I started this ‘Sermon on the mount’ series on 17thJuly 2015. I have really enjoyed taking this most famous of sermons slowly and going through it verse by verse. Today we have reached the end of Matthew chapter 5 and this verse is summing up the little section between verses 17 to 48. Jesus has been telling His listeners that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisee’s. He is not talking about abolishing the law but making it even more radical. He is setting the bar so high that no-one could possibly attain it in their own strength. This thought is clearly shown in today’s passage. We know how perfect God is, so how on earth are we ever able to reach that standard, surely it is impossible? It must be possible because this verse is spoken as a command. It is not saying; have a go and do your best, get as close to God as you can. Use all your will power and see how you get on. No, it simply says “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”
Let’s investigate this passage a little further and see what Jesus is getting at.
Jesus is well aware that no human being is perfect. The bible says:
None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
So what does Jesus mean when He talks about ‘perfection’?
The word translated ‘perfect’ is the Greek word ‘Teleios’ (τέλειος) which could just as easily be translated as ‘mature’ or ‘complete’. See also the following verses which contain the same word;
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
See also 1 Corinthians 2:6. The equivalent in Hebrew would be the word ‘tamim’ which referred to animals without defect
Your lamb shall be without blemish (Exodus 12:5)
So the context of Matthew 5:48 has really nothing to do with perfection and imperfection as we understand it, but rather it is dealing with the maturity of our relationships with one another and how we respond in love. Love is the key, because that demonstrates how we respond like God would. All His actions are completed and motivated through the lens of love. The Pharisee’s were trying by their works to attain the required standard but they weren’t motivated by love at all. None of these commands that Jesus has just spoken would be possible without love. Love makes us go far beyond where our natural inclinations would go.
I will leave you with another aspect of being perfect. When we trust in Jesus for our salvation, we are placed ‘into’ him, we receive His righteousness and we are counted as righteous. Jesus has completely removed our sin. That means that we are accepted by God, our sin is no longer a barrier. As far as He is concerned, we are perfect because we are in Jesus. Whether you feel like it or not, God has declared you righteous. In Ephesians 1:4 it says that He chose us, so that we would be holy and blameless before Him. What great news!