Be Perfect

A study on the Sermon on the Mount has bought me to a startling command from Jesus. Most of us are familiar with the “love your neighbor” teachings, as well as the “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” part, but I had really not noticed how this section ends. Take a look at verse 48:

Matthew 5 (NIV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? 

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do you think that is even possible? To be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect? That seems like a big ask.

Jesus relates this to the instructions to love and pray for our enemies for a reason. Imagine what the world would be like if we took that one verse to heart and truly did strive every day to love people who hate us. And we know that when we pray for people who persecute us, that prayer changes US.

In researching a sermon on this passage, I stumbled upon these wise words from Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk. Merton wrote over 50 books on spirituality, faith, comparative religion, and theology.

“Do not be too quick,” he wrote, “to assume that your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him, he would no longer be your enemy.


Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weakness of men.


Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God. For it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”

There is much to ponder here. Do you have an enemy? Do you love that person? Can you pray for that person?

When we focus on this kind of accepting and grace filled agape love, we indeed move the needle a little closer to the perfection of the Heavenly Father. One thing is certain … we will surely never achieve it if we don’t even try.

Perfect Sunrise by Wende Pritchard

Pray for Your Enemies

Before we get to today’s Scripture, which ironically commands us to pray for our enemies, we need to pause for a moment to pray for Ukraine. Waking up yesterday to the realization that we are watching a war in Europe begin was a shock. We sat stunned as we witnessed the merciless invasion of the peaceful people of Ukraine by Putin’s armies. Europe hasn’t seen an invasion of this scope since Hitler took over Poland in 1939 … and he didn’t stop there. Never in my lifetime did I think I would see what may end up being a Third World War. But I never expected to live through two years of a global pandemic, either.

And so we join our hearts with brothers and sisters in the British Methodist Church, who published this prayer yesterday on social media. As a European denomination, this situation is much closer to them than it is to us. All of Europe trembles today.

I pray for all people all around the world this morning. I pray for bold Russians who risk arrest to protest by the thousands in Russian cities. I pray for the orphans in Ukraine who, even as we sip our coffee, are hunkered down in dirty subway tunnels. I pray for peace.

If you are tired of worrying about all of this and want to do something practical, please consider donating to the orphanage. I have friends who have traveled for years to do mission work there, and this is a legitimate cause with a legitimate and urgent need: https://www.fathers-care.org

And now to our devotional.

Do Good

Think of someone who has really, really hurt you. Someone who has wronged you so wrongly that you want to wrong them back with a vengeance. We all have people on that list. From the girl who gossiped about you in Middle School and made your life miserable, to someone who has abused you on some level, it is natural and normal to have enemies. I have them. I know you do, too.

What does the Bible say about how to treat our enemies? Get ready for the bitter pill:

Luke 6 (Common English Bible)

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

Lawdy. Of all the teachings of Jesus, this may be one of the hardest ones to swallow. I confess that I would so much prefer to salt the wounds left by my enemies by recalling ad nauseam EVERY INSTANCE OF HURT they inflicted on me. Over, and over, and over. And then I want to hit back. But Jesus calls us to a higher response. Jesus commands us to love them. Jesus commands us to do good to people who have hurt us. Jesus calls us to a response that reflects the way we wish they had treated us.

Is Jesus asking for the impossible?

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 

Yes, this calling is hard. But he states his case beautifully. Should you be commended for only showing grace to the people who love you? Will you get a pat on the back for being good to those who are good to you? Nope. That is the easy way out. Being good to your enemies takes a lot more work. But when you do, you are acting just like Jesus.

36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

And there it is. Being God-followers means we have to respond like God … with kindness and compassion, even to the ungrateful and wicked people.

37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

I don’t know about you, but in the end, I would much rather be like Jesus than my enemy. Lord, bring on that good portion to us! And may we bring it to others in your name and for your sake.

Frolicking Fins by Michelle Robertson

Perfect Love

Think for a moment about someone that you can’t stand. Dare I say, someone you actually hate. It might be a family member, politician, celebrity, boss, neighbor…people do things that make you want as much distance from them as possible. Being in their presence makes your stomach churn. Hearing their voice makes you cringe. You get the idea. When your enemies and adversaries are loud and present, your feelings of revulsion and fear are often well-earned.

Now consider this. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

So what do we do with our hate?

1 John 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Can hate live in the same space as love? Does our enemy deserve our love, or is hate just a way of protecting ourselves against further harm?

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 

Here we have a clue about what to do when we truly hate someone. John makes the case that God is love, and love has been perfected among us so that we may have boldness on the day of judgement. And who is the judge? God. That assures us that our adversaries and enemies will answer for their actions against us before God’s judgement seat. Our boldness in love is a reprieve for us…we don’t have to judge, just love. And then let it go.

When we unpack our feelings about our enemies, we may discover that fear informs our reaction to them. We fear the power they have over our peace and our happiness. But perfect love casts out fear, which frees us up to allow God to be God. HE will hold your adversary accountable.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

This is a hard teaching, friends. But scripture is clear. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. So let God do the work of redemption, and in all things, just love…even your enemies.

Just Love by Abby Johnson