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Archive for February, 2008

Be Perfect

Last Sunday’s text ended with: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Because I did not mention this much in the sermon, due to the volume of other material, I thought I would say something brief on this passage. This text is often used to scare people into repentance, reminding them of how they will never live up to God’s standard. And there is some truth to that; surely, we will never be absolutely perfect in the way that God is. But I think this narrow understanding of the passage misses what Jesus is teaching, especially when considered in the context. To help I will quote McKnight’s article on Justice, Righteousness:

“The word perfect in Matthew 5:48 speaks of the response of the whole heart, a total or thorough commitment of God’s will – not sinless perfection. For Jesus the pursuit of righteousness is obeying Gods will in all its aspects (personal, social, and communal) and is to be the first priority of his followers (Mt. 6:33).” (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, IVP)

Set in context, the only way that Jesus’ disciples could surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees was to follow God’s commands due to the disposition of their heart. It was a righteousness that kept the Greatest Commandments first and foremost, not one that did their “acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them” (Mt. 6:1). Yet, the heart does not negate or dismiss the external observance. But if those things are not done out of the motivation of the heart/ love, then they are vain actions, pleasing only to the self. (for more see Faithfulness vs. Perfection)

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Dr. Herman Ridderbos writes:

“The disposition of the heart is an indispensable condition of a good deed for the very reason that it is included in the precept of the law and is demanded by God in the revelation of his will. The theonomy of the gospel is subjection to the law, and any attempt to eliminate the category of law from the gospel is frustrated by the continuous and undeniable maintenance of the law by and in the gospel.”

The beautiful unity of Law and Gospel!

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Bishop NT Wright says this of this very well know speech of Jesus:

“The sermon…is not a mere miscellany of ethical instruction. It cannot be generalized into a set of suggestions, or even commands, on how to be ‘good’. Nor can it be turned into a guidemap for how to go to ‘heaven’ after death. It is rather, as it stands, a challenge to Israel to be Israel.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, 288 – emphasis mine)

It is important to note that Jesus came not just as Savior, but he came as Israel true and rightful teacher of the Law. Or to say it slightly different, as Savior, understanding that biblically, it would be appropriate that he would be the true teacher and exegete of the Law of God. This certainly will be one theme developed in this week’s sermon.

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