Summary: How can we be as perfect as God?
As Perfect as God?
Jesus now makes His last demonstration of the deficiency of the Pharisees teaching. Again Jesus reminds them of a part of the Scripture “You shall love your neighbor from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Why the words “as yourself” is left off is puzzling. Jesus elsewhere when He quotes from Leviticus includes these words. Perhaps the Pharisees were the ones who cut the verse short. When we look at the second half of what Jesus says, this seems to be the case. There is nowhere in Scripture where we are commanded to hate our enemies. In fact, the Old Testament along with the New proclaims that we ware to love our enemies. Here is a major defect in the Pharisees teaching. Because they saw the commandment to love one’s neighbor implied that they should hate their enemy. This replaces the “as yourself”.
What Jesus says emphatically with the same authority as Scripture is to remind them that the Old Testament of which every jot and tittle is binding teaches love for one’s enemies. He goes on to explain that the true disciple of Jesus who hears His word and puts it into practice will pray in His enemies behalf. These people are truly God’s children.
Jesus then goes on to reflect on the character of His Father. He allows His sun to shine on everyone, both the evil and the good and rain to fall upon the righteous as well as the unrighteous. In theological terms, this is known as “common grace”. The willingness to display grace tells us something very important about God. We see this stated clearly in John 3:16 in God’s willingness that no one perish. If they will only look upon the Son as the Israelites looked upon the bronze serpent in the wilderness, they will be saved. So every ray of the sun and drop of rain testifies of the love and grace of God. Men should be thankful for this, but all too often, are not. Those who have been redeemed know that all good things come from God and are thankful. In addition, they are also thankful when difficult times come because they belong to Him. He has a purpose for our trials that come which He promises to work for our eventual good. However, the unregenerate thinks the sun and rain are by chance. They complain when it rains and complain when it is sunny. Unbelief always reveals itself in grumbling.
Jesus compares the love and grace of the Heavenly Father with the selfishness of men. He reminds us that the heathen were perfectly capable of loving those who love them. They greet one another in public just like the Jews greeted on another. The true disciple goes beyond what the tax collectors also do. The deficiency of the Pharisees and Scribes really comes to light here. They would only greet fellow Jews. Some would only greet those Jews whom they considered to be in good standing. The Pharisees hated the Jewish rabble who didn’t know the Law like they did nearly as much as they did tax collectors and Gentiles. But what Jesus basically calls these Pharisees and Scribes is that they are not Jews but Gentiles because their conduct did not rise above that of the very people they despised. This must have really cut deep into the Pharisees’ heart. Here Jesus is addressing His followers, which as we saw in “Who Heard the Greatest Sermon Ever Preached” (in this archive) that they were made up of a mixture of Gentiles and Jews, most of them of the common variety. He challenges the people that the Pharisees despised to live above the example of the Scribes and Pharisees. In fact the true disciple of Jesus who is a child of the Heavenly Father has to have a righteousness which exceeds this righteousness.
The final verse in this chapter sums up the righteousness God is expecting from us. He commands us to be perfect, just like the Heavenly Father is perfect. The word “perfect” here is a rich word in Greek and difficult to translate into English by a single word. The Greek “telos” of which the verb here is a derivative has the idea of something which has been completed exactly according to plan. A similar verb is used by Jesus on the cross when He cries out “It is finished”. This demonstrates the idea of perfection which we have just described. Jesus announced that the plan of salvation which was established before the creation of the world in eternity past had been faithfully and perfectly executed. There was no need of further work to add on to the work.
If we nuance the idea perfect here in Matthew, then the idea of perfection God is looking for in us is that we be exactly what He has planned for us to be. When we look at ourselves, knowing that we were originally created in God’s image, and we honestly look at our progress report to be restored to completeness, we would have to say along with the Scribes and Pharisees that we are quite deficient. Every time we come to communion table here in the United Methodist Church, we make the confession that “we have not loved our neighbors”. What a stunning indictment. We are worse than heathen. We don’t even love our own, no less our enemy! How shall we escape the righteous judgment of God? How will we ever become true disciples? How could we even dare to dream that we might enter the Kingdom?