Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:48
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
The last verse of this chapter begins with the coordinating conjunction, “Therefore” (Matthew 5:48), translated from the Greek word “oun.” “Therefore” conveys a deduction, conclusion, summary, or inference to the preceding discussion. There is no physical activity involved at the heart of the illustration; instead, the focus is on loving your enemies. Does the previous study refer to only the sixth illustration or all six illustrations? Either consideration brings us to the same conclusion. The challenge of Jesus in our verse climaxes His teaching on the Kingdom’s righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees!
Jesus boldly challenges us to be perfect as the Father is perfect, making it impossible to reduce the strength of perfection. When a person discovers the perfection of the Father in heaven, he knows the required state for his existence. This perfection is not a list to perform or something to do but is a state of inner nature. It parallels the preceding discussion of the Father’s nature and challenges us to be sons (Matthew 5:45). Jesus does not require us, nor does the Trinity God invite us, to possess the Divine attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, or omnipotence. He opens His heart to us that we might share in His nature!
If we arrive at the state of “love your enemies,” we will know the reality of the other five illustrations. The invasion of the Father’s nature in our lives allows the boundaries of our love to be unlimited. It will no longer be a struggle to love those outside the boundary of the ones who love us. Greeting those who greet us will no longer limit us. However, the nature of the Father merging with us will not only achieve this, but it will also eliminate anger in the heart (Matthew 5:22). Belittling and demeaning those considered beneath us will be as repulsive to us as it is to the Father (Matthew 5:22). We will never be an adversary to anyone, even though we have adversaries (Matthew 5:25-26). The Father infuses our helplessness with His nature, bringing us to the reality of both the first and last illustrations.
The lust of the human heart that determines our perspective of others will be altered as well (Matthew 5:28). Lust is a form we use to establish the boundary of self-centeredness, living only within those limits. If the nature of the Father fills us, we will eliminate using others for self-benefit. When the Father’s nature fills us, He transforms our marriages (Matthew 5:31-32), and His redemptive love causes newness in our marriage. The Father’s honest heart becomes our integrity, and oaths will be unnecessary (Matthew 5:33-37). I can only turn the other cheek to the evil person when the Father’s nature causes me to love my enemies, and His nature flows in and through my life (Matthew 5:39). Being in the state of “sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45), allows us to answer the call of each of these illustrations.
Jesus said the heart of the Father is more than just lovely feelings about someone but is an enlarged picture of love. We cannot live in a passive state, indifferent to the actions and attitudes of others. We must always see His challenge in the context of “your Father in heaven.” Jesus defined this state of the Father as “perfect” (teleios). We can gain vital insight into this word’s depth from its use in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “You shall be blameless (teleios) before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). The word “blameless” is a translation of the Hebrew word “tamin,” meaning “whole” or “entire.” In the context of this statement in Deuteronomy, God called the Israelites to wholeheartedness and to lack compromise with pagan practices, to set aside involvement with all things outside the boundaries of their relationship with Jehovah. They were to be “perfect” in this focus! They were to be “tamin” or “teleios” with Yahweh, the Lord your God.
The desire of God’s heart for those who are His has not changed. What He wanted in the Old Testament He asks anew in the New Covenant. The righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is the call to “tamin” or “teleios.” It is the cry for an unalloyed commitment to the will or heart of God. The scribes and Pharisees had a shortsighted vision of God’s heart, and a distorted view of His desires. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law or the prophets. He came to take us beyond this distortion to the throbbing heart of the Father. We are to be God’s sons and know how He thinks, bringing about an uncompromising, unquestioned commitment and surrender to all God is in His nature. It will mean a desperate, passionate desire to embrace who He is, eliminating all selfish agendas. The goal of the Christian is not heaven, righteousness, victory, fruitful ministry, or gifts; the goal is the pure, unmarred heart of the Trinity God!
In the past, I have been overwhelmed with the demands of such a challenge. How can we stand before a group of people and make such uncompromising statements? Who will understand the depth of such a commitment? But I have since realized that our world is consistent in its demand for such focus. My basketball coach in high school stood before forty young men on the first day of practice and yelled, “This team will be number one in your life, or there is the door!” Making basketball my focus would determine my schedule, including hours of sleep, hours of practice, and study of basketball formations. There was no other way to produce a winning team. On his team basketball would consume my life.
The successful businessman is focused on his success, giving tireless hours and relentless efforts, demanding the same from those he hires. His employees must sacrifice for the same success. We admire this dedication in the musician. The long tireless hours of practice, the total commitment to developing skills, and the fearless determination for perfection are all qualities necessary for achievement. The marine at bootcamp hears this same challenge. Not everyone will survive the stressful demands of physical and mental training. Success is only for those who give everything! Jesus calls us to “perfection!”
In a previous study, we referred to the verb Jesus uses to present the necessary perfection. It is “esesthe,” which is the future, indicative of “eimi.” It is the verb that gives a state of “being.” Since it is the future tense and the indicative mood, it becomes an imperative, translated “shall be.” However, it is “shall be” in the sense of “must be.” Jesus presents the Kingdom of God, a new level of relationship and involvement with the nature of God, which establishes the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in a remarkable way (Matthew 5:20). This new righteousness goes far beyond that required for entrance into the Kingdom and not a righteousness we develop as we mature. The patterns and practices of righteousness may grow in maturity, but this righteousness is required to enter into this new state of being, the nature of the Father. Jesus said this in the Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. In the poverty of our helplessness, we can know His significant presence; in the merger of our helplessness and His nature, we become “sons!”
Perhaps we will better understand this subject of “perfection” as Jesus presents it if we see it in action; how will that look?
Communication of Life
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described His life! His life communicates the standard of living in being “sons of your Father in heaven.” Throughout the Scripture, Jesus is the first, the prototype of the new species called “sons.” Paul calls Him “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The wonder of that is in, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). Is there any wonder we praise Him?
Jesus was the first human to be the visible image of the invisible Father. We can see in Jesus the life God destined for us. Jesus’ sacrifice in birth and death established the new category. We merge with the heart and nature of God to become an expression of Him. Jesus’ heart spilled forth in redemptive love, and so should ours. Jesus loved His enemies because of oneness with the Father, and we must do the same. We can live in victory over our evil world because Jesus did. We can demonstrate the perfect heart of the Father, just as Jesus did, living in the power of the Father’s nature. Paul summarized the focus and purpose of his ministry when He said, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect (teleios) in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).
Christlikeness is not a dream, goal, or heavenly experience. To be like Christ is not beyond the typical Christian’s life but is the reality of every Christian. The cry of the Christian’s heart is, “Oh, to be like You!” The plea of the Christian’s will is, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me!” The mindset of the Christian is, “Oh, I want to know You more. Deep within my soul, I want to know You, to feel Your heart and know Your mind!” Christianity is not rules, ceremonies, rituals, a belief system, theology, or organizational structure. Christianity is Christlikeness! Anything less than this belittles and demeans the death of Christ. We cannot settle for less than, “Therefore you shall be perfect (teleois), just as your Father in heaven is perfect (teleois)” (Matthew 5:48).
Now let us return to our passage. The sixth illustration begins with the same contrast Jesus presented in the other five illustrations. Those of the past lived in an Old Covenant system and introduced a standard, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43). Contrasted with this is the bold statement of Jesus, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The phrase “But I say to you” is the same in all six illustrations. In the Greek language, “I” is included and indicated in the verb “say.” However, Jesus, in His authority, gives a renewed emphasis with the word “ego” or “I.” He says, “This is how I am!” The content of “loving your enemies” is the style of Jesus, which is a contrast between His life and the Old Covenant.
Completion of the Law
What does “love your enemies” have to do with the law? During the days of Christ, there were many oral traditions (laws) based on the Old Testament, making it challenging to keep them all. Many scribes and Pharisees came to understand the necessity of prioritizing these laws. Long debates arose concerning the great commandment. In Jerusalem, the Pharisees “plotted how they could entangle Him in His talk” (Matthew 22:15). Other groups joined the scribes and Pharisees and designed trick questions to embarrass Jesus as a teacher. Jesus “silenced the Sadducees” (Matthew 22:34). The Pharisees regrouped and prompted “a lawyer,” exceptionally skilled in debate, to confront Jesus. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law” (Matthew 22:36). Jesus quickly responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Because he ignored the oral traditions of the scribes and Pharisees, many people listening to the Sermon on the Mount felt Jesus was forming a new religion with new rules. Jesus boldly said He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets (Matthew 5:17); in fact, He said it twice to make sure they heard Him. He proclaimed the fulfillment of the Law in Himself. Paul restated what Jesus said, “Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). If “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), if every desire He has for us comes from His loving nature, if now we have His nature and are “sons of your Father in heaven,” will we love our enemies as He did? Will we not express His heart? Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law, and we are to do the same.
Our self-centered approach to Jesus’ challenge is, “How can I do this?” But self-doing is the opposite of Jesus’ suggestion. When a conversation turns to loving my enemies, the same questions arise. “Love your enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” and “go the second mile” are excellent ideas, but how far do I go with such principles? After all, there are limits to everything. How many times do I allow an enemy to take advantage of me or that I forgive their offenses? When do I take a stand and place the enemy outside of the boundary of my love?
From the viewpoint of self-protection and self-centeredness, these questions seem legitimate. However, these questions arise from the framework of “doing.” Loving my enemies is a rule to keep, but when does the rule no longer apply? But Jesus does not suggest we follow the rule or achieve the activity. He proposes we come into the New Covenant, the “Kingdom of God!” We need a “nature” change. If I embrace my “poverty of spirit” (Matthew 5:3), always aware of my helplessness, He will merge with me (Matthew 5:4), and a new creature emerges, the Kingdom person. Jesus is a son “of your Father in heaven.” We can be “sons of your Father in heaven,” not something we do but someone we are! We think like He thinks and love as He loves.
As “sons of your Father in heaven” we no longer react to the actions of those around us. How we respond to our enemies is not determined by them dwelling within our required boundary of love, or that they meet our standards. Our enemies do not control us. We are Kingdom people, driven by God’s nature within us. The righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is the Father’s righteousness expressed through His sons. I know the merger of the Father and Jesus expressed through me as His son. I am an expression of God’s heart. I am Christlike!
If Jesus’ challenge is for us to DO something, we are lost. Jesus’ challenge is to surrender. Will we embrace our helplessness? Will we allow Him to merge with us and become who He created us to be? Will we become the new creature of the Kingdom? Will we be “perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?