As Christians, we often come across verse 48 in Matthew 5 where Jesus says,
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The context of it is very interesting. Certainly we are to strive for holiness in our lives, but in this passage, it is specifically talking about perfection in one area in our lives. Love.
Sometimes, people take Jesus’, “But I say to you…” statements as him contradicting what God had said in the Old Testament. This is not true. What he was doing was contradicting people’s wrong interpretation of God’s commands.
We saw this in the last passage. Jesus wasn’t contradicting Moses’ law on justice. He wasn’t saying, for example, it’s okay to kill someone who took your eye or tooth. What he was saying was, “While it’s civil law that the punishment must match the crime, you’ve taken it to mean that it’s okay to take revenge in the name of justice or fairness. But I say to you that though it is certainly your right to seek fairness and justice, you can be a greater light in this world, you can be more like your Father in heaven, if instead of demanding justice all the time, you show mercy and grace to those who wrong you.
And Jesus lived that out in his own life. Had Jesus demanded justice for himself, he would have never gone to the cross.
In this passage, we see another misunderstanding the Jews had about what God commanded. You can easily find in the Old Testament where it says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). You will be hard pressed to find anywhere, however, where it says to hate your neighbor. It’s not there. The Jews added that to God’s command.
So Jesus corrected their way of thinking. He said to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to bless those who curse us, and to do good to those who mistreat us. Jesus himself did this on the cross.
When his enemies nailed him to the cross and were mocking him, he prayed for them. Note that he didn’t pray about them. He didn’t say “See what they’re doing Father? See how terrible they are?”
He prayed for them. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Despite their actions, he loved and cared for them. And by dying, he gave them and us hope for forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus then pointed out that anyone can love someone who loves them. Even the worst of people can do that. But it’s very difficult to love those who hate you.
Yet that’s what God does for us. Though we hated him, though we made light of him, though we turned our backs on him, yet he daily gives us blessings we never even credit him for, even the sun and rain.
But more than that, he sent his Son to save us from our sin.
And so he calls us to be like him. To be perfect in our love as he is perfect in love. To be rich in mercy, as he is rich in mercy.
How perfect are you in love and mercy to those around you?