In Matthew 5 Jesus embarks on a long lecture towards his disciples on various issues, and concludes the lecture by imploring them to be perfect. Which man can truly claim to be perfect without being guilty? We all strive for perfection; many successful stories in the world today possess a certain philosophy which is commonly known as perfectionism, and in the professional world today, perfection is often demanded and exchanged. Yet, when we try to translate perfection into our words and our ways, it is perhaps safe to say that no one man can claim to be truly perfect. If that is so, was Jesus asking too much of mankind? God and perfection fits each other to a tee, but mankind and perfection are perhaps a force fit. In today’s study, we will examine the perfection that belongs to God, and the perfection that we strive for when we imitate God.
your heavenly Father is perfect – God is perfect – do we really need proof for that, really? He is sinless, flawless, consistent and pure, holy and just. There are no accidents, there are no errors. As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless [2 Sam 22:31]. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omni-benevolent. He is lacking of nothing, he is wanting of nothing, he is full, complete, wholesome. Blameless, justified, righteous, good, spotless. And the list goes on. All of his characteristics simply adds substance to the fact that he is perfect.
Be perfect – Because your heavenly Father is perfect, you should be too – in other words, this is essentially a rephrasing of Ephesians 5:1 – Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. Because your heavenly Father is perfect, you, as His dearly loved children, should imitate him, and be perfect as well. Perfection isn’t the only characteristic of God that we’ve been told to imitate – we are asked to be blameless [Deu 18:13]; we are asked to be merciful [Luke 6:36]; we are asked to be compassionate [Eph 4:32], and many more. It’s a simple concept – we’re asked to be perfect, and we can be perfect like God is perfect, so why are we contented with our imperfect lives, behaviours, words and ways? Let us not be content oursevles with mediocrity, let us not give ourselves the leeway and tell ourselves it’s fine to be a little flawed, it’s fine to sin a little here and there. It’s not, because we’ve been told to be perfect. In perfection, there’s no leeway.
What is perfection?
In most cases it usually means complete, finished, pure – where no part is lacking or faulty. When referring to men, it probably doesn’t mean perfection like God, because God is certainly worthy of a textbook definition of perfection – faultless, sinless, totally blameless and spotless. Looking at the direct context of Matthew 5:48, in the few verses prior to it, Jesus taught on how the disciples should love their enemies as well as they love those who love them – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? [Matthew 5:46] It is a call for them to be consistent in their expression of love no matter who the subject is. Hence there is an important element of consistency in this perfection – be complete, be regular, be constant. Let us be mature and complete, not lacking anything [James 1:4]; let us proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ [Colossians 1:28], perfecting holiness out of reverence for God [2 Cor 7:1].
Are you perfect? Perhaps perfect is too extreme a term to ask. Are you complete, then? Are you consistent in your behaviour, your actions, your words? I’m not. I would like to think, though, that the me today has become less incomplete than the me of 5 years ago. Well, considering the fact that I was still a teenager 5 years ago, that might be natural. In Philippians 3:12, Paul admits that he isn’t perfect yet – Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Even if he isn’t perfect yet, or in his own words, yet to have taken hold of it, he would still press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus [Phil 3:14].
We may never become truly perfect in our lifetimes. But even so, we can still take Paul’s example and continue to press on towards the goal, even as incomplete as we are. Yet let us not be disheartened, let us not be discouraged – if we merely think of perfection as impossible and give up striving towards it, then we’ll gradually become more and more incomplete. Let us strive towards perfection – a godly perfection, and in the meantime, never cease pressing on towards the goal.