verse XXIV – Pre-Tending to Imitation
Having climbed the “Matterhorn” of the Sermon on the Mount, of loving neighbor, stranger, enemy, going the extra mile, giving to those who ask, and praying for those persecuting you, Yeshua/Jesus concludes Matthew chapter 5 by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). With the aforementioned challenges to our human nature and sensibilities, He now speaks an even greater challenge: be perfect. Not perfect as compared to those around us, but as our Father in Heaven is perfect.
Most of us would agree that this seems beyond our ability and perhaps, even a bit unfair; after all, how can we be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect? He is perfect in wisdom, knowledge, love, mercy, grace and patience to name but a few; personally, being a bit self-reflective, I am perfect in precisely none of these areas.
So what is Yeshua telling us?
This is a complex command, yet not unduly complex if we think, search and reflect on how the Apostolic Writings instruct us. Based on Matthew 5:48, there have been many Christian sects that have attempted to live perfect, to go so far as claiming that they live perfectly without sin. That being said, is this what Yeshua is expecting or asking of us? After all, the apostle James says, “We all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man” (Jas. 3:2). James, the brother of Yeshua and the first leader of the Church in Jerusalem is not contradicting Yeshua, but telling us, in his unique way, that none of us are perfect, in ourselves.
If we simply examine the teachings of Yeshua, specifically the Lord’s Prayer, we find that He is not expecting us to walk in unnatural perfection, or pretend supernatural perfection, devoid of our humanity – as He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who have trespasses against us.” The Greek word translated “perfect” means “mature, complete, of full age.” The Hebrew equivalent was used to describe sacrificial animals without defect; but also Noah and David, to very imperfect human beings.
Like Father, like son.
Yeshua is calling us, in Matthew 5:48, away from an urge to mature in our own perfection, resulting in a self-righteous attitude, to mature in our imitation of our Father. Imitation in the Hebraic culture was a high form of devotion and love for your teacher, as Paul writes, “Imitate me as I imitate Messiah” (I Cor. 11:1). As a parent, have you ever noticed, whether you like it or not, your children imitate you? While this can be something negative, it can also be positive.
Based on the teachings of Yeshua that we have examined thus far in the Sermon on the Mount:
- We should control our temper and measure our words carefully.
- We should resist the temptation to lust and desire after what the Lord has not given to us.
- We should not use the Lord’s name in order to puff ourselves up.
- We should pray for our enemies daily.
- The above are only some examples of the many ways that we should seek to imitate our Father in Heaven.
As the teachings of Yeshua are implanted in our lives on a daily basis by the Holy Spirit, in faith, relying on His grace and mercy, then and only then, do we begin to imitate our Father’s perfection.
How did He treat you?
What exactly are we imitating? How the Lord treats us – we will treat others in like manner. Yeshua isn’t expecting us to reach a moral perfection now that has heretofore eluded us. He is reflecting on how the love of the Father is in and works through our lives. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, in faith, we are no longer controlled by the objects outside of us and our immediate control, but by our commitment to the way the Father has loved us in Yeshua. In this perfection, we will not allow the attractiveness, worthiness, or loveliness of a person, object or situation create a conditional response, neither will we love only those we can rely on for a positive return. We are controlled by the love of the Father who first loved us, even while we were yet sinners.
A sinless perfection?
Matthew 5:48 is not speaking of a sinless perfection, that is in realty, unattainable for us; no, Yeshua is directing us to walk in faith maturity that is attainable. Generosity, gentleness, guilelessness, genuineness, and graciousness, these attributes are not only attainable but, as Yeshua directs us, they are expected of us as His disciples. We are to become imitators of Him.
Our ethical responsibility is to imitate God, exactly what Yeshua is directing us to do in Matthew 5:48. We are made in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), and this fact distinguishes our nature from that of other creatures. Should we behave like animals? No, we are called to a higher way of living as ethical creatures in God’s creation. We are to reflect the light of heaven, and the Lord’s moral purity.
As the image of God in Messiah, we are to show forth the character and nature of who He is, respond as He would respond, and do what He has shown He would do. Let us, then, imitate our Father in Heaven, let us mature in the faith so that, as the apostle Peter commanded us, we can be “examples to the flock” (I Pet. 5:3).
Shalom. Be well.