Summary: A Father’s Day Sermon: As parents, we may make mistakes with our children, but the main thing is to keep on loving them.
Matthew 5:48, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is a verse that has always been puzzling to me. Be perfect! How can anyone be perfect? More than that, be perfect like God. That seems impossible. Since this is Father’s Day, let’s put it in that context. Does anyone here think that they are a perfect father? Let’s see a show of hands. Again, how about a perfect mother. Does anyone think that they are a perfect mother. I thought not. I don’t think that I was a perfect parent either. Jesus said: Be perfect like God, and we respond, “No way that is going to happen.” I have heard some sermons on this verse in which the preacher tried to get around the word “perfection,” by substituting a less demanding word. Jesus did not mean we should be perfect, so they say, he meant we should be mature or grown up or something like that.
But I looked up the Greek word that is translated as “perfect.” The word is “teleios” which means finished, complete, or perfect. So, the translation is correct: Jesus said: Be perfect like God.
But notice that the verse contains word “therefore”. This implies that this sentence is completing the thought of the paragraph. Thus, if we are to figure out what Jesus was talking about, we must consider what he is saying in the whole paragraph.
In Context, No Pretext
The worst sin of biblical interpretation is to take a verse out of context and make it a pretext for our own agenda. When we do that, we read into the Bible what we want to believe, instead of reading out of the Bible what it tells us to believe. This is why we have so many different denominations and so many different interpretations of what the Bible says.
By pulling out verses from here and there, you can make the Bible say anything you want to. For example, Matthew 27:5 says Judas “went and hanged himself.” Deuteronomy 15:17 says, “And thou shalt do likewise.” If you rip those verses out and put them together, you have a commandment to commit suicide. Perhaps that is the biblical “logic” that Jim Jones used when he got his congregation to drink poisoned coolaid down in Guyana. Obviously, that is the kind of biblical interpretation that we want to avoid. Unfortunately, it is much harder to consider a verse in context. The easy way is to pick a verse here and there and say see the bible proves what I said. That is the easy way, and the wrong way.
Law of Love
So let us consider Matthew 5:48 in context. It is part of the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus is God’s messiah who interprets God’s plan for God’s people. Jesus is the new Moses who speaks with authority as he establishes a new covenant. Again, Matthew chapter 5 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus gives us a new law for the new covenant. The new law is the law of love. More specifically, verse 48 is the concluding verse of a paragraph that began in v43. The subject of the paragraph is the same as the whole Sermon on the Mount. The subject is love. Let me read the paragraph:
43 "You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In opening verses of this paragraph, Jesus states the commandment of love in its most radical form. Love even people who don’t like you. Love people who hate you. Our first question is: Why should we do that? Jesus anticipates that question in v 45 when he answers, “So that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Do you want to be God’s children? Do you want to be like God?
God loves His enemies. At one time, we were all enemies of God. Romans 5:10: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” We were God’s enemies, but God loved us and sent Jesus to us. Now God demands that we act like God and love even our enemies.