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“Be perfect as I am perfect.”
Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?
First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:
Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”
Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.
Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!
Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.