After giving his followers the difficult instruction to love their enemies, Jesus offers an explanation.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matt. 5:43-48 (NIV)
Last week, I wrote about always acting out of who we are in Christ just as our Father always acts out of who our Father is regardless of circumstances. This week, I want to talk about the instruction to be perfect as our Father is perfect. The word perfect seemed odd to me as I was chewing on this passage. Why perfect? What does that have to do with loving our enemies? So I looked up the Greek word that is translated perfect. The word teleios means meeting the highest standard and is often used in the Bible in the context of the need for a sacrificial animal to be without defect. Thinking about being perfect in this way is really helping me to understand what Jesus is asking of us in this passage. As we give our lives back to God as a living sacrifice, we are instructed to make our lives without any blemish. Any time we act in a way that is not love, even toward those who have been truly awful to us, we create a blemish on our own lives, the very lives we bring to God as an offering. Once again, how we behave should come from who we are in Jesus and from nothing else. No matter what anyone else does to hurt us, we are to remain unsullied as we continue in the love of Christ.
Of course, we will not be fully perfect until Jesus returns. And we have already been released from the consequences of our failure to achieve perfection through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So the call to live unblemished lives should not be a source of anxiety as we constantly strive to be good enough. Instead, it should be the mark we shoot for as we delight in the transformation the Spirit is working in us day by day.
Do you have anyone in your life that really pushes your buttons and makes you feel angry or upset? Whenever we feel wronged or insulted, let’s remind ourselves that nothing anyone else does or says alters in any way who we are. And let us and continue to delight in the good work Jesus is doing in us as we imitate his ways by showing his love to everyone in all circumstances.
Love in Christ,