“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NKJV).
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, which included preaching the gospel of the kingdom (of which His sermon on the mount is typical, Matt. 5:17-19; 4:23; 5:1). In Matthew 5:20-48, He contrasted the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus did far more than just teaching Jews how to be faithful Jews. He taught Jews (and subsequently, Gentiles, Matt. 28:18-20) how to be “perfect” (complete) as citizens of the kingdom, His church. Today’s verse speaks explicitly to the nature of our love toward others, whether friend and foe (Matt. 5:43-47). In the Scriptures, the word “perfect” (teleios) means “complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.)” (G5046). The Father is complete in every respect, including His love (Matt. 5:45). He is the ultimate example for His children’s character and conduct. Would you please notice we must choose to “be perfect” like the Father? Jesus calls us to willingly choose to be like the Father in word and deed toward (1) Our brother (Matt. 5:21-26), (2) Lust (Matt. 5:27-30), (3) One’s spouse (Matt. 5:31-32), (4) Our integrity (Matt. 5:33-37), (5) Retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42), and (6) Our love of others (Matt. 5:43-47). May we devote ourselves daily to this worthy endeavor.
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2–3, NKJV)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, NKJV)
The devil is delighted when Christians do not love one another. He also takes delight when Christians do not love their enemies. Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 5:44). God is “perfect” in verse 48 because He does precisely that – He loves His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The word “perfect” in today’s passage (verse 48) conveys completeness, being of full age or maturity. Our love is not complete if we do not love our enemies. We love our enemies by showing them active goodwill, even though they are actively showing ill will toward us (see Matthew 5:44). Loving only those who love us is the world’s model of love. Loving your enemies is what God does toward the whole world. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven model themselves after God’s love, not the world’s incomplete, immature love.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10, NKJV)
The abiding superiority of love over the temporarily miraculous spiritual gifts (a discussion of which Paul had introduced in 1 Corinthians 12:1) is the “more excellent way” that was to control the use of those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). The partial things in this passage are the miraculous gifts given by the apostles through the laying on of their hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6). In this context, that “which is perfect” is the completed result of those gifts, namely, the full and final revelation of the gospel of Christ. When the miraculous gifts served their purpose of revealing, inspiring and confirming the gospel of Christ, they were “done away” with, like so much scaffolding around a building whose construction is complete. The “perfect” in this text is not Jesus, nor is His second coming in view (that is a forced and arbitrary interpretation). The Corinthian Christians needed to learn and use love as they exercised their miraculous gifts. The gifts would cease but love never ends. Love must be the compelling motive of all we do. Always. Because love never fails. It never vanishes away.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22–25, NKJV)
God wants doers of the work; People whose faith is put into action by obeying His law of liberty. This passage explains why faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Faith is alone when it is not combined with doing what God command in His perfect law of liberty. We must use God’s mirror – His perfect law of liberty – to look at our spiritual imperfections (our sins) and then do something about them! God provides the correction of our sins in His Son Jesus Christ. We must have the faith to be doers of the word by doing the work God commands for our blessing (James 1:23, 25). Do not deceive yourself. God’s spiritual, eternal blessings do not come by only examining yourself in God’s mirror. You must see yourself as God sees you and then do what He says in His “perfect law of liberty.” Then, you will be blessed in what you do.
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:12–13, NKJV)
After He ascended into heaven, Christ gave gifts to the world, (Ephesians 4:11, see Sword Tips #1213). The work of these inspired men produced the New Testament. These uninspired men help us know and follow them. According to verse 12, these gifts were given to equip or complete the saints of God, in order to 1) do the work of service given by the Lord, and to 2) edify or strengthen the church. Please notice, it is the word of God that gives us the necessary tools to serve, and to be spiritually strengthened. The goal of our spiritual ministry and strength is stated in verse 13: That we will attain to the maturity and unity to which we have been called in Christ. This is where Paul began this fourth chapter of Ephesians, as he urges Christians to walk worthy of our calling, carefully guarding “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, 1-6). Churches have strayed far from this spiritual work Jesus intended. The word of God is hardly preached, rarely studied, and viewed as opinions and traditions, rendered irrelevant by time and humanity’s progress. Let us return to honoring Christ’s gifts, by which the saving gospel is known and used, enabling us to be what Christ wants of His people.
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (James 2:20–23, NKJV)
James makes two piercing statements in today’s passage: “Do you want to know?”, and “Do you see?” The necessity of faith and works (of faith, that is, obedience) is easily demonstrated in the action of Abraham when he offered Isaac on the altar. Do you want to know that faith without works is dead (v. 20)? Some do not. They want to cling to the false teaching that faith only saves? (It does not, for James said a man is “justified by works and not be faith only,” Jas. 2:24.) Do you see that faith is complete only when it is combined with obeying the Lord’s command (v. 22)? When Abraham’s faith was made perfect (complete) by his obedience, his faith was accounted to him for righteousness (v. 23). This does not mean you earn your salvation. It means that incomplete faith will not save you. It is made whole by obeying God. We are friends of God when by faith, we obey Jesus (Jno. 15:14). Do you want to know? Do you see?