I can remember the first time I read Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I was stunned. How could Jesus command something like that? What I learned back then, is if I did not understand a verse or a passage, I would pray about it, and tell God that I can wait for His answer. This one took me some time to get to a point where I could understand the command.
If this were a sermon in the modern day, it would be the mic drop with the walk-off by the speaker. Yet there this command is nestled in the middle of the sermon of the mount. What is important to remember about that sermon is it is the first extended teaching directed at the newly selected disciples. However, by the time that Jesus is done, He is now surrounded by a multitude, which likely included all manner of people, Zealots, Romans, Pharisees, and the societal outcasts.
Looking at the verse itself, it starts with the word, “Therefore.” As my first bible study teacher said, “find out what the therefore is there for.” Our verse’s immediate preceding context included a couple of questions from Jesus: “"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus is talking about loving in a way that is qualitatively different than how the world loves. If all we do is love the way that worldly people love, all we will get is the results that they get. We are not demonstrating that as believers we are any different than non-believers. We need to greet those that we do not know. We need to love those who do not love us back. This is the set up for our verse under consideration. It is God who does those things. God introduces Himself to those that do not know Him. God loves those who do not love Him back.
A further explanation is also required for how the word “perfect” is meant here. We tend to think of perfect in mathematical terms, as a precise definition of something. However, most of the times that it seen in the New Testament, it is mean as something that is mature. A way to understand the command of this verse within its context would be to say, “Love maturely, as your Father in Heaven loves maturely.”
Glory to God that He has called to influence our world with a mature love that reflects His love!