Scripture: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7, NRSV).
Observe the Context: This is the fifth of eight beatitudes (see Matthew 5:1-12) and reflects a portion of the spiritual journey when one learns to love others as Christ first loved us (Len Sweet calls this the Titanium Rule). The spiritual journey laid out in the Beatitudes looks something like the following:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who know their lives are messed up.
- Blessed are those who mourn … because they know there has to be a better way to live.
- Blessed are the meek … because they seek for the real thing — God!
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … who after encountering the Living God for a moment continue in their quest to follow the One Who Is!
- Blessed are the merciful … because in response to the great love shown to them they love others as God loves them.
- Blessed are the pure in heart … for as they draw close to their neighbor in love they are also drawn closer to the giver of life.
- Blessed are the peacemakers … who understand that one day we shall be called to account and they therefore desire to help us learn the way of Love made known not through aggression, but in persistent peace.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake … because no good deed ever goes unpunished by those who live by the world’s standards.
John Wesley expounded on the Beatitudes in the first three of thirteen sermons on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 (See Wesley’s Standard Sermons: Discourse 1 – Sermon 21, Discourse 2 – Sermon 22, and Discourse 2 – Sermon 23).
For John Wesley his exposition of the Beatitude to be merciful rested on understanding of what God’s love is really about. To this end Wesley suggests that we read Corinthians 13:4-8a where love is defined this way: "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (see John Wesley’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse 2 – Sermon 22).
Apply the Lesson to My Life: So "what’s love got to do with it?" Here are some lessons from Wesley translated into my own words.
- Love is patient … when I am faced with all the worst the world has to offer I can choose to love. I do not love for just a moment, a while, or a season, I suffer long (the old English definition of patience) in loving the other unto the end.
- Love is kind … I seek to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) while being gentle and amiable to all persons.
- Love is not envious … I do not covet / desire what I do not have. Love is not angered when someone else receives a gift that I percieve is better than my own (or more than the other deserves).
- Love is not boastful … I do not judge the other harshly or move quickly in following the old maxim to "see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the conclusion."
- Love is not arrogant … in fact Wesley suggested that love "humbles one to the dust."
- Love is not rude … I am not willingly discourteous or insulting to another person. In fact, love makes the Christian want to "become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
- Love does not insist on its own way … I do not seek my advantage in a situation out of love for the other. My desire is that others may enter into God’s loving embrace.
- Love is not irritable … I am not acting out of love when I am irritable toward others.
- Love is not resentful … I do not resent others even when I see God sending rain on the just and especially the unjust (see Matthew 5:45). When others do an evil thing, Wesley suggests that while we see the action we refrain from thinking ill of the other.
- Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing … I do not shout for joy when an opponent falls from grace. I do not celebrate when someone’s hypocrisy is exposed for all to see.
- Love rejoices in the truth … I rejoice with others who demonstrate God’s love in action, especially when it is a person that I find offensive or whom I deem "unworthy" of love.
- Love bears all things … I am challenged to not become a gossip, slanderer, or destroy another’s reputation because speaking evil of another is the same as murder.
- Love believes all things … I am always willing to put the best light on someone else’s situation. Also, I am not willing to assume the worst about another so that like Machiavelli I am not disappointed when things do not go my way.
- Love hopes all things … And when I begin to hear bad things about another person and that crushes what I believe about them, then I hope that what I am hearing is wrong or I have misunderstood the situation. If further wrong is heard, then I hope that evil intent was not the driving force in the situation.
- Love endures all things … When I choose to love and hostility or anger are thrown in my face I endure with fortitude remembering, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
- Love never ends … And when it all falls apart … I never stop loving, because God never stopped loving me – even when I fell apart.
Prayer: Come, Spirit come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed, by this we worship and are freed. Amen.
SOAP = Scripture, Observation, Application, & Prayer