“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
I don’t know how many times the chill of impossibility has traveled up my spine as I’ve read this verse. PERFECT. BE PERFECT. No way, Jose. (Or in this case, Haysoos).
While I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this verse with a chill, I can tell you it’s the same number of times I’ve read it without connecting it to the verses before it:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45).
This context makes all the difference, as context usually does 😉 I’ve known for a long time that “perfect” can also be translated “complete” or “mature.” I like the idea of maturing. Allowing for process is more gracious than a pass / fail word like “perfect.” In the natural, a mature son is probably more like his father than an immature son. So I can see Jesus encouraging me to grow up, to present a clearer image of God the Father.
At the same time, something doesn’t sit quite right with me about that understanding. I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. But it does seem odd to say “be mature as your heavenly Father is mature”; God hasn’t undergone a process of growth like I have.
Back to the context. God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. To give sun or rain only to the good and righteous would be *incomplete*. Jesus tells us to love our enemies so that we will be *complete* like our Father, showing love to good and bad alike.
God is love (1 John 4:16). Nothing is left out of that love. This is so fair and balanced Fox News can’t compare. Jesus is telling us to love completely: friends, enemies, lovers, and liars.
Here’s what’s funny though: Saying, “Be complete” makes me feel better than “Be perfect.” But being complete is no less impossible. Being complete means loving my enemies. We’re back to “No way, Haysoos.”
But I don’t believe Jesus said this so that we’d do our best to fulfill it. I believe He said it so that we would be swamped by its impossibility. His hope is that, as we’re being swallowed by the quicksand of our weaknesses, we would reach out and grab the Vine God is throwing us.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5). On our own, we can do nothing. If I grab onto and graft into the Vine, being complete is possible. Jesus is already the Son who is like His Father. He died for all—friends, enemies, and everything in between. His love is complete.
“No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is complete in us” (1 John 4:12).