Weekly Devotion

October 1, 2023

Be Complete Like God! 

 In Matthew 5:48 Jesus issues a strange challenge to his hearers: “You must be ‘perfect’ as your heavenly Father is ‘perfect’.”
Wow – really!? Who is capable of responding to that challenge!? Especially after Jesus describes what that’s like: how we’re blessed when we mourn, have nothing, and are persecuted; how we cannot look lustfully at – or divorce – anyone without committing adultery; and ultimately how we must love our enemies and not retaliate at all! The Sermon on the Mount is literally IMPOSSIBLE! Yet Jesus loaded up on us anyway and said, “you must be ‘perfect’”. Let’s consider two things.

First, Jesus loaded his teaching with hyperbole in order to set up a goal so lofty, literally no one in this life could achieve it. That way, no one can say “I did it myself!” There can be no saviour other than Jesus – “so that no one can boast” (1 Cor. 1:29). The only path to God is “in Christ” (Paul’s favourite phrase).

Second, our English translation of “perfect” misleads us. For example, we often say creation was “perfect”. I grew up with the parable of the white sheet of paper (“perfection”) which would be marred forever if a splotch of ink were to land on it (“sin”). This parable is typically applied to Genesis 1-3 (Creation and Fall). It’s ok, but it doesn’t help us when we look at Matthew 5:48. Matthew used the word “telios” which means “complete in all parts; full grown, especially regarding Christian character.” “Telios” is linked to the word “telos” – which contains the idea of an end-goal that takes time and work to get to.

In other words, Jesus calls us to “good work” that will develop our character as individuals, but also simultaneously develop the character of our community. The character of the community is actually more important than individual character, since 99% of the Bible is written to and about the people of God as community – and the character of the kingdom we are to embody to “be a blessing to the world.”

So to rephrase Matthew 5:48 – “You-all, (as Westwood Community Church let’s say), must work toward this goal of completeness, even as your heavenly Father is ‘completely complete’.” Doing so is evidence that you’re taking seriously your existence in Christ and your relationship to everyone else who is in Christ with you (the church). Doing so will change the world. When you learn to love the “other” and even “the enemy” you will have learned how God looks on your “enemy” – with love and longing to draw that person into Himself (Matthew 5:43-45). (Sometimes our “enemy” is someone just down the pew from us – so that person is already “in Christ”. That’s super-ironic – but it is reality). This will result in peace and an elevated social order.

I write this devotional after our “Let’s Talk” gathering of September 25. We discussed quite a diversity of thoughts. That diversity tested us! But at the end, we had a broad sense of being “in Christ” together as a church. Were we “perfect” – that is, complete in our Christian character? No. But we were humble, gentle and patient with each other, and it felt like we were motivated by love for one another (Ephesians 4:2). Glory to God. Let’s continue our work to “completeness” and “perfection”!  
Written by Dave Wiebe