by Mike Ratliff

23 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· ταῦτα [δὲ] ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι. Matthew 23:23 (NA28)

23 Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but you have neglected the more important things of the Law: justice and mercy and faith; but these things you should have done without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

A simple definition of mercy is “the withholding of deserved punishment and relieving distress.” The Greek ἔλεος (eleos) speaks of “compassion, pity.” One Greek lexicon tells us, “Kindness or good will towards the miserable and afflicted joined with a desire to relieve them.” Even the pagans of Greece felt pity. Aristotle wrote that tragedy aroused pity and even fear that the same tragedy might befall them.

This word, ἔλεος (eleos), appears in the passage I placed at the top of this post, Matthew 23:23. In it our Lord calls the Pharisees hypocrites because while they fastidiously counted out a tenth of the seeds of herbs to give as tithes, they ignored the more important matters of mercy and faith. In a graphic example of mercy, after the Lord told the disciples the parable of how the Good Samaritan showed mercy (Luke 10:25-37), He told them to “Go and do likewise.”

Paul also used this word often in his letters as a simple reminder of God’s mercy, a reminder that none of us can hear too often (Romans 9:23; 11:21; Galatians 6:16). In one of the most pointed verses in Scripture about salvation not being by works, Paul wrote to Titus: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (3:5) This word was imbedded in Paul’s thinking, in face, that he even used it often in salutations (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus :4).

So mercy is obviously always to the helpless. Moreover, as Ephesians 2:1-3 show, we deserve whatever tragedy, affliction, misery, depression, heartache, and all other pain that befall us, but God relieves it by His underserved mercy. In short, we deserve God’s wrath, but He is merciful; He relieves us out of His incomprehensible compassion.

What is the difference between mercy and grace?

  • Mercy – the withholding of what is deserved (e.g., death and hell).
  • Grace – the bestowing of what is not deserved (e.g., life and heaven).

Soli Deo Gloria!


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