“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'”
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Be perfect. Really? No one is perfect, except God. Right?
I am reminded of the rich young ruler who called Jesus “good teacher”. (Luke 18:18) Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only one is good, and that is God.” (Luke 18:19) If no one is good but God alone, no one is good. Full stop.
Look at the context. He starts with this extreme statement: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20)
The Pharisees were probably considered pretty righteous dudes. They knew their Bibles. They devoted their lives to studying the Law and living rightly before God. If I was standing there, I am certain I would be asking myself, “What does a guy have to do?!”
Just when people like me might begin to grasp for hope of a way out, Jesus ratcheted up the standard even higher:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
By this time, I might have understood the point: no one measures up. If we are judged by the things we think, and not just the things we do, we are sunk! Who can be saved?!
Then Jesus adds the requirement, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect!” could it get any worse?!
Paul backs us up into the same corner using the Old Testament: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) (Proverbs 20:9 (“Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?”); and Ecclesiastes 7:20 (“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”)
If no one is good, and we have all fallen short, then no one can be perfect either. We don’t measure up. We are all doomed! We can’t gain our way into the kingdom of God because we aren’t good enough to enter.
The good news (the Gospel) is that we don’t have to measure up. We don’t get into the kingdom of God by earning our way; God offers it to us as a gift (otherwise, we would be able to boast about it). (Eph. 2:8-9) Jesus, who was good and perfect, redeemed us by his sacrificial death!
So, if we don’t have to be perfect, or even good, to enter the kingdom of God, does it not matter what we do?
Of course it does! If we are not going to earn our way in (like an employee working for a wage), but we want accept the gift God offers to those who become righteous by faith (Rom. 5:3-5) we need to accept all that goes with that gift: we become God’s children with the intention that we become like Him. (John 1:12)
Therefore, we should take goodness and perfection seriously. We can’t simply dismiss it because God has given us the gift of salvation with the intention that we would become like Him. In the rest of this meditation, I will focus on the perfection of love, which is the “excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) we should seek to emulate God, the Father, as His children.Continue reading “When Jesus Said, “Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect”, What Did He Mean?”