Sermon: Perfection for Saints
Scripture: Matthew 5:48
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to be perfect as God is perfect, that it is a work of God that involves the past, the present, and the future.
Theme: The Most Important Verse in the Sermon
At an early point in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ taught that if a man is to enter heaven he must possess a greater measure of righteousness than that righteousness possessed by the scribes and the Pharisees, the most religious and respected men of His day. But as He taught this doctrine a person might easily have said, “You teach that a man can only enter heaven if his righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. All right, then, how much in excess of their righteousness must the saved man’s righteousness be? If the Pharisees can be credited with having attained 70 or 75 percent of the standard, what must our goodness be? Is 76 percent sufficient? Or is 80 percent necessary? How good must a saved person be?”
To these questions Jesus now answers with a statement that is devastating to all human attempts to earn heaven, and which is meant to turn men to God’s grace and away from all man-made attempts at salvation. Jesus said, in summary of all His previous teaching, “Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
I believe that this verse is the most important verse in the Sermon on the Mount. It is the climax of the first of the Sermon’s three great chapters, and it is the midpoint, the pinnacle, from which much of the later teaching follows. I believe that if you can understand this verse, you understand the essence of all that Jesus Christ is teaching. And what is more, you understand the heart of the Christian Gospel and of the Bible generally.
What does it mean, “Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect”? What is perfection? The first and the best way to answer this question is by studying the words that are translated “perfection” in the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, the first word is tam or tamim. It means to be entirely “without defect” or “without blemish.” Thus, it is used of the sacrificial animals that were to be without blemish and without spot (Ex. 12:5; 29:1). It has a negative connotation. The second word is shalem, which means “whole” or “complete.” This word speaks of perfection in a positive sense. Shalem is related to the common Hebrew greeting shalom (“peace”); it suggests the ideas of security, soundness, and well-being.
In the New Testament, the major word for perfection is teleios. This word means “complete,” as when a ship is fitted out perfectly for sea or when a legion of soldiers is equipped in all respects for battle. In the moral realm the word means “blameless.”
When these various definitions of the words are put together they show us that God’s standard for a man is complete and utter moral rectitude. He is to have nothing lacking of all that he should be, and he is to have no blemishes. In short, he is to be as blameless as the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why does Dr. Boice believe this verse is the most important in the Sermon on the Mount?
What does both the Old and New Testament teach about the idea of perfection? What does the Bible mean by it?
Reflection: How do people try to earn heaven? Why is each attempt inadequate? What is Jesus’ statement meant to do?