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Be Perfect?

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  "Be perfect as God is perfect."  When we hear these words from the Sermon on the Mount, we may despair over what seems to be a hopeless assignment.  Be perfect?  How can we blundering humans ever be humanly perfect much less divinely perfect?  Any book of systematic theology will list the attributes of God: self-existence, immutability, infinity, unity, and so on--words that sound both strange and unattainable to us.  "Be perfect as God is perfect."  I can still remember the person who used this verse to deride the Christian faith to me as utopian and impractical. "Be perfect as God is perfect."  What on earth did Jesus mean when he said that?

          Well, the Greek word translated "perfect" in this passage means complete, whole, fully developed, having attained one's purpose.  And, in this case, it refers to the ethical life.  It has nothing to do with some kind of heavenly perfection totally remote from the real world in which we live.  No, it's concerned with a very practical, earthy faith.  "Be perfect as God is perfect."  Surely, the biblical context also helps us understand the meaning of the word "perfect" in this verse.  You see, Jesus' command to be perfect comes at the end of a description of the way God wants us to treat others.  "Do not resist an evil doer."  "Give to everyone who begs from you."  "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." 

         Now, this description is modeled on God's own behavior.  Jesus points out that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  God is complete, whole in this sense, because God doesn't play favorites but treats everyone alike--whether they please God or not.  We naturally treat others as they treat us.  But, Jesus taught another way, the way of God who treated everyone with unbiased love.  "Don't seek revenge."  "When others impose on you, give them more than they ask."  "Love your enemies."  It's easy to love those who treat us well, but the real trick is to love those who don't appeal to us, or who make life miserable for us.  It won't be easy but neither will it take a superman or superwoman to do it.

         Of course, it doesn't seem fair that God would send sunshine and rain impartially to both the good and the bad.  We can hardly understand such kindness.  No wonder we need a big dose of love if we're going to be perfect as God is perfect.  Yet, we can bring it off with God's help.  We can imitate God's loving actions and be perfect in the ethical sense.

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