Active Compassion

Mercy is typically defined as  goodness, kindness; sometimes lovingkindness, good deeds, pity. Depending on context, these definitions all demonstrate a type of outward-based kindness towards others.

Core of the Bible Episode 8 – Active Compassion

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of compassion, as Yeshua mentions this quality in our highlighted verse this week:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

I have paraphrased this as “Extend mercy and compassion to others and you will be blessed, receiving mercy in return.”

There are two aspects to this verse that I would like to explore with you today. One aspect is just reviewing what the biblical concept of mercy is that we are expected to be extending to others.

The other aspect is that the verse has this reflexive type of principle present, where the practice of some value or ethic brings that value or ethic back to the individual practicing it.


In order to receive more understanding about the concept of mercy in our focus passage today, and how we can exhibit it faithfully with others, then it may be helpful to see how the Bible defines mercy.

Mercy, compassion, pity, kindness; these all have similar meanings in English, while the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible have various words that approximate these meanings.

The word “mercy” is used widely throughout the Bible, but is mostly represented in the Hebrew scriptures by the original word chesed (kheh’-sed). This is typically defined as  goodness, kindness; sometimes lovingkindness, good deeds, pity. Depending on context, these definitions all demonstrate a type of outward-based kindness towards others.

By comparison,  in the Greek of the NT the most frequent representation of mercy  is by the word eleéō, el-eh-eh’-o; to compassionate (by word or deed):—have compassion, pity, or show mercy.

You may have noticed in that definition is an unusual emphasis. I find it interesting that the Strong’s definition here expresses compassionate to emphasize its verb form: to compassionate, as if it’s something actively going on, like to calibrate an instrument or to rotate an object. To compassionate is to actively exemplify compassion.

This is most commonly used in phrases extolling God’s mercy on believers, or God’s mercy on Israel. It is something bestowed upon others who are not deserving, and recognized as such by those who receive it.

From a resource called the Outline of Bible Usage, the word here in Matt 5:7 for mercy has its root in the following meanings:

  • to have mercy on
  • to help one afflicted or seeking aid, or to bring help
  • to experience mercy

Joseph Benson, a minister in the early 1800’s, provides this commentary:

Matthew 5:7. Blessed [or happy] are the merciful — The tender-hearted, compassionate, kind, and beneficent, who, being inwardly affected with the infirmities, necessities, and miseries of their fellow-creatures, and feeling them as their own, with tender sympathy endeavour, as they have ability, to relieve them; and who, not confining their efforts to the communicating of temporal relief to the needy and wretched, labour also to do spiritual good; to enlighten the darkness of men’s minds, heal the disorders of their souls, and reclaim them from vice and misery, from every unholy and unhappy temper, from every sinful word and work; always manifesting a readiness to forgive the faults of others, as they themselves need and expect forgiveness from God. The merciful, says Erasmus, are those “who, through brotherly love, account another person’s misery their own; who weep over the calamities of others; who, out of their own property, feed the hungry and clothe the naked; who admonish those that are in error, inform the ignorant, pardon the offending; and who, in short, use their utmost endeavours to relieve and comfort others.”

These qualities have all been an idealized hallmark of believers throughout the years. Many an orphanage, hospital, school, and missionary endeavor has been formed from these very ideals. Believers inspired and motivated by this kind of mercy would seek outlets for expressing it in their communities or building new institutions to meet the needs of others.

Additionally, the specific form of the word “mercy” used in this statement of Yeshua is used in only one other place in the New Testament:

“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”Hebrews 2:17

This unique sense of the word in both of these passages implies an active quality of mercy and compassion. The high priest was always and actively ministering about the work of the temple and interceding on behalf of the requirements of Torah and the offerings of the people. The idea conveys the concept of never slumbering nor relaxing its guard. In this regard, the compassionate believer is one who is always ready and prepared to provide help and assistance at the slightest indication of need.

As we review the passage again “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” we see how one who is merciful to others is also destined to receive mercy. It is not unusual in the teachings of Yeshua to find what I call reflexive teachings, kind of like the biblical version of karma.

For example:

  • Forgive and you will be forgiven.
  • By extending mercy, you will receive mercy.
  • Give, and it shall be given to you.

These passages are typically viewed as the giver of the quality then becoming a recipient of that same quality from God.

However, I wonder if you may have ever considered that the giver may not always directly be God, but simply the response of those around you? If you are always providing forgiveness, then it is more likely you will be forgiven by others for some misstep. If you extend mercy on a regular basis, then others will be more merciful with you. If you are generous to others, then others are more likely to be generous with you.

It appears to me that one of the cornerstones of Yeshua’s teaching and ministry is the necessity for believers to avoid hypocrisy at all cost, because that was what the religious life of Israel had become at that point. Yeshua was constantly railing against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders because of their incessant obsession with the minutiae of the letter of the Torah, all the while remaining oblivious to the spirit of the Torah.

Matthew 23:23  "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law--justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

I believe he was really trying to get to the root of the issue which was the heart condition: if the heart is right, then the outward practice will be right.

These reflexive sayings of Yeshua also point to that objective: if we are forgiving, extending mercy, and giving from the sincerity of the heart, then those things will be exhibited back to us with the same level of sincerity.

Newton’s law of physics may state that every action has an opposite and equal reaction, but Yeshua teaches that every action can have a responsive action in kind, that is, in the same quality as it is offered, not its opposite.

This is a great principle when it is understood correctly, but it needs to be removed from its common misunderstood application, which is that we should be giving in order to get something back. “Giving to get” is so far removed from every biblical principle and pattern, it defies comprehension.

When understood correctly, this general principle of Yeshua actually states the opposite of giving to get something in return. We are just supposed to give mercy and compassion unilaterally at all times, and by default we will then be receiving back in the same measure we use towards others.

If we don’t receive back in every instance, then it is no big deal; we are simply applying a law of averages. Sometimes we may not have an immediate response; other times we may receive back more than we gave. The point is that it is a principle to be applied generally, not absolutely.

And don’t we see this to be true in our lives? If we are angry with someone, they are likely to respond in anger. If we are helpful to others, they are likely to be helpful back when we may need assistance.

Joseph Benson continues to comment on these acts of receiving mercy:

They shall obtain mercy — When they most need it. As they deal with their fellow-creatures, God will deal with them. He will incline men to show them mercy and deal kindly with them in this world, and he himself will grant them mercy and loving kindness in the day of final accounts. And since the best and happiest of mankind may need even the former, and inasmuch as all will want the latter, this is surely a strong and powerful argument to persuade us to show mercy to men, in any and every way in our power, that both God and men may show mercy to us. Add to this, that, were there no other inducement, the comfort and satisfaction arising from a disposition that renders us so like our heavenly Father, might, one would suppose, be sufficient to prevail with us to endeavour, especially in this instance, to imitate him who, being touched with the feeling of our infirmities, was daily employed in relieving them, and even took them upon himself, continually going about doing good, and at last giving up his life to ransom ours.

And really, all of these qualities that we talk about at the Core of the Bible have to do with this imitation of God. Because when we imitate God, we, being made in his image, then reflect his character and glory to those around us. In so doing, the kingdom is evidenced and possibly grown as others are drawn to its light.

Well, as always, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Compassion is not only a way for us to reach out and exhibit God’s love to others, but when we extend mercy to others, we will be blessed by receiving mercy in return, not in order to receive mercy, but as a by-product of our own attitude of compassion toward those around us.

We need to keep in mind that compassion is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, and forgiveness. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.

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