Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Lust is identical to adultery? Anger brings judgement just the same as murder? Don’t just be kind to annoying people, but actually love our enemies? And now Jesus says: be perfect, be just like God.
What a statement. I admit that most of the time I gloss over this part so I don’t feel utterly defeated. If you read Matthew 5 as being prescriptive for how you should live your life, you are going to feel beat up long before you get to verse 48. But then comes the sucker punch—just be perfect.
I know I can’t be perfect. I can’t live like God. And when you look at Matthew 5 from a behavior and expectations standpoint, it feels as if Jesus is heaping impossibly heavy boulders onto our backs and asking us to carry them up a mountain.
But Jesus isn’t telling His disciples how to achieve perfection on their own. It would be soul-crushing if that were His point. Instead He reveals the deeper truth of the law, the deeper truth about who He is, and the deeply important truth about who we are in relation to Him.
Verse 48 is Jesus’ way of reasserting what He already said in Matthew 5:17: He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law.
He fully filled the requirements of the law.
He did these all these things for us.
He is helping us see the world as He sees it.
He is perfect and offers His perfection to us.
Let me re-phrase what I think Jesus is saying here: “Therefore, in light of who I AM, be healed, be holy, be perfect. Be free to call God your Father, to have a relationship with God, and to be perfect. I have made you to be so.”
Jesus is calling you and me to discard our sin-filled notions of the law and how the world works, and to catch the vision of His Kingdom. Both in our inner thoughts and motivations, and out in the world. This is the rallying cry of Jesus: you can’t be perfect, but follow me and I am perfect for you.
Questions for reflection and discussion: What do these words from Jesus feel like to you? A burden? A promise? A hope? A judgement? How does Jesus’ action of saving grace and redemption flip even the meaning of these words upside-down? What does that mean for us?
Today’s devotionals were written by Joel Duncan. Joel is happily married to Melissa and the father of three wonderful children. As the Director of Local Outreach, Joel’s goal is to help others love God and love their neighbors (Matthew 22:36–40).