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 - 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
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
"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)
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
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;
El Shaddai (note)
(our Sufficiency) gave a similar charge (to "be ye perfect") to Abraham, Moses
Now when Abram was ninety-nine
years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God
Shaddai); Walk before
Me, and be blameless (tamiym [root means "complete"] =
single-hearted, without blame, sincere, wholly devoted to the Lord).
In Leviticus God declared...
I am the LORD your God.
Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy. And
you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things
that swarm on the earth. (Leviticus 11:44)
We also see that what Jesus says in
His sermon closely parallels what Moses recorded in Deuteronomy...
You shall be blameless (Septuagint
translates the Hebrew word
tamiym [root that means "complete" and so single-hearted, without blame,
sincere, wholly devoted to the Lord. Tamiym is used to describe the Lord
in Job 37:16, 2 Sa 22:31. It describes sacrificial animals without
blemish or spot - no defects] with teleios
the same word Jesus
uses in Mt 5:48 for "perfect") before the LORD your God. (Deut 18:13)
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 comments
Because God is perfect, those who are
truly his children will move on in the direction of his
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. Grand Rapids, MI: Academic and
Professional Books, Zondervan Pub. House
In his book the
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
Pentecost writes that
our Lord answers the question
uppermost in the minds of His hearers,
How good does a
man have to be to please God?
Christ’s answer was,
“As good as God is.”
God is not satisfied with
anything less than absolute perfection. How good does a man have to be
to stand in the presence of God? He has to be as good as God is. If one
falls the slightest degree short of the standard of God’s inviolable,
unalterable holiness, he is unacceptable to God. What is God’s standard?
“Be ye therefore as perfect as
your Father in heaven is perfect.”...
God does not hate; therefore, if
a man is as perfect as God is, he will not hate (Mt 5:21-26).
not lust; if a man is as perfect as God is, he will not lust (Mt
God does not deceive; if a man is as perfect as God is, he
will not deceive (Mt 5:33-37).
God does not retaliate for injury done;
if a man is as perfect as God is, he will not retaliate. He will not
stand on his own rights (Mt 5:39-42).
God does not discriminate in His
response to needs; if a man is perfect, he will love not only his
friends but also his enemies (Mt 5:43-47). These are the marks of a
truly godly man. (Pentecost,
J. D. Design for living: Lessons in Holiness from the Sermon on the
Mount. Kregel Publications)
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).
signifies consummate soundness, and includes the idea of being whole.
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
our responses to injuries (Matthew 5:38-39,
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
A T Robertson explains that
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.
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
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
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
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...
= command to do this continually) your salvation (this is our
responsibility) with fear and trembling, (but then he explains how this
is even possible) for it is God Who is at work in you (continually
both to will (He continually [present
gives us even the "want to" so to speak) and to work (He continually [present
energizes the working out of our salvation) for His good pleasure (this
is the goal - the Father's good pleasure - pleasing to Him). (See notes
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)...
"Moreover, I will give you a new
heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of
stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My
Spirit within you (God's provision is His Spirit) and cause you to walk
in My statutes (God's power), and you (man's responsibility) will be
careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
In Colossians Paul illustrated
this divine dynamic in his own life writing...
And we proclaim Him (Christ in us the
hope or absolute assurance of glory), admonishing every man and teaching
every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete (teleios
- fully mature) in Christ. For this purpose (to present every man
complete or fully mature in Christ) also I labor (present
= continually working to the point of exhaustion) striving (present
= continually agonizing) (How
was [and still is] this possible?)
according to His power (energeia - God's effectual working in believers)
which mightily works (present
= continually) within me (See notes
Paul reminded the saints at
Colossae that Epaphras was praying for them...
Epaphras, who is one of your
number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always
laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect
and fully assured in all the will of God. (see note
In Hebrews we see this
"tension" in the great prayer...
Now the God of peace, Who brought up
from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the
eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you (God's provision) in
every good thing to do (man's part) His will, working in us (God's
continual working) that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus
Christ, to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (See notes
Regarding being perfect,
Not that I have already obtained
it, or have already become perfect (teleioo -
accomplished or brought to an end or to the intended goal - which
ultimately will be when we are glorified), but I press on (dioko
= a verb which gives the picture of pursuing with earnestness and
diligence in order to obtain a goal. The
= this was Paul's habitual
practice, the warp and woof of his life) in order that I may lay hold of
that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (to be perfect
as our heavenly Father is perfect - when we see Christ we shall be like
Him, and this will be the final and consummate fulfillment of His call
for us to be perfect.)
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but
one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what
14 I press on (dioko = a verb which gives the picture of pursuing
with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain a goal. The
= this was Paul's habitual
practice, the warp and woof of his life) toward the goal for the prize
of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect (teleios = signifies
consummate soundness and includes the idea of being hold. In believers
the idea is not sinless perfection but full spiritual maturity), have
this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God
will reveal that also to you;
16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have
attained. (See notes
his record had already been cleared before God on the basis of his faith
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
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
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...
Phil 3:20, 21
(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...
Therefore, having these promises
(read them in the preceding passages 2Cor 6:16, 17, 18) beloved, let us
cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting
(epiteleo = fulfill completely. Bring about a result
according to an objective.
= our continuing practice)
holiness in the fear of God. (2Corinthians 7:1-note)
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...
For I am confident of this very
thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect (epiteleo)
it until the day of Christ Jesus (See note
Comment: The day of Christ
Jesus refers to the glorious day of
His Second Coming when faith
shall become sight, and then face to face what we now I know in part,
then we shall know fully just as we also have been fully known.)
Henry Morris explains
Jesus' call to be perfect this way...
Jesus knew no believer could be
sinlessly perfect (Mt 6:14, 15-notes
"transgressions") in this life. Nevertheless, this must be the standard
and the goal--not for gaining salvation, but for living the Christian
life. The word perfect also can be understood as "complete"
or "fully mature," but this state is no more attainable than sinless
perfection--in fact, they are really the same. We do have such a
standing in Christ, and we should perpetually seek to fulfill this
standard by God's help. (Morris,
Henry: Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing)
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.
on Matthew - Harry Ironside)
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
has this devotional thought on "If
we walk in the light, as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7)
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)
commenting on Matthew 5:48 helps us understand what it means to
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
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
explains that regarding His call to be perfect Jesus does not
without sin, but mature and
complete in the likeness of God. (The
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Translation: 1995. Moody
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.
W A. Believer's Study Bible: New King James Version. 1991. Thomas Nelson)
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.
on the Mount) (Bolding and
underlining added for emphasis)
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. (MacDonald,
W & Farstad, A. Believer's Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson or
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
M. S & Ogilvie, L. J. The Preacher's Commentary Series. Thomas Nelson
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
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.” (The
Pulpit Commentary: New Testament;
Old Testament; Ages Software
Is of God -Psalms 18:32; 138:8
All saints have, in Christ -1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15;
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
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;
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"
cf. Heb 11:40-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.
F B Meyer has
the following discourse entitled...
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,
even as your Father which is in heaven is 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
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
"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
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
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
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
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)