Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Implicit in Jesus’ promise is this reality: the merciful recognize their own need for mercy. Otherwise, how could Jesus’ promise hold any weight? If I don’t need mercy, then what good is there in promising me mercy? But if I see my own need of mercy, then I will want to emulate any description of those who obtain mercy.
The merciful recognize their own need for mercy. You have probably had this experience in parenting. You are telling your children to “overcome evil with good’” like Romans 12:21 tells us to, even when a brother or sister may have genuinely wronged them; you are reminding them to honor God even when others are not watching because God is always watching; you are commanding them to think of others more than themselves. . .
The merciful recognize their own need for mercy.
Then it hits you, just how hard it is to do what you are instructing to do! You have still not perfected this yourself, even after perhaps decades of Christian living. And so—after administering the appropriate discipline for the argument they got into, or the lie they told, or for overtly behaving selfishly rather than thinking of others—you pull them close, and you pray.
You pray, not just for God to forgive your sinful children and help them obey, but for God to forgive you all for Jesus’ sake and for God to help all of you be more like Jesus.
Or maybe you’ve had a similar experience with a spouse, or fellow church member—the standard you were holding them to suddenly became clearly unreachable by you. And so instead of holding them to your standard, you prayed for both of you to be given grace for Jesus’ sake.
Embracing mercy for yourself prohibits harsh judgments toward others.
The truly, spiritual, gospel-centered merciful recognize their own need for mercy. Perhaps that is why James’ also warns, just one chapter earlier, that “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (2:13). You cannot embrace the gospel, or claim the gospel for yourself, and not be affected by it in your dealings with others.
Embracing mercy for yourself prohibits harsh judgments toward others. Receiving the gospel in your own heart will necessarily result in exercising mercy toward those who, like yourself, don’t deserve it. It will lead to the mercy of loving others as we have been loved by God in Jesus, forgiving others as we have ourselves been forgiven by God because of Jesus. And gospel-centered mercy allows others to think and act differently than we do, because it recognizes that Jesus, not me, is the standard for perfection.