“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! …If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Relate: Be perfect. Those aren’t necessarily healthy words to tell a person who already tends a bit too legalistic. I take James’ words to heart when he says, “Faith without works is dead.” But sometimes I take it too far. I work, and I work, and I work forgetting that there is supposed to be a faith that centers and grounds all that I am doing. I know that it is good and healthy to spend a certain amount of time each day with God in prayer. But sometimes I seem to be more concerned with making sure that I am “logging in my time” than I am in actually using the time in prayer to grow my relationship with God or to be an intercessor on behalf of my world. I know that it is good and healthy to dive into studying God’s Word each day, but sometimes I am more concerned with the accumulation of knowledge of the study than with the God who should be the center of my attention. So “Be perfect” might not be the best thing for Jesus to tell me. Taken out of context, this can be more of a stumbling block than a challenge.
React: Taken out of context, it can be. When Jesus tells us to “be perfect,” He is specifically speaking about love. The Greek word that we translate “perfect” implies maturity or completeness. It is when you put the final ornament on the Christmas tree, then step back and say, “There… perfect.” It is when you add the finishing touch to a work of art. It is when you have made the final revision on your email or paper and click send. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, the Savior responded, “you’ve done good… but if you want to be perfect, sell everything you have and give it to the poor then come follow me.” In other words, living a good life and following the commandments was good, but to top it off… do this. James says, “Let patience have her perfect work, that it may be mature and complete, wanting nothing.” Actually, in Greek, there is one word used twice that we translate in English as “perfect” and “mature.” Jesus didn’t enter a man-made temple, but the perfect and complete one in heaven. Perfect love, love that lacks nothing, drives out fear. In fact, of the nineteen times the “perfect” is used, more often than not it is talking about love.
And here in Matthew 5, when Jesus says, “Be perfect” He is talking about love. Anyone can love the easily lovable, but if you want to go all the way with this thing, love your enemies. That’s perfect love. That is a love that lacks nothing. Is the love that I am showing my world perfect? Or am I just doing the easy 90%? In a world as divided as ours is, the need for a perfect love, a love that includes everyone, is more needed than ever.
Help me to be perfect. Help me to show a love that does not leave anybody out. Help me to love those that have voted differently than I do. Help me to love the police and the protesters both. Help me to even to love Red Sox fans. You and I both know how difficult that might be, but a perfect love goes that extra mile. Help me to go that extra mile loving even the most unlovable.
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To read previous devotionals taken from the January 6th The River Walk devotionals click below: