Who on earth can be like God? Just when you think Jesus is a genius for His discourse about the nature of the kingdom (the reign of God through Christ in the lives of men – Matt 5:1-47), He triggers the Be Perfect Bomb in v. 48 and blows us all away! I mean He really gets us excited about kingdom living and the victory that it offers over this world, and then He blasts us with the impossible? Sometimes we read Matt 5:48 this way, but we must do more than merely listen to the words. We must hear their message (Rom 10:17).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:43-48 NIV).
The Jews of Jesus’ day heard the teaching of Lev 19:18, love your neighbor, as a license to hate their enemies. Even though the Law in Exod 23:4–5 commanded them to treat their enemies as they would treat themselves. The contrasts of You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . . is used by Christ to get His disciples to seek what God intended in the commands, instead of using the commands to justify their own selfish behavior. The idea of taking what God has said and using it to accomplish selfish purposes has not yet gone out of style. Thus, Matthew’s record of Jesus’ sermon about the kingdom is as helpful today as it was for the Jewish disciples who first heard it.
Jesus tells His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them based on the fact that God’s nature is to bless both the evil and the righteous. Jesus reminds them that the call of the kingdom has to be above and beyond the ways of the world, or else what would be the point in rewarding only those to whom the kingdom belongs (v. 47)? The command of the kingdom for perfection is not that of moral perfection for sinners cannot accomplish that feat. The command for perfection is a command to hear the commands of God and imitate the God who gave them. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are willing to reflect the nature of their God to a lost world and resist the temptations of selfishness!