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Be Perfect

by David Johnson

Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program.

 

    Thank you as we look into the Word of God together and as we benefit from the privilege of being able to share in the Word of God. The title for the lesson is “Be Perfect.” And our primary text is taken from the New Testament the gospel of Matthew chapter 5 verses 43 through 48. Please listen to the Word of God, the words of Jesus.

    “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 sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Jesus Christ had many hard teachings in His ‘Sermon on the Mount.’  In our passage Matthew chapter 5 verses 43 through 48 Jesus illustrated graphically the false righteousness of mankind verses the genuine righteousness of God.      We should understand that Jesus, the one and only Son of God, would never reduce God’s moral standard to man’s standard. Therefore, Jesus Christ affirmed “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Here we have the most powerful divine teaching in all of Scripture, regarding the meaning of sacrificial love. This is certainly not man’s standard toward enemies. Surely, “love your enemies” when Jesus stated this in the first century AD must have been received as naïve and foolish in the extreme, as it does today, about 2000 years later.  Naïve and foolish, love your enemies. This hasn’t changed because mankind continues to reject God’s standard of sacrificial love.

    Most people not only feel they have the right but even the duty to hate their enemies, to hate corrupt leaders such as a Hitler or a Stalin; to hate murders and to hate drug dealers.   However, Jesus Christ was saying in effect by his own authority “But I tell you; Love your enemies.”  That mankind has perverted God’s moral standard to love not to hate.  “And yet God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’  Romans chapter 5 verse 8.

    It's not that we cannot understand God’s standard of love; its that we refuse to practice it.  The apostle John learned to practice God’s type love as he matured in love.    Consider First John chapter 4 verses 11 and 12 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.”

    A Bible scholar, R. C. H. Lenski writes of a Christian who is mature in sacrificial (that is agape) love; that is seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare. “Love indeed, sees all the hatefulness and the wickedness of the enemy, feels his stabs and his blows, may even have something to do towards warding them off; but all this simply fills the loving heart with the one desire and aim, to free its enemy from his hate, to rescue him from his sin, and thus to save his soul.  Mere affection is often blind, but even then, it thinks that it sees something attractive in the one toward whom it goes out; the higher love may see nothing attractive in the one so loved. Its inner motive is simply to bestow true blessing on the one loved, to do him the highest good. I cannot like a low, mean criminal who may have robbed me and threatened my life; I cannot like a false, lying, slanderous fellow who, perhaps, has vilified me again and again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all, see what is wrong with them, desire and work to do them only good, most of all to free them from their vicious ways.”  To love those that are ungodly never means to condone their lifestyle.

    Love’s dilemma should not be who to love, because according to God’s standard, especially as Christians, we are to love everyone, our duty is only how to love most helpfully. That is to love not just in feelings but in service.

  Those who refuse to trust in God are His enemies; but God is not their enemy. Romans chapter 5 and verse 10 “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

     In similar fashion, we are not to be enemies of those who may be enemies to us. From their perspective, we are their enemies; but from our perspective, they should be our neighbors and mission field, that they may be reconciled to God. In whatever relationships we have with others, Christ teaches us to love all others prayerfully. Christ’s emphasis here is in our personal relationships not governmental responsibilities. Praying for them helps us to have the grace to love even sacrificially. Talking to God about others can help knit the petitioner’s heart with the heart of God.

     Chrysostom, an early church leader, taught that prayer is the very highest summit of self-control, and that we have most brought our lives into conformity to God’s standard when we can pray, yes pray even for our persecutors.

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was eventually killed by the Nazis wrote of Jesus’ teaching regarding ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;’ that this is the supreme demand; that through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.

     Then Jesus, who is ‘Deity in bodily form’ (according to Colossians chapter 2 verse 9) put an exclamation mark raising the bar to the upmost in: Matthew chapter 5 verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  This sums up what all God’s moral law demands. Consider James chapter 2 verse 10 “For whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

     Yes, to sinful mankind this standard is impossible to keep.  That is that every single thought, word, or action that we have from our first breath to our dying breath must be righteous, according to God’s standard is unobtainable.  Yet again an absolutely Holy God cannot lower His moral righteous standard without compromising His own moral perfection.  God who is perfect cannot be expected to set an imperfect standard of righteousness.

    We should understand that God’s great purpose of mankind’s salvation and glorification, the goal of the gospel, is that humans become like Him in righteousness.  This indeed is not only a ‘hard teaching’ of Jesus, it is utterly unattainable by mankind. How can Jesus Christ even suggest that human beings ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect?’  Which of course is absolute utter perfection as God the Father is perfect.

     Jesus later, in similar principal, in Matthew chapter 19 and verse 21 gave the only answer to this hard teaching. Matthew chapter 19 verse 26 says in part “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We should understand that what God demands of us – He also provides the power to accomplish. Man’s own righteousness is of course possible, but it doesn’t meet God’s standard.  It is so imperfect that it is worthless to an absolute holy, holy, holy God.

     So how can Jesus’ state “Be perfect?”  The answer: Second Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin (or be a sin offering) for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

     A Bible scholar writes: “Here Paul summarizes the heart of the gospel, resolving the mystery and paradox “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”  Second Corinthians chapter 5 verse 19. That is that Jesus Christ became our substitute on the cross and exhausted all the righteous wrath of God in our place, for our sin. He could do this because He became one of us, a human being, flesh, and blood, and He alone kept God’s perfect righteous standard without ever sinning in any thought, word, or deed. He was sinless and is sinless.

     How does this work exactly? Answer: Romans chapter 3 verses 22 through 24 “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

     We should understand that an amazing, awesome reality takes place for genuine believers.  Christ bore their sins that they could bear Christ’s righteousness. God treated His Son as if He committed believers’ sins. He treats believers as if they did only the righteous deeds of the sinless Son of God! That is how much God loves us, and yet can still remain a perfectly just and perfectly righteous God.

     Therefore, to ‘be perfect’ you must first receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord through obedient faith. That accomplishes our positional righteousness as Christ’s righteousness is credited, imputed to us. Which is in our salvation.

     However, we must also strive for the experiential righteousness of Christ developed in the Christian by the process of sanctification thru the work of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. Our moral imperfection in this life looks forward to our experiential righteousness matching our positional righteousness for totally fulfilled perfection at our glorification. Then ultimately “we shall be like Him” First John chapter 3 verse 2. When Christ “appears” for us.

     So, dear listener, have you received Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? Have you been baptized into Him; you must if He is Lord! Make Jesus Christ Lord today for today can be your day of salvation.

 

           David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ in Sellersburg, IN.

 

 




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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33