“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NASB).
Matthew 5-7 is what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus lays down some pretty heavy things to describe what God’s kingdom is like. For the most part it is filled with things that sound completely opposite to the world in which we live. For instance He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst and my favorite: Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you.” I don’t know about you but at first glance these things don’t sound like blessings.
Jesus was a bit misunderstood in His day because He spoke of a heavenly kingdom and his audience didn’t have ears to hear. You see Jesus lived and spoke from the Spirit while His hearers were attempting to interpret Him with only earthly ears. So what He saw as blessing appeared to be a curse to most. Jesus understood how much the world needed Him and that the poor, mourning, hungry, thirsty and persecuted ones would be the ones to come to Him because they would recognize their need. Jesus knew how to see through things to the source and goal; whereas we tend to be blinded by the immediate.
So when we come to Matthew 5:48 and its command to be perfect we think to ourselves “How can I be perfect?” If we look at the immediate context for this verse we will see Jesus had just said we are to love even our enemies. He made the point that anyone can love those who love them back but we are to love even those that don’t. This is God’s kind of love. Essentially Jesus is telling us to love with God’s perfect love. Well, the question still remains can we be perfect and love others with God’s kind of love?
If we look at another section of the Sermon on the Mount we discover Jesus mentions the Ten commandments but not to set them aside, He actually seems to tighten down on them a bit. He says things like, “You have heard it was said, Do not commit murder; but I say don’t even be angry with a brother.” Again He said, “You have heard it was said, You shall not commit adultery; but I say you will be guilty even for looking at a woman with lust.”
When we look at what Jesus had said prior to His command for perfection it seems to make a little more sense. You see I believe what Jesus is doing in this sermon is backing us all into a corner. He is saying to us in so many words that God is perfect, and He demands perfection from us. For those people standing in front of Him that day it must have been tough to hear and even now I think most people attempt to rationalize what Jesus said by saying things like “Well, what He really meant was…” Essentially we end up saying something equivalent to God just wants us to do our best and that’s all He asks of us. I say Phooey!
I think Jesus meant exactly what He said and has a right to demand perfection, but the good news is He already knows apart from Him we cannot attain it. So really what He’s doing here is pushing us in the hopes that we will give perfection a good try, because He knows if we do we will eventually come to the same conclusion He has and we might cry out to Him for salvation.
In Hebrews 10:14 we read, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Wow, there you have it! God does in fact demand perfection but He then goes on to fulfill it in us. You see God is perfect and His Law is perfect therefore He rightfully demands perfection from His creation. God gave us His law on tablets of stone through Moses then Jesus came along teaching us the Spirit behind the commandments. Not only that, but He fulfilled it too. “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).