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Amplified: You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
KJV: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
NLT: But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Philips: No, you are to be perfect, like your Heavenly Father. (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: Therefore, as for you, you shall be those who are complete in your character, even as your Father in heaven is complete in His being. (Wuest: Expanded Translation: Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father who is in the heavens is perfect.
THEREFORE YOU ARE TO BE PERFECT AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT: Esesthe (2PFMI) oun humeis teleioi os o pater humon o ouranios teleios estin. (3SPAI): (Genesis 17:1; Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:26; Deuteronomy 18:13; Job 1:1,2,3; Psalms 37:37; Luke 6:36,40; 2Corinthians 7:1; 13:9,11; Philippians 3:12, 13, 14, 15; Colossians 1:28; 4:12; James 1:4; 1Peter 1:15,16) (Mt 16,45; Ephesians 3:1; 5:1,2; 1John 3:3)
See F B Meyer - Perfect As God
Therefore - (term of conclusion) Based on what He has just said about the need to demonstrate in one's life those things He has just described such as going the extra mile (now we know where this common saying comes from!), loving enemies and even praying for them, etc.
C H Spurgeon exhorts all blood bought, heaven bound sons of God to "Stretch towards the highest conceivable standard, and be not satisfied till you reach it."
You are to be - This phrase is interpreted by many in the sense of a future command. Jesus clearly intends it as an exhortation in light of all He has already said. We are called to be lights in this present darkness and the best light shines like the Father and gives glory to Him. Others see in this statement a promise -- "you shall therefore be perfect" (Young's Literal). The pronoun you is emphatic and clearly charges those who would be His followers to be perfect.
To be (2076) (estin) is present tense indicating that this is continually to be the goal to which the believer is ever straining and stretching toward in this life. This charge by our Lord, reminds one of Paul's great declaration…
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (see note Philippians 3:14)
You are to be perfect - This phrase without a doubt is the most unsettling, even shocking aspect of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for if the gauge of righteousness is absolute perfection, what hope is there for anyone? Jesus eliminated all human standards of morality and conduct when He spoke forth these words for even the "righteous" Pharisees, who were generally considered to be the embodiment of the highest human righteousness, could not qualify according to this standard. Jesus however did not create a new standard, for God has never had any other standard for man other than perfect holiness (see Lev 11:44, notes 1 Peter 1:15; 16)
El Shaddai (note) (our Sufficiency) gave a similar charge (to "be ye perfect") to Abraham, Moses recording …
In Leviticus God declared…
We also see that what Jesus says in His sermon closely parallels what Moses recorded in Deuteronomy…
Spurgeon alludes to the promise aspect of Matthew 5:48 in his book When Christ Returns, writing that Christ will be glorified for then…
We will be “perfect, even as [our] Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Truly, beloved, He who works this in us will be a wonder. Christ will be admired and adored because of this grand result. O mighty Master, with what strange moral alchemy did You work to turn that morosely dispositioned man into a mass of love! How did You work to lift that selfish lover of mammon up from his hoarded gains to make him find his gain in You? How did You overcome that proud spirit, that fickle spirit, that lazy spirit, that lustful spirit—how did You contrive to take all these away? How did You exterminate the roots of sin, even the fine root hairs, out of Your redeemed, so that not one tiny filament remains?
(When Christ Returns)
John MacArthur - Because God is perfect, those who are truly his children will move on in the direction of his perfect standard. f you are stalled, or if you are slipping in the opposite direction, it is right that you examine yourself. Pursuing the standard of perfection does not mean we can never fail. It means that when we fail we deal with it. Those with true faith will fail—and in some cases, fail pathetically and frequently—but a genuine believer will, as a pattern of life, be confessing sin and coming to the Father for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Perfection is the standard. Direction is the test. If your life does not reveal growth in grace and righteousness and holiness, you need to examine the reality of your faith—even if you believe you have done great things in the name of Christ. (MacArthur, J., F. The Gospel According to Jesus)
In his book the Vanishing Conscience, Dr MacArthur makes an interesting statement that applies to the high standard Jesus called us to in Matthew 5:48 - "It is folly to think that being imperfect somehow provides us with a legitimate excuse to exempt us from God’s perfect standard. (The Vanishing Conscience)
Pentecost writes that now…
Perfect (5046) (teleios from télos = goal, purpose) means one who has attained to the end (aim) or to the intended goal (telos). If anything has fully attained that for which it is designed it is perfect (teleios). Teleios was used to refer to the maturity of an adult, which is the end or aim to which the child points. Thus it denotes those who have attained the full development of innate powers, in contrast to those who are still in the undeveloped state (children). Teleios signifies consummate soundness, and includes the idea of being whole.
Teleios (perfect) is often translated “mature”, but in the context the meaning is that of perfection, because the heavenly Father is the standard. We must measure ourselves not by others but by the Father. To be perfect is essentially the sum of all that Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount and ultimately is the sum of all that is taught in Scripture. The “sons” are to be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect. That perfection is absolute perfection and includes our words (Matthew 5:33-35, 5:36-37), our responses to injuries (Matthew 5:38-39, 5:40-42), and our dealings with our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45, 5:46-48). The great purpose of salvation, the goal of the gospel, and the great desire of the Father is that men would be conformed to the image of His Son, the only One Who ever lived a perfect life. If a man could live the way Jesus has told us to in this chapter, he would truly be perfect.
Perfection is our continual goal in this life, but in the life to come will be our everlasting possession and experience.
A T Robertson explains that perfect "comes from telos, end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our Heavenly Father. The word is used also for relative perfection as of adults compared with children."
Such perfection in this present earthly life is clearly impossible in one’s own power. To those who wonder how Jesus can demand the impossible, He later says, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27) (IM-possible but HIM-possible!)
What God commands and demands, He empowers and enables that it might be accomplished. As one person has phrased it…
You can't. He never said you could.
But He can and He always said He would.
For believers, it is Christ in us the hope of Glory (Col 1:27-note) Who empowers us by His indwelling Spirit (Gal 5:16, 17, 18, 24-see notes Gal 5:16; 17; 18; 24; cp Ro 8:13-note) to live the way the Father commands. Christ is now our life (Col 3:4-note). As one person has noted, if you remove the "a" from "Christian" and place it at the front what you see is "A Christ In"!
Paul beautifully expressed the "divine tension" of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in his letter to the Philippians calling on them to…
This same principle is even seen in the Old Testament where God promises the New Covenant to Israel (and by way of application to all who by grace through faith enter the New Covenant)…
In Colossians Paul illustrated this divine dynamic in his own life writing…
Paul reminded the saints at Colossae that Epaphras was praying for them…
In Hebrews we see this "tension" in the great prayer…
Regarding being perfect, Paul wrote…
Paul knew that his record had already been cleared before God on the basis of his faith in Christ and in that sense he was perfect (positionally) but he was also aware of the practical work of his being perfected in this present life and the future prospect of absolute perfection in the life to come writing that "our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (See notes Philippians 3:20; 21)
At the risk making Jesus' call to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect look too simplistic or too "mechanical", the table below attempts to demonstrate the three aspects of Christian perfection…
(See related discussion - Three Tenses of Salvation)
What should motivate us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? Paul exhorts the saints in Corinth…
How can we be sure that we will attain the state of perfection Jesus calls us to? Again the apostle Paul would seem to address this declaring to the saints at Philippi…
Henry Morris explains Jesus' call to be perfect this way…
Harry Ironside writes that…
This is perfection in the sense of the complete absence of partiality, thus imitating Him who is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but who lavishes His favors on just and unjust alike. God's choicest blessings are for those who demonstrate the same spirit of reverence for Him and meekness and compassion for others, which were seen in all their fullness in our blessed Lord as He walked this earth in the days of His flesh (He 5:7-note). That spirit, which is beyond the reach of the natural man, is fulfilled in those who have received a new life and nature through trusting in Christ as their Savior. No adverse circumstances can disturb the serenity of those who know the Lord and who acknowledge His authority over their lives.
Surely every right-thinking person must admit that the righteousness inculcated by our Lord in this matchless discourse (which has won the admiration of intelligent people everywhere) is a standard far beyond that to which the natural man can attain. It is only when one has been born again that he can live on this high plane. When men talk of the Sermon on the Mount being religion enough for them, they only show how little they understand the meaning of our Master's words. He portrays a supernatural life that can be lived only by supernatural power--the power that the Holy Spirit gives to him who believes the gospel. (Matthew 5 Commentary) (Bolding added)
Wiersbe - The word perfect in Matthew 5:48 does not imply sinlessly perfect, for that is impossible in this life (though it is a good goal to strive for). It suggests completeness, maturity, as the sons of God. The Father loves His enemies and seeks to make them His children, and we should assist Him! (Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)
Spurgeon has this devotional thought on "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7) writing…
As He is in the light! Can we ever attain to this? Will we ever be able to walk as clearly in the light as He whom we call “Our Father” is, of whom it is written, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5)? Certainly, this is the model which is set before us, for the Savior Himself said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Although we may feel that we can never rival the perfection of God, we are yet to seek after it and never be satisfied until we attain to it. (Daily Help)
Spurgeon commenting on Matthew 5:48 helps us understand what it means to be perfect…
Rise out of ordinary manhood. Get beyond what others might expect of you. Have a high standard. “Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Stretch towards the highest conceivable standard, and be not satisfied till you reach it.
We should reach after completeness in love,- fullness of love to all around us. Love is the bond of perfectness; and if we have perfect love, it will form in us a perfect character. Here is that which we aim at,-perfection like that of God; here is the manner of obtaining it,-namely, by abounding in love; and this suggests the question of how far we have proceeded in this heavenly direction, and also the reason why we should persevere in it even to the end, because as children we ought to resemble our Father.
Scriptural perfection is attainable, it lies rather in proportion than in degree. A man’s character may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing; and yet such a man will be the very first to admit that the grace which is in him is at best in its infancy, and though perfect as a child in all its parts, it has not yet attained to the perfection of full-grown manhood.
What a mark is set before us by our Perfect King, who, speaking from his mountain-throne, saith, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”!
Lord, give what Thou dost command; then both the grace and the glory will be Thine alone. (Amen)
In his sermon (God's Time for Comforting) Spurgeon writes…
Though you cannot be perfect, yet you must want to be perfect, and there must not be any sin which you knowingly spare. Cut them in pieces, every one of them; as soon as you know that anything is wrong, I pray you to have such a tender conscience that you will seek to escape from it; for, as long as you harbor even one of them, comfort will never come to you.
Another sermon Spurgeon (on Colossians 2:6 - see note) makes a comment that relates to be perfect…
Well, then; keep there! Keep there! Never get an inch beyond that position. When you get sanctified, still look to Christ as if you were unsanctified. When you are on the verge of being glorified, look to Him as if you were just newly come out of the hole of the pit. Hang upon Christ, you who are the best, just as though you were the worst. The same faith which saved Mary Magdalene, which saved Saul of Tarsus, must save you in the moment, when you shall be the nearest to the perfect image of Christ Jesus. It is “none but Jesus” now to your soul; let it be “none but Jesus, — none but Jesus,” as long as you live. (See full sermon by Spurgeon - Colossians 2:6 Walk for a Time to Come)
Ryrie explains that regarding His call to be perfect Jesus does not mean "without sin, but mature and complete in the likeness of God." (The Ryrie Study Bible)
Criswell - The idea of gaining maturity does not fully interpret this quotation from Lev. 19:2. Perfection is attainable only when evil is vanquished and the kingdom citizen is glorified. His present life ought to exhibit maturity and progress toward that ultimate goal of perfection. Whatever the interpretation, the demand for perfection is not to be weakened. Rather, Matthew magnifies the fact that the righteousness demanded of kingdom citizens cannot be attained on the basis of merit, but must be given through mercy. This statement summarizes Mt 5:17-48. (Believer's Study Bible)
James Montgomery Boice explains that in order to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect…
you must turn away from your own efforts completely and receive instead the perfection which God has already taken steps to provide for you. Nothing that you will ever do will be perfect. Only what God does is perfect. Hence, if you are to reach the perfection which God requires, it must be as the result of His working for you and in you…
In the eighteenth Psalm David speaks of perfection twice, once of God’s perfection and once of man’s. The point of the verses it that God is responsible for both kinds. In Psalm 18:30 David writes, “As for God, his way is perfect.” Then two verses farther on he adds, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Ps 18:32). Who is God? God is the One who is perfect. What does he do? God works to perfect sinful men. (Sermon on the Mount) (Bolding and underlining added for emphasis)
MacDonald explains that Jesus' "word perfect must be understood in the light of the context. It does not mean sinless or flawless. The previous verses explain that to be perfect means to love those who hate us, to pray for those who persecute us, and to show kindness to both friend and foe. Perfection here is that spiritual maturity which enables a Christian to imitate God in dispensing blessing to everybody without partiality. (Believer's Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson)
The Preacher's Commentary explains that…
The commandment to be perfect in the same way our Father is perfect is to be seen in this context of love. His perfect love is without discrimination; our love is to be open to all people, friends and enemies. We should not read the word “perfect” as a philosophical or moralistic perfection. As Bruce Larson has said of moralistic perfectionism,
“It will drive you up the wall. You can’t be all right and be well!”
The Greek word is teleios, a word which carries the meaning of culmination, of maturity, of achievement in function. We were created in the image of God, and having perverted this image in sin we are re-created in grace and predestined “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Ro 8:29KJV-note). The goal of the disciple is to live in this perfection, this teleios, this extension of the love of Christ. It is an active word and, in context, means that our love must be all-inclusive as God’s is all-inclusive. (Augsburger, M. S & Ogilvie, L. J. The Preacher's Commentary Series. Thomas Nelson)
William Barclay summarizes this section - Here we have the key to one of the most difficult sentences in the New Testament, the sentence with which this passage finishes. Jesus said: "You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." On the face of it that sounds like a commandment which cannot possibly have anything to do with us. There is none of us who would even faintly connect ourselves with perfection.
The Greek word for perfect is teleios (Greek #5046). This word is often used in Greek in a very special way. It has nothing to do with what we might call abstract, philosophical, metaphysical perfection. A victim which is fit for a sacrifice to God, that is a victim which is without blemish, is teleios (Greek #5046). A man who has reached his full-grown stature is teleios (Greek #5046) in contradistinction to a half-grown lad. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of his subject is teleios (Greek #5046) as opposed to a learner who is just beginning, and who as yet has no grasp of things. To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made. In point of fact, that meaning is involved in the derivation of the word. Teleios (Greek #5046) is the adjective formed from the noun telos (Greek #5056). Telos (Greek #5056) means an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal. A thing isteleios (Greek #5046), if it realizes the purpose for which it was planned; a man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world.
Let us take a very simple analogy. Suppose in my house there is a screw loose, and I want to tighten and adjust this screw. I go out to the ironmonger and I buy a screw-driver. I find that the screw-driver exactly fits the grip of my hand; it is neither too large nor too small, too rough nor too smooth. I lay the screw-driver on the slot of the screw, and I find that it exactly fits. I then turn the screw and the screw is fixed. In the Greek sense, and especially in the New Testament sense, that screw-driver is teleios (Greek #5046), because it exactly fulfilled the purpose for which I desired and bought it. So, then, a man will be teleios (Greek #5046) if he fulfils the purpose for which he was created. For what purpose was man created? The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to that. In the old creation story we find God saying, "Let us make man in our image after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Man was created to be like God The characteristic of God is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable goodwill, this constant seeking of the highest good of every man. The great characteristic of God is love to saint and to sinner alike. No matter what men do to him, God seeks nothing but their highest good.
The hymn has it of Jesus:
It is when man reproduces in his life (Ed Comment: Ultimately WE cannot accomplish this feat -- only as we surrender to the Spirit's enabling power can we "reproduce" fruit the Spirit births) the unwearied, forgiving, sacrificial benevolence of God that he becomes like God, and is therefore perfect in the New Testament sense of the word. To put it at its simplest, the man who cares most for men is the most perfect man. It is the whole teaching of the Bible that we realise our manhood only by becoming godlike. The one thing which makes us like God is the love which never ceases to care for men, no matter what men do to it. We realize our manhood, we enter upon Christian perfection, when we learn to forgive as God forgives, and to love as God loves. (William Barclay's Daily Study Bible - Matthew 5)
The Pulpit Commentary has a lengthy explanation (and admittedly a bit difficult to follow) on be perfect writing that…
In this respect, viz. love to others, you shall admit, says our Lord, no lower ideal than that of maturity, even such maturity as is found in Him who sends sun and rain on all alike. Some (Augustine, Trench) have seen in this a merely relative maturity, itself capable of further development; but the subject rather demands absolute and final maturity. This does not imply that man will ever have such fulness of love as the Father has, but that he will fully and completely attain to that measure of love to which he as a created being was intended to attain…
The simple and straightforward meaning of the verse, however, is this—You shall take no lower standard in love to enemies than God shows to those who ill treat him, and you shall, in fact, attain to this standard. Upon this… there arises the question which has been of so much importance in all ages of the Church—
What is the measure of attainment that is really possible for Christ’s disciples upon earth? Ought they not to expect to live perfect lives?
But the text gives no warrant for such an assertion. No doubt it says that attainment to maturity—to perfection according to creaturely limits—is eventually possible. But when this attainment can be made is not stated (Ed note: When we are glorified our perfection will be perfected!). Many will, indeed, affirm that, as our Lord is giving directions to His disciples concerning things in this life, the attainment also is affirmed to be possible in this life. But this by no means follows. Christ gives the command, and by the form of it implies that it shall be carried out to the full. But this is quite consistent with the conception of a gradually increasing development of love which, in fact will attain maturity, a state in which God’s love has ever been; but not immediately and not before the final completion of all Christ’s work in us (Ed note: I am not sure what the author means in this statement - he seems to be alluding to the ultimate perfection when saints are glorified.).
The words (in Matthew 5:48) form, indeed, a promise as well as a command, but the absence of a statement of time forbids us to claim the verse as a warrant for asserting that the teleiotes referred to can be attained in this life. Trench (‘Syn.,’ § xxii.) explains… “The Christian shall be perfect, yet not in the sense in which some of the sects preach the doctrine of perfection, who, so soon as their words are looked into, are found either to mean nothing which they could not have expressed by a word less liable to misunderstanding; or to mean something which no man in this life shall attain, and which he who affirms he has attained is deceiving himself, or others, or both.” (Matthew 5 Commentary scroll down for Homilies)
Is of God -Psalms 18:32; 138:8
All saints have, in Christ -1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15; Colossians 2:10
God’s perfection the standard of -Matthew 5:48
Entire devotedness -Matthew 19:21
Purity and holiness in speech -James 3:2
Saints commanded to aim at -Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13
Saints claim not -Job 9:20; Philippians 3:12
Saints follow after -Proverbs 4:18; Philippians 3:12
Ministers appointed to lead saints to -Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 1:28
Exhortation to -2 Corinthians 7:1; 13:11
Impossibility of attaining to -2 Chronicles 6:36; Psalms 119:96
THE WORD OF GOD IS
The rule of -James 1:25
Designed to lead us to -2 Timothy 3:16,17
Charity is the bond of -Colossians 3:14
Patience leads to -James 1:4
Pray for -Hebrews 13:20,21; 1 Peter 5:10
The Church shall attain to -John 17:23; Ephesians 4:13
Blessedness of -Psalms 37:37; Proverbs 2:21
Robert Yarbrough writes that the Bible calls for…
God's people are called to be perfect: "Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). In Scripture nothing is clearer than the unique holiness of God, so this cannot be a command for sinners to become God's ethical equals. It is rather the call to "be imitators of God…as dearly beloved children" (Eph 5:1-note). Children who treasure their parents typically mimic them. Christians should mimic their Lord, Who is perfect, thus reflecting His perfection in their lives. For some this will involve voluntary impoverishment for the sake of gaining true riches: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matt 19:21). For others it is not the pride of possessions but the pride of self-expression that must go: "If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check" (James 3:2).
While Paul calls on readers, not only to imitate God (Eph 5:1), but also to imitate him (1Cor 4:16; 11:1; 2Th 3:7), Paul denies that he is perfect (Php 3:12-note). Yet he calls believers to share in the derivative excellence that life in Christ bestows (Col 1:28-note; Col 3:14-note). Hebrews likewise speaks of the perfection of God's children, stressing that it is the result of Christ's death on their behalf: "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb 10:14-note; cf. Heb 11:40-note; Heb 12:23-note).
A key New Testament verse for understanding perfection in the Christian life is 2Corinthians 12:9 (note): "But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"
Believers are perfect to the extent that they participate in the cruciform grace that God offers in Christ. Christ was perfected through the travail of righteous living amid the bruising realities of an unjust world. The means and abiding symbol of the perfection He won is the cross. His followers know perfection as they abide in the bright shadow of this same sign.
PERFECT AS GOD
IN the garden the serpent suggested to our first parents that they should be as God, in knowing good and evil; but the Master tells us that we are to be as God in the character and temper of our inner life. If His words here are compared with the parallel ones in Luke 6., we discover that He desires us to resemble our Heavenly Father, not in our knowledge-which would, of course, be impossible, but in our love and mercy. The perfection on which He insists is a perfection of love. Our natures are, of course, limited in extent and shallow in depth as compared to the ocean fulness of the Infinite God; but a cup may be in its measure as brimming full as an ocean when the tide is high. Up to our measure we may become as full of Love as, in His far greater measure, our Father is; and this is what Christ demands when He says:
"Be ye therefore perfect,
This is the fifth illustration which He gives, that He is come, not to destroy, but to fulfil the Law by shedding abroad in our hearts that love which is the fulfilling of that Law; and it is interesting to notice exactly the change which He wrought in the ancient code.
The precept which our Lord quotes: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy," cannot be found in the Old Testament. On the contrary, its pages are strewn with the most moving exhortations to love. If any of my readers would take the pains to investigate the matter, they would be startled to find the numerous exhortations to love which are scattered through the ancient code, generally considered so rigorous and severe. "If," said Moses, "thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again." And again: "If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, woudst thou forbear to help him? Thou shalt surely help with him" (Exod. 23:4-5). In a later age the same kindly spirit appears in the injunction of the preacher: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth, lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him."" When, therefore, our Lord said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, ' Love your neighbour and hate your enemy,'" He did not mean to refer to the inspired teachers of His people, but to those later Rabbis and Scribes who had overlaid the pure gold of Moses with their own incrustations.
There were two ways in which the teachers of the corrupt periods of Hebrew history had vitiated the scope of these ancient laws. First, they had obliterated the words "as thyself," and whittled down the precept from "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," to "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." Next, they had, out of their own bad hearts, added the words, "and hate thine enemy" lowering the Word of God to suit their own tradition.
Was it not high time that the moss and grit of centuries should be removed from the ancient characters which the Spirit of God had cut in the legislation of Sinai, and that Christ should re-edit the old law, doing away with the hateful additions, and enlarging the significance of that word "neighbour"? They had delighted in limiting it. He rejoiced to level the walls of religious bigotry, jealousy, and national exclusivism, and taught that our neighbour is simply anyone to whom we can show kindness, so that the word stands for the universal brotherhood of man.
Our Lord desires that we should show love and kindness not only to man as man, but equally to our enemies as to our friends; to those that curse, hate, and despitefully use us, as to those who will sacrifice everything on our behalf.
To enable us to realize such a command He suggests the Inspiration of a great Nature, a great Example, and a great Hope.
(1) WE NEED THE INSPIRATION OF A GREAT NATURE.
"Sons of your Father which is in Heaven "; "Sons of the Highest" (Luke 6:35). Men count much on ancestry. To be connected, however distantly, with the great of bygone times, is a subject of never-ceasing congratulation. To be able to point to some tomb, where the cross-legged effigy on the stone denotes the Knight Templar, or the shell indicates the pilgrim who crossed the seas on the Crusades, is of prouder boast than wealth and lands. To wear a coat-of-arms, which proves royal affinity, ah, how much is this! And there is ground for it, because descent and blood undoubtedly count for something. When the special call comes there is something in heredity that answers it.
How much then must it not count for, when we stand face to face with urgent duty, that the capacity for its due discharge is certainly within us by virtue of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ?
We have been born again by the Word and the Spirit. From the family of the first Adam we have become grafted into the family of the second. We are all the children of God by faith in Him, and if children then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. And because we are sons God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. Since, then, we are partakers of the Divine Nature, we have within us the capacity for Divine Love. We may not be aware of its presence within us, but it is there, and if only we would dare to give it exercise, and allow it to make for itself an outlet in our kindly advances towards those who have served us ill, we should find that through the channels of outward expression the very fountains of Divine Love which are within us would pour their crystal tides.
You can love as God, not in quantity, but in quality, because God's own nature has been begotten in you, and awaits the opportunity of approving itself before men and angels.
(2) BUT WE NEED, ALSO, THE INSPIRATION OF A GREAT EXAMPLE.
Who is there that has not sometimes stood on the mountain of Transfiguration with Moses and Elias? A visit from some celestial nature, a biography, a noble act, a reunion which has revealed depths and emotion that surpass all previous experiences these have greatly influenced our lives, and made us resolve that life should henceforth be new. And so our Lord brings us face to face with a marvellous illustration of the love which He desires us to show.
Of course, He Himself, as He sat there, was the supreme instance of God's impartial love. But the time had not arrived when He could speak plainly of Himself; so He selected His example from the humbler book of Nature, which He had often studied in His highland home, and which lies open before all men's eyes.
It was the month of April. Before His eyes was spread a charming landscape, on which probably the natural incidents to which He referred were at that moment taking place.
At that moment the sun was shining. It was the Father's sun, " He maketh His sun to shine." It was His thought, His creation, the instrument of His benediction. "See," said the Master, "how the sun is shining on the children as they play their merry games, and at the same moment on the prison filled with hardened criminals; on the casement of the cottage to revive the sick girl's drooping life, and on the path of the poor fallen one, as she avoids it, and steals into the shade; upon the little patch of ground belonging to the poor widow, which barely affords her a living, and the acres of the avaricious tyrant, who cares neither for God nor man, and would despoil her of her holding if he could. The sun shines equally on them all."
Then the Master may have pointed towards the heavy rain-cloud, born from the Mediterranean, which came trailing over the country, dropping its beneficent showers from its impartial buckets. Yonder lie two fields with but a narrow fence between. That to the right belongs to an atheist of the worst type, who blasphemes God's name, underpays his servants, robs the widow, and browbeats the poor. That to the left is the holding of one who is as careful of his religious observances as the other is careless. The swift shadow of the cloud draws near. If it were steered by a human hand, it would probably be guided, so as to leave the one untouched whilst it poured its stores on the other. But there is no shade of difference in the distribution. The abundant and refreshing showers fall on either side of the fence.
Life is like an April day. It is not all sun, nor all cloud. The saddest lives have some patches of blue, some hours of sun. The happiest have some showers, and are overspread now and again with shadow. And surely this is best, for those characters are not the noblest which are spent always on the tableland, and never descend unto the valley of shadow. For Sun, you have had love at home, a happy childhood, a loving wife, sweet children, prosperous years in business, long spells of good health, happy episodes, weeks and months of country or sea. For Rain, you have had seasons of ill-health, of business anxiety, and of bereavement. Now, if we were to compare experiences between the men and women of our acquaintance in the same position of life, putting away all considerations of the inner peace of heart which religion gives, I do not suppose that in the outward life there would be much apparent difference. There are thousands of homes where God's name is not honoured, where but goodness and mercy, like guardian angels, follow the inmates all the days of their lives.
Why? Because the course of events in this world moves by a blind machinery? No. Because God has no special care whether a man be good or bad? No. But because God loves His enemies, blesses those that curse Him, and is kind to the unthankful and unloving. If anything, He seems more bountiful to those who oppose Him most, that by His mercy He may lead them to repentance.
A man will sometimes speak thus: "I am one of the luckiest fellows living; all my dreams have been realized; I have a good wife, have not had an hour's illness, and have never wanted for money." Such men do not realize that it is God who has given them all things richly to enjoy, making no distinction between them and His dearest children, because so set on breaking in upon their shameful neglect of His claims. He gives "rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with good and gladness," that we may turn from vanity unto the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein (Acts 14:15-17).
We might, from the experience of these men, edit a new edition of the parable of the Prodigal in this wise: that when the father in the distant home heard that his son had spent all that he had, instead of letting him come down to the herding of pigs and the eating of their husks, he sent him day by day supplies of sumptuous food, on each hamper of which these words were inscribed, "I love thee still; come home, haste to come home."
But God has given us another and better Sun than that which He has hung in heaven's porch. "He commendeth His Love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And the benefits of the death of the Redeemer are for the world. Therefore it was possible to carry the Gospel, in the' first instance, to Jerusalem. The men who had used Him most despitefully lived there, therefore the Master bade His disciples to begin at Jerusalem. "Tell Caiaphas, who sneered at My royalty, that I love him. Tell the grey-haired Annas, the irresolute Pilates and the mocking Herod, that I desire to bless them. Go and find out the men who drove the nails into My hands and laughed at My dying anguish, that I will pray for them." So the Master left us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
And God has given another and better Rain than that which fertilizes the fields, the rain of the Holy Spirit's influence and grace, which is for the most stubborn and obdurate offenders. Did He not descend in copious effusion upon the city of Jerusalem at the first, though it had but lately crucified the world's Redeemer? Take heart, you who think that you have grieved Him away, who have done Him despite, who fear that you have committed the unpardonable sin; even to you He comes with a shower of grace, falling with refreshing bounty.
This is the example that we are to follow. Nothing less than God's even-handed love is to be our model. We are to be perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We are called to be imitators of God, as dear children, walking in love, as Christ also hath loved us, even to the point of giving Himself for us (Eph. 5:1, 2). Anything short of this is not Christianity as our Lord taught it.
Dr. Abbott has said that he remembers, when he was a boy, sitting by the fireside of a little country inn in Maine, and hearing some men discuss the Sermon on the Mount. They were rough fellows, and one of them, scoffing at Christianity, said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour, nonsense! It is not in human nature." Exactly; such love is not in human nature. Men love those who love them, and salute their brethren, and stop there. But it was in Christ's nature, and it is in the Divine nature; and it is in the Divine nature to be imparted through Christ to those who claim it.
(3) WE REQUIRE, LASTLY, THE INSPIRATION OF A GREAT HOPE.
What animates a woman to spend her life on some brutal husband or ungrateful son? Is it not the hope that, at last, her love will conquer? And is it not this, in an infinitely higher sphere, that leads God, our Father, to pour out the ceaseless tides of His heart on the disobedient and rebellious? Does He not see the consummation when the heavens and the earth shall have become new as the result of His unstinted love? And ought not the same purpose to animate us?
It is recorded of a certain Chinese emperor that, on being apprised that his enemies had raised an insurrection in a distant province, he said to his officers: "Come, follow me, and we shall quickly destroy them." On his arrival the rebels submitted to him, and all expected that he would take the most signal revenge. Instead of this the captives were treated with the utmost humanity. "How!" cried his first Minister of State, "is this the manner in which your promise is fulfilled? Your royal word was given that your enemies should be destroyed, and, lo, you have pardoned them all, and even some of them have been caressed." "I promised," said the Emperor, generously, "to destroy my enemies. I have fulfilled my word, for, see, they are enemies no longer; I have made friends of them."
We must henceforth amend our ways, lest we be counted not worthy of Christ. We must rise to the level of His high demands, not in our own strength but His. And let us remember two things: First, not to wait for an emotion, but to obey by the sheer power of our will; and, secondly, to begin with individual's.
Have we an enemy who is always trying to curse us? We must be willing to bless him with the benediction of our goodwill.
Is there someone in our life who envies and hates us? We must be willing to be kind and good so long as we are sure that our behaviour is not misinterpreted or hurtful to his independence and moral life.
Is there one who despitefully uses and persecutes us? We must compel ourselves to pray for him, until presently a warm feeling of compassion fills our hearts.
Are there within our reach churlish and bearish people? Let us salute them, when we meet, with Christian courtesy and grace.
Thus you will reach perfection. It will not be the absolute and infinite perfection of God, for at best it can be only relative and finite. It will not be the perfection of angels, for they have never left their first estate. It will not be a perfection of knowledge, for we are all liable to error. It will not be freedom from temptation, or from such infirmities as weakness of body, dullness of understanding, and incoherence of thought. But it will be after your measure a full-orbed, equable, and loving nature, which shall go through the world shedding sunshine and rain on weary and hopeless souls until they be led to take up heart and hope again.
A little child gets into a railway carriage. In perfect simplicity she begins to play with some austere-looking man until he relaxes and the two become friends; and from them a genial warmth steals through the carriage, until everyone begins to talk kindly with his neighbour, and the tedium of the journey is relaxed. Oh, to go through the world like that, with God's radiance on our faces and His love in our hearts! Every day be sunshine or rain to someone, and especially to your enemies, and the people from whom you are naturally repelled.
You say that all this is impossible for you. It is high: you cannot attain unto it. But remember those sweet old words: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. I taught Ephraim also to go" (Hos. 11:1-3). Ask your Heavenly Father to teach you to go; to put His Spirit within you as the fountain of His life and love; to work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Everything lies in the will. Are you willing that His will should be done in and through you in respect to the life of love of which we have been treating? If so, then yield yourself to Him, saying, "I cannot be perfect in love, unless Thou dost undertake to realize in me and through me the image of Thine own perfection." (F. B. Meyer. The Directory of the Devout Life)