Summary: A sermon inspired by the book For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton.
Text: Matthew 5:48
Eric Liddell (1902–45) is best known to most people as the gold medalist in the quarter-mile run at the 1924 Olympics, as portrayed in the popular filmChariots of Fire. Later, though, he would go on to become a missionary in China during one of the most tumultuous times in that nation’s history. He spent the last two years of his life in an internment camp operated by Japanese troops who occupied China. The whole story is told in Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Liddell, For the Glory.
From the time when he held out against pressure to violate his conscience and race on a Sunday, to the time when he served his fellow prisoners from dawn till curfew even while he himself was malnourished and ill, Eric Liddell was a man of almost unbelievable character.
One person who knew him in the internment camp recalled later, “You came away from his meetings as if you’d been give a dose of goodness.”
Another said, “You knew you were in the presence of someone so thoroughly pure.”
A third said, “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint. He came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”
What was the secret to Liddell’s character?
It lies in his favorite verse in the Bible: “You … must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, esv).
I. DEVELOPING GODLY CHARACTER
The call to “be perfect” shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, it should motivate us. Because the emphasis in this call is not on achieving utter sinlessness. Instead, the emphasis is on being complete in our character, that is, striving toward the full measure of righteousness.
Our goal is not to emulate religious people or those who have a great reputation, not even someone as remarkable as Eric Liddell. Our goal, rather, is to be like God. (“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”) This is a goal that, by God’s grace, we can pursue our whole lives and finally reach when we are glorified after death.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners that they should have righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. These were the religious leaders who were looked up to in their day—but who weren’t nearly so godly as they seemed. Jesus gave some examples of what he meant (Matthew 5:17-47):
· Instead of getting angry at someone who has offended us, we should make the first move toward reconciliation.
· Instead of merely avoiding sexual affairs, we should do whatever it takes to root out lust from within us.
· Instead of taking advantage of divorce laws to get rid of a spouse we’re tired of, we should honor God’s original intent for marriage.
· Instead of using religious oaths to make ourselves sound reliable to others, we should speak the plain truth.
· Instead of wanting someone who has hurt us to get a punishment equivalent to their crime, we should do good to them.
· Instead of loving only our neighbors, we should love our enemies as well.
In our race to become the kind of people we know we should be, we need to have the right goal in sight. It’s not the examples provided by other fallible people like ourselves. It’s the perfect righteousness of God himself.
II. BEING SINCERE
As we seek godly perfection in our lives, we will develop habits of virtue. The virtuous qualities that Eric Liddell prized most were patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, gentleness, and sincerity. Of these, he ranked sincerity the highest, because without it, none of the others is of any worth.
Our word sincere comes from the Latin phrase sine ceres, meaning “without wax.” The background on this term is the fact that sculptors in ancient Rome would use wax to disguise a chip on a statue. No one would see the flaw until the heat of the sun melted the wax or bad weather eroded it.
All of us are tempted to be insincere—we’d like to hide the cracks and blemishes of our nature from others. But inevitably our flaws will appear. How much better would it be to take the effort we would otherwise spend on pretending we are better than we are and instead devote it to actually eliminating those faults from our character? As the apostle Paul said, a “pure heart” and a “good conscience” go along with a “sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
It’s better to work on becoming more godly than to pretend to be perfect when we are not.
III. BEING PERFECT, BEING CHRISTLIKE
Jesus once said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, esv). So as we seek to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, we can safely take Jesus as our model.