Read: Matthew 5:43-48
You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
During two different semesters, I taught a “Discipleship Ministries” course to pastors and lay leaders at our local seminary. As we were reading through the Sermon on the Mount, memorizing Romans 12, and reading through Dallas Willard’sThe Divine Conspiracy, one of my students said he’d been convicted. For the first time, he truly understood how Jesus wanted him to live out his faith in his workplace—a place where he’d often been tempted to harbor contempt toward moody and rude customers.
Throughout the Matthew 5 portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He repeats a variation of these words: “You have heard the law that says . . . But I say” (Matthew 5:21-22,27-28,31-32, Matthew 5:33-34,38-39,43-44). Mostly well-intentioned religious leaders of the time had enacted laws and codes to help people follow God more intentionally. The people started believing, however, that following the rules—going through the motions—could make them pure and perfect.
But Jesus protested such theology. He said that if we’re striving to be like our heavenly Father—pure, perfect, holy (Matthew 5:48)—then it’s not enough to go through the motions on the outside. Obedience to God must be on the inside too—in our hearts (see Psalm 15:2, 51:10,16-17). Only then, when our hearts are filled with love for God and others, will we be on our way to becoming pure in our relationships.
My student told our class he knew Jesus was calling him to serve and love customers who mistreated him. It wasn’t enough to be “kind on the outside,” he said. Jesus, through the strength of the Spirit, was calling him to rid himself of internal contempt and bitterness toward others—to be changed from the inside out.