"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."
To begin with, we cannot always expect that the English word that is used as a translation from the original language is to be understood only as it is understood in our modern thought and language. You will see what I mean shortly. Before we look deeper into the language, let's just read this statement in the context it is presented. The words spoken before the 48th verse of Matthew chapter 5 were very clear in their purpose. Jesus was instructing His disciples in what ways they should seek to be like God the Father. "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." - Matthew 5:43-45
I believe that Jesus' statement that His disciples to be perfect was to be understood in this way and in this context: In these ways therefore be "perfect." In other words, the instruction to "be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" was a summary of His teachings about truly showing love to others as God shows to His creations: giving grace, loving, giving life and good things both to those who are good and to the ones who say things against Him and "spit in His face."
The above is what I believe is clearly the contextual meaning of what Jesus was saying. But why did He use the word "perfect?" Well, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word "perfect" is "teleios" and could better be translated as "complete, of full age." This word directly ties into the Hebrew word "tammim," which means "whole, complete, perfect, full." This Hebrew word is present in the following which was asked of Abraham: "...I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect." - Genesis 17:1b (KJV)
Jesus' statement on this topic of "perfection" was most likely said with this verse in mind. In Jewish thought, the patriarch Abraham's character was seen as the epitome of kindness, hospitality and love and this character is exactly what Jesus was calling His disciples towards. In fact, according to Jewish teachings, Abraham was said to have manifested God's attribute of kindness in the world through his life and actions. Just because it reminds me of what we are discussing I would like to present a quote from a popular book of Chinese wisdom sayings that may help you better understand what is being presented here.
"The wise man has no concern for himself, But makes the concerns of others his own.
He is good to those who are good.
He is also good to those who are not good.
That is the virtue of goodness.
He is faithful to people who are faithful.
He is also faithful to people who are not faithful.
That is the virtue of faithfulness." - the Tao Te Ching
Here are three points to summarize what we have been investigating:
1) Jesus asks us to be "perfect." This word in it's full meaning is better understood as "complete, of full age" and corresponds to the Hebrew word that entails being "whole, complete, perfect, full."
2) In context, I don't believe Jesus is asking for perfect sinlessness but rather that we be mature in our virtue and choose to love others and treat them right whether or not they deserve it instead of acting immature and giving equivalent retaliation that is based off of others' actions.
3) The one who was specifically commanded to be "perfect" in the Old Testament was our father Abraham. He's father of those who are of faith in the Messiah (according to Paul in Romans and Galatians) which are also those who are called to act out God's attribute of kindness with Him to all of His creations!
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