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Christian Biblical Studies
Scripture citations are to the NIV-UK (1984), unless noted otherwise
Q Matt. 5:48: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’
Does Jesus really mean we can be perfect, like God?
A This verse is rendered in various ways, from the bland, ‘There must be no limit to your goodness . . .’ (NEB), to the promissory, ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect . . .’ (ASV).
The perfection in view has nothing to do with technical precision or error-free conduct. Rather, Jesus sets His injunction in the context of His sermon, recorded in the preceding verses, with reference to the principles which ought to govern the Christian disciple’s attitude to others:
‘ You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Such an attitude, Jesus avers, is both an evidence and a cause of sonship, (‘ that you may be sons of your Father in heaven’), for the child of God mirrors the large-heartedness of the Father (‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’).
Nor is it simply a matter of reciprocity, doing good only to those who do good to us, for ‘ If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?’ So . . . ‘ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
In the attitude of loving generosity, the Christian demonstrates the comprehensiveness of God’s love, each one amplifying it by his or her demonstration of it. It is in this respect that we are to be and to become perfect.
We approach it by degrees. How? By sanctification, the daily growth in the graces of character, the fruits of the Spirit. Victory in this endeavour cannot be measured in absolute terms, for in this life we cannot exterminate sin from ourselves. Rather, arising from our intent to be like Christ we gradually develop charitable forbearance, free from the selfish and petty-minded attitudes to which our fallen nature is prone. This God-like love is not merely sentimental, but robust, drawing on the love of righteousness and holy principles. While it recognises the faults in others, it nonetheless adopts a loftier view, the same perspective from which the Father in heaven looks at us. For He sees us not as we are or have been in the flesh, but as what we yearn to become.
March 2018. no copyright