In Monday’s post, we looked at Jesus’ confronting command, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). Is Jesus calling us to do the impossible? And what did he mean by saying that he’d come to “fulfill” the law (5:17)?
So far this week, we’ve seen how Jesus calls us to go beyond the letter of some Old Testament laws and obey the spirit behind it. You may have noticed that lots of questions were raised, most of which I didn’t even address. In fact, I’ve deliberately avoided getting involved in the more complex areas of applying these calls to truthfulness, non-retaliation, and love for enemies. Why?
Because in some ways, poking around at the edges looking for limits and exceptions and loopholes is to go against the intent of this entire passage. Of course, in a fallen world, there will be exceptions. Most notably, there’s the requirement for public justice to be upheld by human governments, otherwise society would fall into lawlessness. But Jesus’ intent here is not to prescribe how societies should operate – whether notionally “Christian” or otherwise. It’s to call his followers to a higher standard. To be radically different.
Take his teaching on oaths, for example. Merely to take away from this passage “don’t swear an oath” is not enough. That’s not the point. Rather, it’s all about being completely truthful in everything we do. Going beyond the words we and being truthful by intent.
Or on retaliation. If all I take away from this passage is “OK, turn the left cheek. But once they’ve slapped that, too, then I can start slapping back” is to miss the point. Or to say “I now know the rule for symmetrical parts of my body – turn the opposite side, but what if they hit my nose? I don’t have another nose. Maybe I need to invert the axis of symmetry and offer my chin to be hit?” That also misses the point. And is incredibly nerdy. To say “right, I go one extra mile. That’s twice what they ask. But there’s no way I’m doing a third” – that, too, shows we don’t get it.
Or consider love for enemies. If all I say is “OK, so that enemy who hurt me – I’ll choose to love them in the Lord; I’ll pray for them; just as long as I don’t ever have to talk to them again…” Do you get where this is heading?
The passage is primarily about going beyond legalism – beyond what is required. Jesus is calling us – as much as we are able in a fallen world – to live out a lifestyle that is so perfect it renders laws irrelevant. (We might now call it being “led by the Spirit”, which I’m sure is what Jesus had in mind, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves by a few years.) That’s what he means when he says “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He wants us to present a picture to the rest of the world of a society in which laws are no longer needed. A society where we each give up our own rights in favour of the other. A window on heaven, no less.
As a parent of young children, I never live in a perfectly tidy house. Sometimes I long for it, but it’s forever beyond me. A while back, my parents had our boys overnight. On the Saturday afternoon we spent a few hours tidying toys, vacuuming, cleaning – the house was spotless. And with the boys out of the house, it remained that way for a full, blissful 24 hours. It was a glimpse, albeit a very brief one, of the future that awaits us in 20 yrs time when the boys have moved out. A time of peace, quiet, and tidiness…
That’s what Jesus wants his church to be. A window that offers glimpses, however fleeting and incomplete, of the perfect society that awaits us. He knows that we’ll never be perfect this side of heaven. But he calls us to aim for it all the same as we reflect the values of God our Father. As we choose to be holy, because God is holy.
So every time you reject playing the world’s game with words and instead pursue truthfulness, letting your “yes” mean “yes”& your “no” mean “no” – you are creating a window on heaven. A time when oaths will be obsolete, because there will only be truth.
Every time you refuse to take revenge; when you refuse to defend your own honour and instead let God vindicate you; every time you do good back in double measure to those who seek to harm you – you are painting a picture of perfection. A time when justice will have been served once and for all, and God will reign.
Every time you show love toward your enemies – you are holding out a lifeline of hope to the world that says “God still loves you; while you were still his enemies he sent his son to die for you; there’s still time to repair your relationship with him and ensure you will live forever with him.”
Every time you take Jesus’ radical call seriously – to be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect – you offer a glimpse of a different world. A world where laws are unnecessary. A world that is now possible through Jesus (and through the new heart and new spirit promised in e.g. Ezek 36:26-27); and one day will be a reality, when he returns.
You are, as v16 said, letting your light shine before all people, so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
To think about
What windows on heaven (or pictures of perfection, if you prefer) can you paint?
Take this as your one thought for the day, and see how it impacts your behaviour, and attitudes to those around you.