One of the most daunting statements of our Savior was made as part of His sermon on the mount. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48. This statement concludes His exhortation on loving your enemy.
Be perfect? How can I do that? I’m far from perfect, and the closer I get to God and His glory, the more obvious that becomes. Especially in the “love your enemy” department! Taken out of the context of the Gospel as a whole, this statement could easily lead one to give up the Christian faith as an impossibility. If I try to live the Christian life in solitude and in my own power, it is impossible, indeed. But that is not what we are called to do.
Talking with His disciples about how one can enter the kingdom of heaven, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26. We cannot be perfect on our own, but when we are washed clean by the blood of the lamb we become perfect in God’s eyes. Paul wrote, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27.
But still, how can it be that I can be perfect? I am weak and fail daily to live up to the standard God sets before us. In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul spoke of his own struggle and the response of our Lord:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
So I am not perfect and my will is weak. But Christ is strong and it is by His strength and grace alone that each day I move closer and closer to perfection. Because it is by His power, I take no credit and He is glorified. I seek His strength each day in prayer. As the British poet William Cowper (1731–1800) wrote in his “Exhortation to Prayer” (1779):
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy–seat?
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there.
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they failed,
That moment Amalek prevailed.
Have you no words? ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain;
And fill your fellow–creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.
Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To heav’n in supplication sent;
Your cheerful song would oft’ner be,
Hear what the LORD has done for me.
What has the Lord done for me? He has made me perfect in His sight. He has given me wisdom, faith, grace, and love. He has taken my weakness and filled me with His strength through the power of His Holy Spirit. He continues to refine me in the fires of life to burn out the impurities and imperfections in me so that He might see His own reflection in my very soul.
Are you weak and less than perfect? That’s okay. God will do for you what He has done for me. But He does His best work when you come before Him humbly on your knees, boasting about your own weakness, asking that He fill you with His strength.