Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NASB)
I remember taking a New Testament class in college when this verse came up. A group of guys were angry that Jesus would command something so impossible to fulfill. None of us is perfect — how cruel of Jesus to insist on something we could never do. I don't remember how my very boring professor explained it, but here are two really uplifting things about this verse that not everyone who reads the Bible gets:
- “You are to be perfect” is both a command to be obeyed, and a promise that God will fulfill. Jesus had just finished teaching on the motives of the heart. The religious Jews were used to outward rituals and picking at the flaws of other’s behavior. But Jesus taught that it’s not enough to physically abstain from adultery, if our inner thoughts and desires aren’t pure, we’re still adulterers. We have no right to be proud that we’ve never killed anyone if we assassinate others with insults, calling them fools and idiots. In God’s eyes, we can commit murder, adultery, and all sorts of evil through the feelings we nurture in our hearts. Jesus was showing us how to please God at every human level, which is what purity and perfection is all about. He is saying, “If you live this way, you will be made perfect, just like your heavenly Father.” It’s a statement in the future tense saying that both outward and inward obedience is how God can make us just like Him.
- Perfection in Greek, also means, “complete.” When we live in faith with all our hearts, mind and strength, we become complete and perfect. Perfection is our standard and nothing less, even as we struggle to reach it very imperfectly. But Christians who settle for a semi-blessed life with a semi-obedient heart, dishonor God and turn their backs on the completion that He wants to create in them. We can’t be complacent and tolerate anything that is less than perfect in our union with Him. Being perfect means being Christ-like in our behavior, our desires, our love, our vision, our authority and our hatred for evil. As we strive for this, God makes perfection happen.
So for those who love to pull out that old phrase, “I’m not perfect, you know…” It’s time to banish that from your vocabulary. God wants to perfect you despite your imperfections. He’s not looking at the rules and regulations of the Pharisees, but the obedience of your heart and soul. What desires do you nurture inside yourself? What yearnings are on fire in your heart every day? What words do you want to greet Him with every morning? How eagerly to you want to hear Him speak? And what hidden sins of anger or grudges or immorality still smolder inside of you? Jesus commands us to clean house, be perfectly sincere in our obedience, and He will perfect us supernaturally.