Chapter # 6 Paragraph # 5 Study # 22
March 9, 2008
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
1901 ASV Translation:
36 Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
- I. The Structure Issue.
- A. The unit of 6:27-35 has its most likely conclusion in 6:35 simply because it is a reproduction of 6:27: that makes it a likely conclusion.
- B. The command "Be merciful..." has no conjunction. One would expect one if the verse is a continuation of the prior verse. The Textus Receptus does have a "therefore" that the Nestle/Aland 26 does not have, but even if it is accepted, it does not indicate the kind of continuation that would make "Be merciful..." the conclusion of the 6:27-35 unit.
- C. The issues of mercy and judgment are better linked together as 6:36-38 would link them: "Be merciful ... and do not judge...". These were the major problems in the conflict between Jesus and His adversaries (Matthew 9:13).
- II. The "Mercy" Issue.
- A. The unit issues are "mercy", "non-judgment", and "generosity". These, in a sense, parallel the "love", "do good", and "lend" issues of the prior unit.
- B. But "mercy" comes in as a second "sons of the Father" issue. That Father is "helpful" to the unthankful and evil, but He is also "merciful".
- 1. "Mercy", in this text, is not "eleos", the typical term for "mercy" in the New Testament.
- 2. In this text, the word translated "merciful" is relatively rare in the New Testament. Most of the scholars take it to mean something akin to "feelings of sympathy". That the word group is not used a great deal makes the statement that God is "the Father of 'mercies'", using this word in the description, even more interesting.
- a. In the biblical text, it is on the basis of these "mercies" that believers are called upon to present their bodies to God as "sacrifices" in Romans 12:2. This, being a very critical decision in view of the long-term impact of a person's choices about living, makes grasping the meaning of "mercy" more than a casual matter. It also argues that, even though "mercy" is fundamentally a fellowship of sympathy, it also has some "action" overtones.
- b. This kind of "mercy" is also addressed by James 5:11 where the "telos" (the final end result) of God is the vantage point by which one judges just how "merciful" the Lord is. This is important because the Bible does not say that in this present interim in the long-term Plan of God people will not be subject to extraordinary sorrows. The greatest challenge to the concept of a "Father of Mercies" is the current presence of significant destruction and pain. This challenge arises from many false ideas, but, perhaps, the greatest of them is the "idea" that being "merciful" would lead to some kind of immediate solution by the omnipotence of a Merciful Being. That is not the case.
- c. In the "Father of Mercies" text, 2 Corinthians 1:3, there is a co-joined concept of "the God of All Comfort" that has the primary notion of One Who is committed to getting a person "immediately alongside" of Himself (parakaleo has a variety of contextual implications, but they all have a similar commitment to the issue of "calling one alongside"). As all men know, sometimes the summons to come alongside is filled with requirements to make significant sacrifices that include painful ones. God is fundamentally opposed to "pain", but His solutions are not short-term, or only temporary fixes. As James said, it is the "telos" of God that reigns.
- d. Hebrews 10:28 provides a good insight from the "contrast" method: "mercilessness". In this text the issue is the imposition of the weight of the Law once Truth had been established by two or three witnesses. In this imposition, there was no "mercy". This has to mean some kind of mitigation of the weight of the Law, or, at least, a potent reluctance to impose it.
- e. Romans 9:15 is, perhaps, the most challenging of all of the biblical texts regarding "the Father of Mercies" because this text directly confronts the human tendency to "demand" from God as though the human has the position of the Judge between himself and the God from whom he demands. This comes from Exodus 33:19 where God told Moses that He would "make all My goodness pass before thee". This is a patent claim to have the kind of character that involves the balance of tensions between what men see as competing issues. In that kind of setting, it is God Who decides if "mercy" will be what is displayed. This -- that God has the prerogative to show, or withhold, mercy -- makes it all the more important that men respond with alacrity and wisdom to the display of the mercies of God because He does not have to be merciful -- and if He is, it is for the good of the object of His mercy, and that does not deserve a kick in the teeth. Attempting to use the mercilessness of God against Him to force mercy from Him does not even sound smart to the least intelligent among us.
- 3. Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon ties the word group to "lamentation" as the expression of deepest sympathy. It seems that what Jesus was calling for was a genuine "fellowship" of sorrow because of a significant tragedy.
- C. The "problem" with "mercy" is that it very easily leads into a mindless unhelpfulness, in turning the "merciful" into an enabler who does not deliver the one for whom he/she has great sympathy, but rather digs the hole deeper and the balance that exists in the Father of Mercies is lost. God suffers more than all of His creation put together when creatures of sensibility are subject to pain and loss, but He does not eliminate either the pain or the loss as an across-the-board reality.
- D. The "blessing" of mercy is that it has the capacity to provide an interim relief for the possibility of genuine repentance followed by Love and Faith. The tension is not in the summons to mercy per se; it is in the question of long-term irresponsibility where the hole just gets deeper and deeper.