Mat 5:48: Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
This is often interpreted as a call to a sinless and perfect life, never making mistakes, never being bitter, never arguing, never gossiping, never uttering a wrong word and the list goes on and on. Let’s face the facts. This is something that Christians cannot attain while in this world living in the flesh. So the question is what exactly was Jesus telling us.
To fully understand what Jesus is referring to we need to look at Mat 5: 43-48.
Mat 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and
hate your enemy.'
Mat 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those
who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
Mat 5:45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the
evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Mat 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same?
Mat 5:47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not
even the tax collectors do so?
Mat 5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
First. The word perfect often has a different meaning than we commonly have in mind when we talk about perfection. The Hebrew word translated "blameless" (NKJV) or "perfect" (KJV) in Genesis 17:1 means "entire, complete, full, without blemish." The Greek word found in Matthew 5:48 translated "perfect" means "finished, complete, having reached its end," and implies being fully grown or mature. The definition of the English word perfect is "lacking nothing essential to the whole, without defect, complete." All three definitions contain the word "complete."
Second. The context makes it clear what Jesus meant by this call to perfection. You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Man is bound not only to love his neighbor but also his enemies. It is in this sense that the heavenly Father, too, is perfect. Mat 5:45 tells us that: “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust”. There is no room in His love for half measures. Therefore perfect love is also demanded from His children, not partial, not only towards friends, but enemies as well.
Also in Luke 6:36 the parallel passage in his Gospel says: “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. “Even as” means “equally perfect,” “equally consistent.”
Jesus is discussing our responsibility to love not only our neighbors, but also our enemies and those who do us harm. Remember that God is kind to all his creatures. Loving only your neighbors or those who love us back is incomplete love. Instead, our love should be complete, just like the Father’s love is complete. Jesus’ main point here is that we are to treat others with the same kind or quality of love as God does.
This love does not merely involve feeling, but also the will. With this love, our concern for another's good overcomes any feelings of offense, resentment, and retaliation. It motivates us to do good rather than react in kind to what caused our negative feelings toward the other. Only those who have the mind of Christ can do this. We must seek it from God.
In this section Christ lists three ways people show their ill-feelings toward others.
1. Cursing: the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person or a
2. Hatred: A feeling of utter hostility and disgust against another.
3. Spitefully using and persecuting: means to mistreat , harass, to annoy persistently, etc
He also specifies three ways a Christian can combat these actions.
1. We can bless, meaning giving good words for bad.
2. We can also do good for our enemies, not merely restrain ourselves from retaliation.
3. Lastly, we can pray for them and for their welfare, asking God to change their hearts so a
two-way love can exist.
Let’s take a look and compare some other scriptures so we can see what the word perfect means.
Col 1:28 (NKJV) Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom,
that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
Col 1:28 (NIV) He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all
wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Col 4:12 (NKJV) Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always
laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in
all the will of God.
Col 4:12 (NIV) Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings.
He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of
God, mature and fully assured.
Jas 1:4 (NKJV) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete,
Jas 1:4 (NIV) Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not
Perfect means finished, complete, having reached its end, and implies being fully grown or
In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus <http://www.biblicaljesus.org/> does not mean that we resolve to like everyone, but that we act in goodwill toward those we do not like as well as those we do. This command seems unreasonable and absurd, but only because of our carnality. Christ desires all to be happy. Both the hater and the hated are miserable to some degree, and the misery will not cease until the hatred dissolves. The antidote to hatred is love.
What Matthew is getting at by talking about being perfect is equivalent to what Luke means when he talks of being merciful. To be like our Father, we need to be merciful and love with a mature, complete kind of love that doesn’t restrict itself to those who love us back.
Another question that arises is: How can we love our enemies?
An enemy is "one who is hostile to or opposes the purposes or interests of another".
Some of the information below is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.
First we need to understand the different meanings of love.The meaning of love is not to be confused with some sentimental outpouring. Let’s look at the three Greek words for love used in the New Testament. They are eros, philia and agape. Agape is the one used in Mat 5:44.
1. Eros - The word eros is a sort of emotional or romantic love.
2. Philia - The word philia is a friendly feeling or affection such as friendship between friends.
3. Agape - Selfless love of one person for another. Especially love that is spiritual in nature.
The word is agape is goodwill for all men. It’s a love which seeks nothing in return, agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. At this level, we love men not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him. At this level, we love the person who does an evil deed, although we hate the deed that he does.
Now we can see what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” We should be happy that he did not say, “Like your enemies.” It is almost impossible to like some people. “Like” is a sentimental and affectionate word. How can we be affectionate toward a person whose purpose is to crush our very being and place innumerable stumbling blocks in our path? How can we like a person who is threatening our children and bombing our homes? That is impossible. But Jesus recognized that love is greater than like. When Jesus bids us to love our enemies, he is speaking neither of eros nor philia; he is speaking of agape understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Only by following this way and responding with this type of love are we able to be children of our Father who is in heaven.
Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable warning.
Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreversible damage to its victims.
But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
We must hasten to say that these are not the ultimate reasons why we should love our enemies. An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love is expressed explicitly in Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies . . . that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.” We are called to this difficult task in order to realize a unique relationship with God. We are potential sons of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.