It’s a verse that, at first read, I’d just as soon skip over. Mark it “not applicable.” After all everyone knows nobody’s perfect.
Jesus is setting the bar pretty high in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-47). Angry with your brother? Insult him as an “empty head”? Call him a foolish, impious, godless moron? You might just as well have murdered him. Look on a woman with lustful intent? You’ve already committed adultery with her in your heart. Divorce unjustly and remarry? That’s adultery too. What’s more, don’t make idle promises. Be a straight-shooter. Your yes, yes. Your no, no.
And if that list of “to do’s” isn’t already too much, when it comes to those who slap you in the face, turn the other cheek. If they sue you for the clothes on your back, give them your outer clothes as well. If they want you to go one mile, go two. And give to whoever begs and lend to those who want to borrow (now that’s really getting uncomfortable).
But the Teacher’s not done yet. Pray for those who persecute you, He says. Love those who hate you. Greet those who set themselves against you.
And then, the cherry on top! Be perfect. Really?
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:48 ESV)
But nobody’s perfect I think. And especially not that perfect–not God-like perfect. That’s why I need Someone else’s perfection in my place. Why I need the Savior’s righteousness credited to my account. And, to be sure, that’s true. But it doesn’t allow me to check “not applicable” beside these high and holy standards.
Because perfection also has the idea of completeness. Of something having been brought to its end with nothing lacking. And so, Jesus says in effect, be complete and seek to do it all. Curb your anger. Deny your lust. Be just. Be honest. Be willing to be walked on a bit. And take the high road, even with those who want to take you out at your knees. Do it all. Be perfect, because it’s who you are in Christ. Be complete, be mature, because you are children of the God of heaven (5:45).
No, I’m not perfect. But I do have power. Not my own, but His. And so, by His enabling, shouldn’t I aspire to be complete, to be mature, to be walking with a holy determination to live as the Master says people of the kingdom should live? I’m thinkin’ . . .
Be perfect. I need to resist the temptation to let my eyes glaze over those words and think that such a high standard is somehow an irrelevant standard. That because I know how imperfect I am, that His power is somehow insufficient. Instead, believing that I am a new creation in Christ, and can do all things through Christ, I embrace the high and holy calling of the kingdom of Christ and desire with all my heart to be perfect, just as my heavenly Father is perfect.
And that only by His grace. And that only for His glory.