by James Wong
Becoming perfect is a process working towards improvement and a better end. A perfectionist is a person who believes that work or anything less than perfect is unacceptable. If you don’t know, very few people can live with a perfectionist!
Jesus teaches about being perfect but not being a perfectionist. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). To understand the meaning of this verse we need to read the preceding verses starting from verse 43. It is a passage that contains the most concentrated expression of the Christian ethic of personal relationships. What does “Be perfect” mean?
1. To be perfect is to be like God. Our heavenly Father is perfect (see v.48). How can we imperfect mortals match up with the standard of God? We sometimes even hate ourselves because we know we are not perfect human beings. No one is. What is Jesus asking us to strive for when he says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can we can become perfect like God? Is this possible?
2. God is perfect because he is gracious. God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45 NIV). God is a perfect God because he makes no distinction between the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. He gives them equal opportunity to survive by providing them sunshine and rain. Our ethical thinking demands that the good be rewarded and the evil be punished. Not so in the eyes of God. Then God must be unfair! God is not unfair, he is just good and full of grace. He gives to those who do not deserve it. This is grace!
3. To be perfect is to love our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:24). The great Jewish tradition and law taught one to love one’s neighbor and hate one’s enemies. It is a fair deal. To love one’s enemies and pray for them is contrary to all cultures. The Greek Word for love, ‘Agape’ used here means a determination of the mind. It is an unconquerable goodwill even to those who hurt and injure us. To love our enemies is an act of the will. It is a decision we have willed ourselves into doing. It is a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural man. This is possible only when Jesus Christ enables us to conquer our natural tendency to anger, bitterness and revenge.
4. To be perfect is to do more than conventional belief. There is no need for a religion to teach us to love those who love us. Jesus says, “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 are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matt 5:46-48). Robbers, thieves, extortionist, extremist, murders, sexual perverts, human traffickers, drugs dealers, law breakers, jail breakers, … they love those who love them. To love like them is just human. To do more is to be perfect like our heavenly Father. Are we doing more?