Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 [NASB])
I’ve been in a few cars with flat tires. They happen. The challenge is changing them with the spare. Think about this. If the last time you had a flat, you took your flat tire to the mechanic for repair and he/she filled it with air and gave it back to you. What would happen when you replaced your newest flat tire with that old flat tire filled with air? If the mechanic didn’t find the cause for the hole and repair it, your replacement tire would be no better than your current flat tire. For the mechanic, the refilled tire was good enough. For your purposes, you didn’t need good enough. You needed perfect, a job done completely. Jesus spoke about lives lived completely instead of in a “good enough” way. Consider what He taught in Matthew 5.
In Matthew 5, Jesus began preaching His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. He began this famous sermon by proclaiming certain people are blessed, people who may not have ever considered themselves blessed. Jesus said these groups of people are blessed: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and the people who are insulted, persecuted, and have false things said about them because of their relationship to Him.
We look at this list of people, and we may see one of more of these attitudes to which we can identify and say, “Yes, that happened to me!” If we consider these attitudes closer, we realize, Jesus described His experience on earth with each one of them. This should make us consider again, has what we experienced been like what Jesus experienced? Are we really that much like Jesus?
Jesus, next, in verses thirteen through sixteen, told His disciples what they would be if they closely aligned themselves with Him. They will be salt of the earth. His disciples are to bring flavor back to life by telling people about Him. While Jesus has not returned to earth to claim it for Himself and cast Satan into the pit, Satan roams free in the world. Life is flavorless; no distinction exists between Satan and another way to live. It’s a bland existence. When Jesus came to earth the first time, He called, and continues to call, people to be His disciples. His disciples bring a new flavor, a freshness, to life. Jesus’ disciples are salt in the world. Blandness gets cast away by the new flavor, new Life. Jesus also told His disciples they would be the light of the world. Blandness comes from having just one influence, Satan. When a new leader enters, new light illumines the darkness of what life was really like before the Light, Jesus, came into the world. Disciples are to be the light, which the Light of the world ignited so the city, the people of the world, can see the things Satan hid in the dark. When the disciples show their light, people will glorify the Father in heaven who sent the Light.
After Jesus taught about the Beatitudes and who would receive the reward of heaven and after He explained the role of His disciples, He made a stunning statement to the Jews. He said He did not come to abolish the Law or Prophets, but to fulfill them. The Jews expected the Messiah to come as their warrior King defeating their enemy, the Romans, and re-establishing the kingdom of David. The Pharisees would have sat straighter at this statement. Yet, Jesus continued by saying, “Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19 [NASB]) Maybe it went over the heads of the Pharisees, maybe it didn’t. The Pharisees often required more of the Jews than the Laws of God required. They changed the Laws to make it harder on the people and to show their own holiness as greater than others. What Jesus said next, He stated plainly. The Pharisees could not have missed His meaning in verse twenty. Jesus said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [NASB] Can you imagine the shock on the faces of the Pharisees who listened that day and on the faces of the Pharisees who heard about it? Can you imagine the rage that would have engulfed them for a man born in small Nazareth as a carpenter’s son, to teach the people they had to have righteousness greater than the Pharisees? The hidden meaning of Jesus’ statement was that the Pharisees were not righteous. They were not poor in spirit, gentle, merciful, and all the other descriptors Jesus used of those who would inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount describing those who would inherit the kingdom of heaven. He then taught what His disciples must be in the world. By speaking next on the Law and Prophets, righteousness, and the Pharisees, He contrasted the people of the opening attitudes and disciples with the Pharisees. The people might have wondered, if the Pharisees are not to be our standard or goal in life, then who is? What must I do to be perfect? Jesus answered this with verses twenty-one through forty-seven. He teaches the people listening to Him on the mount about going beyond the Law and Prophets. Jesus taught them about loving their neighbor as themselves, as He would in Matthew 22:39. Then He reminded these Jews, even the Gentiles did these things, and they did not believe in Yahweh. So, if the people are no better than the Gentiles and they are to be better than the Pharisees, who are they to be like then? Who is their standard?
With verse forty-eight, Jesus explained to the people who they were to be like. He said, “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus contrasted His statement from verse twenty when He said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” with verse forty-eight. Jesus gave the people a new standard, their heavenly Father, the One who gave them life and gives new life through regeneration, being born again. Our heavenly Father is the standard not only because He’s our Creator, but because He is perfect, the definer of perfect. “Perfect” comes from the Greek word, teleios. Teleios means being complete as in maturity, a going through stages to reach the end goal, like a spiritual journey. For God, He has always been perfect. Our goal is to be made in His image, to be like Christ. That is our spiritual journey; it is having the mind and character of Christ, as Paul said in Philippians 2:5-8. When our spiritual journey is complete, which will only occur when we are in the kingdom of God, then we will be like Christ. We will be perfect, and our journey will be complete.
Just as Jesus gave the attitudes of the people who were like Him, gentle, meek, merciful, etc. in verses one through eleven, and so He was on earth and is in heaven, and just as His disciples are the salt of the earth and a light to the world telling of Him, we, as those whose righteousness surpasses the scribes and Pharisees in our world, will become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus told the people what their lives will be like on earth as His followers and told them who should be their standard. Today, as people living on the earth as Jesus lived and taught on earth need to realize Jesus teaches us this same message. We will have difficulties and hardships. People will persecute us because of our relationship with Him. But we can rejoice and be glad, for our reward is in heaven and it is great. (Matt. 5:12) When God is our standard, we will suffer at times, but we can know our Father, the One who created us and is re-creating us in His image, calls us His children and gives us hope and joy knowing we have a reward in His kingdom with Him. Our standard is not the world’s standards, not the standards of the scribes and Pharisees. Our standard is God and we will become perfect as He is perfect.
If we choose to live a life according to the world’s standards, it can be good enough according to the world, but it will always fall flat. If we live a complete and perfect life with God as our standard, then our lives will be full of hope and joy. Though we may endure hardships, God will always be there and provide all we need to endure and get through it. He won’t be like the mechanic who just did a good enough job by refilling the tire. He will do a perfect job, fix the problem, and give us all the help we need. Do we want to live by the world’s standards where the answer is good enough and we continue needing air put in our tires because the problem is not remedied? Or, do we want to live by God’s standard, trust God who gives us everything we need for each situation, and live knowing, with God as our Savior, we are complete. We have every good and perfect gift that comes from God above? (James 1:17)
To whose standard do you live?
In whose image do you stand?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 [NASB])
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 [NASB])
Lord, I am not perfect; I am not yet complete in You. Lord, thank you for wanting me, providing a way for me, and calling me to Yourself. Thank you that You were willing to provide the sin sacrifice for my sins because of Your love and mercy for me. Lead me in Your paths and for Your glory. Help me walk in Your ways and to Your standard, not allowing the morals of the world to be “good enough”, but instead always seeking You. Use me to be salt and light in this world so people will know there is more to life than what they see and to the limited time of earth. Lord, show people Yourself through me so they want to give their lives to You in faith and by confession. Give them Your hope and love. Thank you for what You have done and what You are going to do. Thank you for being the definer perfect and complete. Amen.