Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)
Recently, comments like "You can't be perfect!" or "I know I'm not perfect!" have crossed my ears so frequently that I felt a need to explore this issue from a biblical perspective. What did Jesus mean by the words, "Be perfect"? Does He expect us to take Him seriously? We find clues in the context of the passage:
Matthew 5:44-48 – Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)
Here Jesus is talking about loving enemies. He notes that God dispenses rain and sunshine on the bad and good alike. God doesn't show favouritism in how He distributes His provisions. Likewise, we must extend love to our enemies just as to our friends. That is perfect love because it is how God loves humanity. Being perfect, then, means to reflect God's nature in how we love.
Interestingly, much conflict within Christianity has resulted from attempts to perfect the church. But it's perfectionism. Countless people have been harmed in the many attempts to purge perceived error from the church. And that's just the problem: "Perfect" is seen as the absence of error. Isn't that how we use the word — as in a "perfect" examination? That's not how Jesus used the word!
When "be perfect" comes to mean the absence of fault, then the focus turns toward human imperfection, and, along with that, an obsession to eradicate it. But for Jesus, "perfect" is not about the absence of flaws. It is not about human "perfection". It is about God's perfection; that is, about the fullness and completeness of God available to us through Christ. As we surrender the beliefs, assumptions, values, idols, etc., which obstruct God's fullness, then His nature — His love, grace, patience, etc. — can operate in and through us. Being "perfect" is about "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". (Ephesians 4:13b NIV) It is about being filled with God's Spirit.
Prayer: Lord, draw our attention from our many imperfect limits and onto Your perfect, complete fullness. May we trust that, in Christ, we have all we need to be effective in this fallen world. Amen.