Matthew 5:43-48
Become Perfect

Authored by Rev. Shigeru Matsubara, Assistant Pastor, Osaka Nozomi Church, Osaka, Japan

1.  I think one of the most important things for a person is to take in complete rest and relaxation.  We are at peace having harmonious friendships with everyone, work at our ease, play a lot and [enjoy] studying.  And we relax and take it nice and easy.  That would kind of be heaven.  In hopes of building such a world it would seem people have come to fabricate history.

2.   But, what is the real world that we have?  In the Bible it says since the time of Adam and Eve all the way to the time of Jesus Christ there has not been one single person who was perfect or peaceful.  In Romans chapter three verses nine through seventeen it says the following: "Both Jew and Greek are all under sin. 'There is no one righteous, not even one person is.  They do not know the way of peace.'"

3.  The text we are studying today is found at the end of the fifth chapter in the famous Sermon On The Mount (chapters five through seven).  Jesus said, "You have heard it said that the most important thing for a human being is loving one's neighbor.  But, I say this.  'Please love your enemies.  And please pray for those who persecute you.'  So that you become the children of your Father, who is in heaven."

4.  In the Old Testament there is a deeply impressive story.  It's the tale of King Saul and David.  King Saul was wanting for some reason or another to kill David and pursued after him.  However, at one time David had a chance to inflict death on King Saul had he wanted to.  But, he would not kill King Saul who had been under the anointing of God.  The Lord God blessed David for that and gave him the crown.

5.  As for the enemies which Jesus is talking about, he was pointing to the personal enemies the disciples had.  For scholars in the law "the neighbor" in "love your neighbor" meant one's fellow countrymen or more particularly the Israelites and that the non Israelites or Gentiles were understood as "the enemy."  Therefore, to love your "enemy"  was to love both "countrymen" and "the Gentiles" equally as one's neighbor and also to love "those who persecute you" and "the tax collectors."  Also, he commanded that they "pray for them to the Lord God."  Although "the tax collectors" were Jews, they were collecting taxes for Roman Gentiles and were considered crooks embezzling from the tax balances and traitors to the country.  Also, the Jews under the administration of King Herod regarded the Edomites as Gentiles as literally their "enemy."  The Edomites were among "those who persecute you."  If they were going to love an enemy whose existence they couldn't stand but abhorred instinctively, it was impossible for the person born Jewish and for the disciples "to love" them on an emotional level.  Only when Christ dwells in the hearts of his disciples and is at work does the will of Christ make this possible.  When Jesus commanded his disciples to "pray for your enemies and those who persecute you," the prayer the disciples prayed changed their hearts to love their enemies.

6.  When Jesus healed disease he said "Your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2, etc.), and "Your sins have been forgiven" (Luke 7:48).  Those who were told "Your sins have been forgiven" and who were healed of disease by Jesus expressed their joy over this very announcement by leaping up in the air and jumping up and down.

7.  "In the Old Testament when you see a prayer in some passage over an enemy it is a prayer of opposition against the enemy and is never a prayer on behalf of the enemy."  However, "for the first time in history, Jesus required of his disciples an intercessory prayer for those who would attack praying people," (Lohmeyer ).  Jesus was crucified by those who hated him such as the leaders of the Jews, chief priests, elders, pharisees, and the people they stirred up and Pilate whom they instigated.  While on the cross Christ said, "Please forgive them, Father.  Because they don't understand what they are doing," (Luke 23:24).  Without a doubt the Lord Jesus spoke an intercessory prayer to God the heavenly Father on behalf of his persecutors.

8.  The church was shown that the intercessory prayer of the Lord Jesus was for its own self and repented.  It also offered up to the Lord thanksgiving, prayer and praiseful worship.

9.  When Stephen gave his last testimony at the high court, the men who heard it got terribly angry, dragged him outside the capital and had him stoned to death.  Stephen cried out in a loud voice to the Lord, "O Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "O Lord, please do not charge them with this sin," and fell asleep.  (Acts 7:54-60)  Stephen's prayer was very close to the Lord's.

10.  In verse forty-five, the Lord Jesus spoke the truth about how "The heavenly Father is perfect."  The heavenly Father does not just pour out the light and heat of the sun on good people, but makes the sun rise even on us bad people.  He doesn't only make the blessed rain fall for the good and the righteous, but in the same way lets it rain on us unrighteous people, too.  In this illustration, the heavenly Father does not discriminate between the good and the bad, but shows how he is working and instructs us to love our enemies, too.  By doing this, he says, "you will be able to show you are a child of the heavenly Father."

11.  The will of the heavenly Father as shown through Jesus Christ is reflected in nature in this way.  Based on who the heavenly Father is as truly revealed in Christ, our attention is directed to the glory of the heavenly Father which is being revealed even in the natural world.  When we know the unlimited mercy of the heavenly Father and believe we are loved as the children of the heavenly Father in that mercy, we come to know that loving our enemies is the way the Father's children originally were meant to be.

12.  For the Jews conscious of being the chosen people, they "loved the people who loved them" and "greeted only their own brothers" (forty-six, forty-seven), theirs was a lifestyle of self love hardly any different from the tax collectors and Gentiles they would habitually disdain.  Jesus gave the verdict that the righteousness of the legal scholars and the pharisees was ultimately equal to those they had detested.

13.  At the close of verse forty-eight he commanded "You too, please become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."  It is easy to understand "perfect or complete" which is written here as "absolute perfection."  However, this adjective "teleioV, teleios" originally had the meaning "not lacking anything, but having everything in order."  In Hebrew they say "shalem, [a variation of shalom]" but in the final analysis the meaning we have is that everything is done and nothing is left out.

14.  [Being perfect involves] not an "imperfect way of loving" like loving partially saying "I can love anybody but so-and-so" or "He is out of the question."  The Lord is saying that the Hebrew word for perfect "shalem" involves being perfect by turning everything on its head, by including in our sphere of those we love even those who bear constant enmity against us and threaten us. They say the western Aramaic language, which Jesus is believed to have spoken, has many etymological ties to Hebrew.  In "the new covenant" in Hebrew, that is, in "the New Testament," we have written in this passage "heyu shlemiym [be perfect].*"   This word "shlemiym [plural of shalem]" is translated in the New Interconfessional Version in Japanese as "being friends with" in Genesis chapter thirty-four and verse twenty-one.  Furthermore, according to a comprehensive dictionary of the Hebrew language, we come to know it has the meaning "peaceful."  That is, we are able to understand that in verse forty-eight "perfect, complete" has the detailed meaning of "be friends with, at peace with."  Therefore, is it not possible to render a translation of verse forty-eight with the following reading?  That is, it could read, "As your heavenly Father is (perfectly) peaceful, you too, please become peaceful persons (good neighbors)."  When we get this particular view of this verse, we might ought to bow our heads in agreement that the context of verse forty-eight to "love your enemies" ties into the context of the Sermon On The Mount in Matthew chapter five verses nine through twelve and the meaning of Jesus' words should certainly speak to us.  Shouldn't they?  [In short, "being perfect" does not simply mean to be of perfect character without any defects; rather, the word deals more with the relationship between you and another person.  Jesus wants us to live peacefully with others with love for one another more than he wants us to live as isolated and perfect men and women of character.

15.  What sufferings await the person (verse nine) who would "make peace a reality?"  Or, what must he or she go through in the things they must patiently suffer through?  When "those who are persecuted on behalf of righteousness" (verse ten) become the ones who reveal the glory of the son of the heavenly Father, how blessed will they be?  "When you are abused, persecuted, and get all kinds of evil speaking that you'll never even know of dumped on you for my sake," (verse eleven) how blessed will we be as we know that the heavenly Father is total peace or we understand what he wishes for us?  We will experience a joy bubbling up to the full in these little bodies [of ours].  Even if somebody said, "Don't be so happy," we would still have to rejoice because we are basking in this great glory of his.  We will get to see in heaven the truly great reward we have.  In addition, it's not just the disciples and ourselves who have been persecuted.  The prophets before Jesus, too, underwent persecution, (verse twelve).

16.  The need for us is to "love our enemies and pray for them" as the Lord so commanded us.  "The enemies" we have "to love" are the people who "hate you to the max and can't stand you" and have the tenacity and ill will to hurt you anyway they could.  The meaning of this passage here is that we not return hate on such persons but love them and appreciate them.  We might think since they are only Gentiles who don't love God it's sufficient for us to greet only the company we keep of similar tastes and only with associates to our convenience, but this type of thinking is no different from the tax collectors of whom everyone says are symbolic of greed.  I think this passage, which is about becoming a person who is able to have a way of loving that is total and complete which the heavenly Father has completely turned over and have a way of forgiveness which embraces the other person one hundred percent in contrast to a way of forgiveness that is completely incomplete and a way of loving full of gaps and exceptions based on one's convenience and one's animosities, is summed up in the meaning given in "please be perfect."

17.  There are those among us who experienced an oppression of Christianity in Japan during World War II.  We had our faith tested during such "extreme conditions."  Also, at the forefront of battle there were many persons who suffered hardships.  During that period of time there were also people who died rejecting war and the emperor.  It is important to pray that the word of Christ, when he said "please love those who would try to make you fall in all their tenacity and hate you so much," will truly apply to your every day reality familiar to you and to pray that the help of the Lord will enable you in this regard.  I would like you to seriously respond to that great immeasurable love in which Christ died for our sins.  Also, the Lord commanded that we pray to be filled with that kind of love.

18.  The Sermon On The Mount message can't really be considered apart from the cross and the resurrection.  Christ perfectly fulfilled the promise to make peace into a reality when he was crucified.  From there the Lord commanded us sinners that we ought to pray with faith that we cast off ourselves, carry the burden of our own cross, follow Christ, and let him make us into persons who activate peace and become perfect.

19.  "In spite of the fact that Christ is the Son [of God], he learned obedience by much suffering and became a perfect person," (Hebrews 5:8-9).

20.  "When we were the enemies of God, in order to redeem the sin of sinners Christ offered up himself as the one and only consecrated sacrifice and made those who were holy as perfect persons for ever," (Hebrews 10:14).

21.  In The Sermon On The Mount Jesus said, "You too, please become perfect persons."  Such a recommendation means for you to please believe on Jesus Christ who accomplished this very thing also.  We will never have perfection for ourselves unless we believe in Jesus Christ.  Let's "believe on the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God and love one another, as he commanded us;" for, he has given us a perfect salvation.

22.  "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (verse forty-three).  Through obedience to the Lord we become perfect persons at peace with those around us.

23.  The Son of God, who loves us and sacrificed himself for us, lives in us.  And he is leading us to Perfection.

End Note:

*Heyuu is a transliteration of the Hebrew verb for "to be" properly parsed as hayah qal imperative masculine plural.

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