by Grace Hunter
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” I Peter 1:13-16 NIV
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 NIV
At first glance reading “Be Perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” seems like an impossible command. In our own human strength, of course, it is impossible. But we also need to keep in mind the context of this verse. It concludes a short discourse about how imperfectly humans love other people and how perfectly God does (Matthew 5:43-47). I Peter 1:22 clarifies this idea a little better, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
Does Jesus expect perfection from us? Several Old Testament verses seem to say exactly that. “‘Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy’.” Leviticus 20:7-8. Similar commands are found in Leviticus 11:44-45 and Leviticus 19:1-2. The word holy means set apart, consecrated, and dedicated to the Lord. It can have a similar meaning to “perfect”. Last time I checked, I was not able to live perfectly, sinlessly, without offending anyone, without being selfish and self-centered. How about you? So, what is Jesus getting at here?
The section of the Sermon on the Mount we are focusing on is about giving to the poor and needy, how we are to do it and what our motivations are to be. God wants our heart. How do we transition from being self-centered to caring about the needs of others in the same way God does? Let’s look at some verses penned by Paul to the early church in Philippi and in Rome.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians. 3:12-14
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2
Neither Paul nor Jesus expects perfection from us, but we are to press on, to continually offer ourselves to God, to keep on being transformed in renewing of our minds — by submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God loves each of us perfectly; we each need to strive to love others, to care about others more and more each day — in the same way that God does. When we do, then we will not find it difficult to give of our time, our treasure and our talents to those less fortunate than ourselves — in a humble, generous, and loving way.
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