Last night we resumed our weekly small group. Other than a summer break and a few times when our hosts were away, we have been fellowshipping together four years. In that time, I’ve seen how Christians obey the words of Jesus about caring for one another.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
This morning I’m reminded that this love must go beyond those with whom we share our faith. We are also to love everyone else, just as God loves those He created in His image:
“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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)
The last line is confusing for some because the meaning of perfection is unclear. My Greek dictionaries interpret it to mean maturity, to be like Jesus. While that is a condition only Christians can be in, we do not reached in its fullness until we see Him face to face (1 John 3:1-3).
However, most commentaries go with the idea of maturity. This is in contrast to the immature who are easily drawn away by false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), and are prone to walking in their old way until they learn how to follow Jesus in faith and obedience.
Such maturity has several characteristics. From these passages, I gather the gist of it for ordinary living.
First the above passage says the main mark of maturity is love, not just for our Christian friends, but also for our enemies. Being perfect like God is perfect must include this most important quality. It is what makes the followers of Jesus Christ different. As He said, the world will know we are His disciples by our love.
The perfect/mature person also has an utter devotion to Jesus. That person lets go of what was once very important to him and follows Jesus. As He said to a rich man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
The mature/perfect person also understands the difference between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 2:6). They are eager to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” because this is foremost in their thoughts. (Philippians 3:14–15) Another mark of maturity is full assurance of the will of God (Colossians 4:12).
Godly maturity includes a steadfast perseverance: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)
It also shows up in being able to control our speech and therefore the rest of our activities: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” (James 3:2)
As Chambers says, the expression of Christian character is not good doing, but being like God. This can only happen if the Spirit of God transforms a person from the inside out. It is not about performance alone, but about being a new creation, redeemed by God and transformed by grace.
Because Christ lives in me, I am able to do as He says, yet His life in me “expresses itself as God’s life, not as human life trying to be godly.” It is a mature/perfect life, supernatural yet made natural by the grace of God. It is expressed in everyday life and is life-changing. It is also my most important goal.