Be Ye Perfect!
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
"Well, nobody's perfect!" How many times have you heard someone say that? And yet that is exactly what God commands us to be — "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The reason so many Christians reject this as impossible is because they lack understanding or as Jesus said, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). In other words, something only looks impossible because we do not understand the word of God nor do we understand the power of God. We're looking at the situation through the wisdom of men rather than the supernatural power of the almighty God.
We find this verse in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus, which tells us that the perfection He is talking about is one of the heart. He is not talking about a legalistic observance of the law. He is referring to the purity of the heart, a righteousness based on the thoughts and attitudes of a single heart filled with the love of God. It is the same perfection that God has required from His people from the beginning of time. He sums it up in His address to Israel:
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12,13).
Noah had the testimony of a perfect man. "This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Abraham, after he was justified by faith, was commanded to walk perfectly before God. "And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Genesis 17:1). God commanded Abraham to be perfect based on the fact that He is Almighty God. Israel was also commanded to be perfect after being justified by faith. "Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 18:13). In every case the Lord is talking about a walk of perfection before Him. So, the question we have to ask ourselves is, does God command us to do anything that is impossible? When we understand the scriptures and the power of God we see that He doesn't.
The Hebrew word used for ‘perfect' is tamiym. It means complete, sound, without blemish, without spot, or undefiled. The perfection that God calls us to is one of spiritual soundness or completeness. It is what Matthew calls a pure heart, a heart free from defilement or impurity. When you understand this you will better understand the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord is not seeking legalistic observance of the law but rather the obedience of love which can only come from a sound or healthy heart. "Even so, every healthy (sound) tree bears good fruit [worthy of admiration], but the sickly (decaying, worthless) tree bears bad (worthless) fruit" (Matthew 7:17 Amplified).
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to bring sacrifices to God that were perfect or without spot or blemish. Again, the Hebrew word tamiyn is used, the same word He used to call Abraham and the Israelites to perfection. He is not talking about a perfection of maturity as a baby lamb could be just as perfect as a full grown sheep. He is talking about a perfection of holiness without spot or blemish. The sacrificial lamb had to be perfectly sound regardless of maturity. He is talking about being free from defilement or blemish. In the New Testament, Paul exhorts us, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). The same way that the Israelites were to present to God a holy sacrifice without spot or blemish, so too we are to present ourselves to God a holy sacrifice without spot or blemish. Notice that Paul calls this our reasonable service. In other words, it is not something difficult or impossible. It's also important to note that we present ourselves once and for all to God. The word ‘present' indicates a complete and instantaneous action. We present ourselves one time completely and forever, holy and without spot or blemish. This is the sacrifice that is acceptable to God. "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). This is what the Lord means by, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
This is the perfection to which God calls each one of us. The reason it is not impossible but rather demanded of God is that His divine power has already been given to make us perfect. Look at what Paul says in Ephesians. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25- 27). Christ died in order to sanctify us making us holy without spot or blemish. Jesus gave Himself to make us living sacrifices unto God. He makes us perfect by making us holy and without blemish just like the sacrificial animals offered under the law.
The book of Hebrews shows us the contrast between the law and grace as a method to complete His redemptive work. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" (Hebrews 7:11). Notice the implication given in this verse. Perfection did not come through the Levitical priesthood therefore a different priesthood had to come forth, the implication being that perfection would come through a priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. "For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God" (Hebrews 7:19). The law could not make anyone perfect but we have a better hope — "by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant" (Hebrews 7:22). The law could not make us perfect but Jesus came with a better covenant, a covenant that is able to make us perfect.
Why couldn't the law make us perfect? Remember, to be perfect is to be holy without spot or blemish. "Seeing that that first tabernacle was a parable (a visible symbol or type or picture of the present age). In it gifts and sacrifices are offered, and yet are incapable of perfecting the conscience or of cleansing and renewing the inner man of the worshiper" (Hebrews 9:9 Amplified). The law could only deal with the outward actions of men without affecting the inner heart of man. This is what Jesus was dealing with in the Sermon on the Mount. The law said not to commit adultery but Jesus said not to even have lust in your heart. The Pharisees obeyed the letter of the law but their hearts were still unchanged. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also" (Matthew 23:25,26). The law could only control outward actions with its rules and regulations but it did not have the power to cleanse and change the heart. But the law was a symbol or shadow of something better. "Concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:10-12). Christ is the reality of what the law foreshadowed with types and pictures. He came, not with the ineffectual blood of goats and calves, but with the efficacious blood of the only begotten Son of God that He might obtain a complete and eternal redemption capable of cleansing the very heart of man from every spot and blemish. "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:13,14). The superiority of the blood of Christ has to do with its greater effect. The blood of animals accomplished a ritualistic atonement while unable to experientially touch the inner heart of man. The blood of Christ, on the other hand, reaches right into the heart of man cleansing the very fountainhead of sin thus setting man free from the love of self to worship and serve God out of a pure heart. This enables man to obey God in the Spirit rather than in the letter of the law.
He then gives us a summation of Christ's perfecting work. "Then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.' He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:9-14). Jesus came and offered Himself for this purpose. He took away the old covenant which could not perfect us and established a new covenant whereby He could perfect us. According to the will of God, we are sanctified completely through the sacrifice of Christ once and for all. The law could not remove our sin but the blood of Christ cleanses us from every spot and blemish to make us perfect, a holy sacrifice unto God. This is in perfect accord with Ephesians 5: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." Because we are sanctified holy once and for all, we can present ourselves to the Lord a living sacrifice, holy and blameless, once and for all.
This is the purpose of the new covenant as revealed throughout the Old Testament. "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them" (Hebrews 10:16). Rather than being under the law of rules and regulations which are unable to change our hearts, the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on our hearts so that we are able to obey God out of a perfect nature of love and devotion thus revealing His glory to the world around us. "Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3).
It is for this purpose that we are commanded to be perfect even as God is perfect. It is our witness to the world of the love of Christ and it has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Now, the only reason we have of not being perfect is our unwillingness to appropriate the work of Christ in our hearts, "for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."