In this article on Matthew 5:43-48 the author discusses perfectionism.

Source: Clarion, 1998. 2 pages.

Matthew 5:43-48 - “Perfect” Christians

Can Christians be perfect? Some have no difficulty giving a positive answer to this question. Of course, there are thoroughly good Christians. They may not be fully perfect, but they live good, honest, and valuable lives in helping others. People who do many good works, exist. Think of someone like Mother Theresa who did so much good supporting the poor, fighting abortion and helping mothers take care of their babies. Such people are good.

Without taking away from the good she and others have done, it is of course true that good works by themselves are not enough for someone to be called good. The heart must be considered, as well. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke about that when He said:

What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.Matthew 15:18-20

We cannot look into the depths of the heart, but God can. He sees the evil desires behind the deeds. People who have dirty or nasty thoughts come up in their mind cannot be called perfect. At least not in God’s eyes.

Some theologians in the past have been toying with the idea that Christians could be perfect. This can be found in early Methodism. One taught the ideal of Christian perfection as a result of a second change, following the change of conversion. Not all reach this state of perfection on earth, but some do, for God gives them this grace. Moreover, God’s commandments requiring our complete obedience would not make sense if Christians could not fulfil them.

Another early Methodist went beyond this by teaching that man with his effort would have to contribute to this perfection. Man can reach it when God’s free grace is joined by human free will to do what is good. Actually, man can gradually reach the state of perfection. Neither of the two thought, however, that he had himself reached the state of perfection.

This self-appraisal shows that they knew themselves better than they knew Scripture. It teaches:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.1 John 1:8

As long as we are in this life, we are not perfect. Even the best of us have only a small beginning of the required obedience.

Father is Perfect🔗

Then, why did Christ exhort us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48)? He set a high standard for our perfection. “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That seems impossible. How can we ever reach God’s standard of perfection? God is good through and through. Even if we would not do anything wrong, we could never reach the perfection of God. Why does Christ ask the impossible?

Perhaps we had better ask at what occasion Christ required this perfection. It is the concluding word of a section in which He spoke about the commandment to love one’s neighbour (Matthew 5:43-48). 1

The listeners had often heard this teaching: “You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43). Israel was God’s chosen nation. But it was surrounded by hostile nations which did not serve God. Throughout many centuries, these nations had been jealous of Israel, trying to subject them. As a result, Israel had suffered much from the oppression of other nations.

But the times are changing. Jesus Christ has come into this world, and Israel is on the brink of being no longer God’s chosen nation. The Word of God will go out to all the nations, and the church will be gathered everywhere. No longer will the church coincide with the nation of Israel, the church will be a people living among many nations.

It will not be easy for the church people to live among people who do not serve God. Christ tells them, however, that they have to love their enemies. If they are persecuted, they have to pray for them. They have to do good, even to those who are out to kill them. Christ is requiring something that is virtually impossible.

That is the reason why Christ encourages them by pointing to what God in heaven does. God lets His sun rise over the evil and over the good. Everyone needs the sun, for warmth and growth. Without the sun, life on earth is not possible. God allows this sun to shine on all people. That means: God does not keep the sunshine away from the unbelievers. He grant His life-giving sun to all, without distinction. And the same goes for the rain. Without water nothing can grow, and people die for thirst. God gives rain, not merely to the righteous, but to the evil people, as well. God is, therefore, perfect. Perfection in this context is not a sinless existence. It means that God gives His gifts and support to all.

Actually, Christ says: Your heavenly Father is perfect. God is not the Father of all living people on earth. He is the Father of His people, of those who follow Jesus Christ. God has a special relationship with His people. He is their Father. But the Father of the Christians is perfect, in that He gives sun and rain to all, without making distinctions.

Perfect Christians🔗

Christ’s people have to do the same. They have to be perfect, in the sense that they have to do good to all. That does not make life easy for us. It means that the church people cannot be a community that is totally turned inward. The church is not to be isolated as one nation among the nations, it is gathered from among the nations. Within those nations, the church people must not restrict their attention to those who believe. They have to do good to all people.

That begins with greeting and showing simple friendliness to all. Christians are people who greet other people in their neighbourhood. Not all of them will be Christians. Not all of them are friendly. Christians, however, are not just friendly to their special friends, and they do not shut themselves up in their group, their friendliness goes out to all. That is included in being perfect as God is perfect.

More than words are needed, however. God gives things like rain and sunshine to all. Followers of Christ must be willing to contribute to good causes in the world. It is true, much money is required of Christians. They have so many things that need to be supported, the church, the schools, the needy. It would not be good, however, if they would limit their giving to their own community. God does not restrict His good gifts to His own people, He gives rain and sunshine far and wide. Christians must not say no to door to door collections, and must support fundraising for general good causes.

But Christ requires even more. God gives His good gifts of rain and sunshine even to evil people. Christians, therefore, cannot turn away from them. Even when they are very hostile, we should not repay them in kind. When we can do something good for them, we should do so. Actually, Christ says that we should love our enemies. When we can do a good turn to someone who always hated us, we should use the opportunity. Followers of Christ should not be known as successful and rich people, they should be known as good people, always ready to help out. That will reflect well on our heavenly Father.

Christ’s commandment requires us to do something we do not want: We must be perfect, in doing good to all. Perhaps we need to think more often about rain and sunshine, gifts we do not deserve.


  1. ^ At first glance, it could seem as if this commandment of perfection is connected with Christ’s general teaching about the commandments of God in Matthew 5:19. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches man so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does them and teaches them shall be great in the Kingdom of heaven.” However, the parallel with our heavenly Father is not mentioned there, but much later in this chapter in v. 45 where Christ says: “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” The commandment to be perfect must be taken as the conclusion of vvs. 43-47. See, e.g., J. Van Bruggen, The Sermon on the Mount (Winnipeg: Premier, 1986), pp. 51-55.

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