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Godlike Perfection

You know that Scripture, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? It’s incredibly intense, isn’t it? I’ve always thought so.It doesn’t even sound fair. It feels as if it is full of condemnation. How am I to respond to this?” Alright Jesus, I didn’t know I should do my best to do everything exactly right before, but now that I know I’ll just live perfectly. I’m sure it’ll be cake.” My interpretation, after rebeginning my life in Christ, was that it really was simply the way God expected us to live and would be happy with nothing less. I’ve tried and failed and cried over this piece of Scripture, pleading for mercy, full of shame. My interpretation just can’t be right I thought. It was killing me, but the words of Christ are life.

What others have taught me about this little piece of Scripture has not been much better. There’s the classic interpretation that Jesus is merely using hyperbole. He’s merely using exaggeration to say something with more emotional force. Jesus is simply telling us to be perfect as something that we should strive for, but it is obviously not actually obtainable. To me, this seems like a useless interpretation that makes what Jesus said not even really matter. It makes the words almost inapplicable. Everyone already knows that they should be good, that they should do the best they can to be perfect. I think Jesus’ words are more full; there is more depth here than an exhortation to try one’s best.

I always thought about the verse in isolation from the words around it, and so did others who talked about it. The key is in the context. Here are the surrounding verses:

You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you: Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the 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 good is it? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-4

Like so many teachings of Jesus, it’s all about love. The exhortation to be perfect is not about perfectly following every little rule, but about the inclinations of our hearts. It’s about loving in a manner that is previously unknown to humanity. The old way of loving is from God, but it is an approximation to the type of love that we are to live in and by. Jesus here gives us the end goal as to what our love should look like. It should look like God’s, perfect. Perfect in what way? Loving enemies and friends. Loving those who are by nature, culture, or actions offensive and counteractive to us, the way that the Father provides for the needs of even the evil. This is the pinnacle of love. That love is the type of perfection we are to aspire to, then live in it.

It is harder than it may appear. Would you love someone who always took and never gave? Would you love someone left a sick taste in your mouth by the way they treated others? Would you love someone that raped you? Hurt your family? Killed thousands without remorse? Forced and filmed child pornography? Destroyed your most intimate relationships? Hated you? Loving the unjust and disgustingly evil is hard. Loving those who have done a great injustice to us or a person that we love deeply is even more difficult. These are the people Jesus loves and calls us to love. Even the worst enemies that we can imagine. This is godlike perfection.

Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. Morpheus
    March 31, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    but what is love? is love blind approval, a pat on the back, a promise that whatever sins have been committed will go unpunished? or is love recognizing that yes, you’ve done horrible things, and you are forgiven for them, but you must still face the consequences of what you’ve done?

  2. jeremiah
    April 2, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Definitely agree. But the relational disconnect that happens with sin is destroyed and they are given intimacy because of the power of forgiveness. The consequences here and now, they should face.

    This post was more meant to be about the love of people for others. It’s freeing to love regardless. It’s godlike to love that deeply without holding past actions against someone. Indeed, I agree, justice should be done. But the desire for justice comes, at least for me, much more easily than the desire to love them as Christ loves them.

  3. Morpheus
    April 21, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Very true. There’s no allowance for bitterness about the things of the past here. I mean, if God held my past against me, it would probably mean that a) He hasn’t forgiven me, and b) I’m completely screwed.

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