(This is a reaction to the January 30 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less05.html.)
That first passage, Matthew 5:44-48, ends with what is a major tripping point for some people: the call to be “perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” That seems like an impossible demand.
But the word “perfect” means something in this context, and not what people suspect. Right before that statement, Jesus had been preaching about loving even people who don’t love you back. He then says basically that if we love like that, we will be perfect like the Father.
And in that context, “perfect” seems to mean that we have a complete understanding of love, at least more complete than the common person. I’ve heard that the Biblical idea of perfection includes the concept of being complete and right and correct at your current level, rather than being at an end point where no more improvement is possible.
So you can be “perfect” in love, meaning that you have a complete understanding that love is really only true love when you are loving even towards people who do not love you back. But perfection doesn’t mean being some sort of flawless performer on a stage who executes every movement with amazing precision and never trips (which is what people think Jesus means by “perfect”).
Pastor Doug Batchelor preached about this (search the Internet for “Doug Batchelor perfect christian” to find the sermon). He said that the common definition of “perfect” means that there is no possibility of improvement. Well, no one can honestly say we’re there, so it’s scary to think that God wants us to be.
He explained that the Bible many times states that it’s impossible for anyone to be righteous except for God. Jesus Himself said that no one is good except the Father. So how can He ask us to be perfect and also state that no one is good?
Well, Abraham was declared righteous (Genesis 15:6) because he trusted in God’s promise. Phillipians 2:1-8, used in today’s lesson, tells us to have the same mind of humility and love that is in Christ. Jesus Himself stated several times that we can’t do anything except through Him, as if we are branches coming off of a vine and He’s the vine.
So being perfect really is just abiding in Christ. It means learning from Him to be a servant, like the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help someone in need — to love his neighbor. Even if we make a mistake now and then, the trend of your life if you stay connected with Jesus every day will be a trend toward God.
Batchelor stated an analogy from marriage: you can’t be a faithful to a spouse 358 days per year out of 365 and think that’s enough because you only takes a week off per year. Faithfulness means every day. So with God, we are perfectly abiding in Him when we spend time with Him every single day.
You will keep growing, you will change, you will make mistakes if you’re trying new things, but you will be declared perfect, meaning “complete,” at each stage when you are connected to Jesus the sinless Man.
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)