepherd in hiding to leader. Saul went from insignificant Benjamite to king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:16, 21). Paul went from a Jewish religious leader persecuting the church to preaching Jesus (Gal. 1:22-24). They all had to change big parts of their identities to become who God intended them to be.

We all have ways we define ourselves. I’m a writer, a sister, a teacher, a dancer, a daughter, an introvert, a person who struggles with anxiety. When we enter relationship with God, we’re called to use our roles and identities for Him. Sometimes, though, we need to leave parts of our identities behind that don’t line-up with His goodness and/or His plan. And we also get to add new aspects to our identities that make each of us a more whole, complete person.

Becoming A “New Man”

Our walk with God is one of transformation. We don’t stay the way we were before salvation. We learn to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” as we “grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ” (Eph. 4:1, 15, WEB). We can’t live in the same way as those who don’t know God once we’ve entered a covenant relationship with the Lord (Eph. 4:16-20).

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