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48"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." New International Version
48"But you must always act like your Father in heaven." Contemporary English Version
48"You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect." Amplified Bible
48"You must be good in every way, as your Father in heaven is good in every way." Worldwide English New Testament
48"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." The Message
Jesus accepts me with my imperfections, yet holds me to perfection. --E. Stanley Jones
Holiness is the heroic act of a soul abandoning itself to God. --Mother Teresa
We may be content to remain an ordinary person, but God has grander designs for us. --C. S. Lewis
Everything can be abused and misused. Even the ancient commandments of Moses got corrupted over time. In an earlier verse, Jesus used the phrase "jot and tittle," which referred to dotting the i's and crossing all t's with precision. "Jot and tittle" was symbolic for the attitude which some people had toward obeying the Law plus all the commentary which was added to the Law over the centuries to explain exactly what each word meant.
Then they applied that exacting attitude to themselves and especially to everyone around them, and missed the heart of God contained in the Law. The Ten Commandments as written could be obeyed if one kept to that goal diligently. But the danger is that the Law can replace God and become an end in itself.
Instead of watching each other and appraising how righteous we all are or aren't, Jesus switched the focal point and commanded us to set our aim on being like our Father in heaven. This placed the emphasis on God, and trying to know God better so that we can be like him.
Jesus pulled words out of the blue which we never expected to hear--Be perfect! Surely Jesus knew how human and imperfect we are. He knew about our failed resolutions and broken promises. He must have known there's no way any of us are ever going to be perfect. So where does the word "perfect" come from!!!
As Jesus said, "Be perfect, . . ." he was looking for those disciples who wanted something more from their faith. Perfection has nothing to do with superiority and everything to do with humility. It's for real people in this life and has more to do with God's grace than what we do or refrain from doing.
William Barclay wrote in his commentary that the word "perfect" is a functional word. When something functions right and is fully realizing its purpose, it is perfect.
Mother Teresa used the word "holiness" when she pondered this verse. She concluded that our progress in holiness depends on God and on ourselves; on God's grace and on our will to be holy. As we are willing to empty ourselves, God will fill us. Believe much more in his love, she wrote, than in your own weakness.
Right there is the key, the change of thinking we need. Perfection is not about me overcoming my weaknesses, my sins and my failures. The way to perfection is to center on God's love and grace.
John Wesley also put the origin of perfection in the human-divine relationship. God can not make it happen alone; we can not make it happen alone. But as we abide in Christ, we discover a central purpose that gives meaning, direction and power to our lives.
Jesus would not be commanding us to do something which is impossible to do. Our actions are not perfect, and never will be. So let's shift our thinking. The heart of perfection is not in our deeds, but in our hearts. When, above all else, what we really want is to be like our heavenly Father, we have realized our purpose. When our intention is to love as God loves and forgive as God forgives.we fulfill our purpose. Perfection does not make us arrogant. It makes us a humble vessel through whom the grace and love of God flows.
Righteousness is more than outward appearance or external show. The commandments focus on doing or not doing certain things. But being like our Father in heaven is bound up in a relationship of love. When we have it in our hearts to love and please God, when we yearn to make God happy, then I think in God's eyes that is perfection.
Singleness of intention, abiding in Christ, gaining power over sin, being equipped by God who always supplies what we need in order to share his grace--this is our goal, the something more which we seek. It is a journey with a clear direction. It all fits together; it is perfect.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What makes for a perfect relationship?
In the previous studies when Jesus was re-interpreting the commandments, he made them impossible to keep. In this verse, he also set a seemingly impossible word before us. Why would he do this? Was he trying to overwhelm us? Jesus knew how imperfect we are, yet constantly called us to be much more than we are. Again, why did he do this?
Occasionally you hear someone say that something is perfect. What do you think they mean by that word? Do any of your responses help you understand Matthew 5:48?
Classic Christian literature teaches us that spiritual growth starts with the intentions of our heart, not with our actions. Intentions will more likely be pure and constant; actions tend toward inconsistency. Do you find these words helpful? Explain your answer.Look up John 21:15-19 in your Bible. Discuss how these words apply to Peter's situation. Remember, Peter had 3 times denied ever knowing Jesus. Was Peter perfect in his actions? Was he perfect in his intentions?
To "be like" someone is to have similar qualities or characteristics. To be like God is an awesome thought. God has many characteristics which don't apply to us (such as being all-wise and all-powerful). God also has many traits to which we can aspire. The Message Bible mentioned generous and gracious. Name more of these God-like traits which we are capable of.
Be like my heavenly Father. - Make this phrase your motto or turn it into a "breath prayer." Say it over and over during the day whenever you think of it. Try this exercise for a week or so, and when your group gets together again, share something from the experience. Concentrate on one God-like trait which you would like to learn to do better. Make it part of your motto or prayer.
What could I do today that would make God happy?
The popular prayer of St. Francis of Assisi begins with these words, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; . . ." Think of yourself as God's instrument. What is one grace-sharing act you and God could do together?