My last post was angry and sad complaining against the Church. Not a day later did a staff member of the church I’m attending inform me of their holiday tradition of giving to those in their congregation who could use a little extra help. It’s doubtful she saw my post. The point is that I feel bad about complaining, not because my problems are magically fixed and not because, in this particular case, it was premature to assume that the church I go to doesn’t look out for its own, but because I just don’t want to be that kind of person. So what follows is not done in the spirit of criticism, but hopefully in the spirit of hope and encouragement.
We don’t have to wait to be perfect to love people well. The world is really needy and I’ve been tempted to dismiss my responsibility to it by simply stating that “I’m not God.” This is true and I think God has devised several little ways to remind us of that every day, but this, along with our lack of perfection, has little to do with our calling to love. In fact, perfection is love in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This isn’t saying that we should be God, but rather that we should love as God loves.
Have you noticed how Jesus does that a lot? He ups the ante, raises the bar, makes things “harder” for those who wish to follow Him. “Eye for an eye” becomes “turn the other cheek.” “Get a certificate of divorce” becomes “divorce only in cases of sexual immorality.” It’s not as if He doesn’t know what it is to be human. He knows precisely and yet, we are to be perfect as God is perfect – we are to love as God loves. What does this mean?
First, it means “I’m not God” is off the table as an excuse. Same with being imperfect.
Second, Jesus included instructions on how to be perfect as God is perfect – that is, how to love as God loves in the verses preceding that summary: “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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt. 5:43-47). Basically, God loves impartially. We are to do the same.
Perfection, therefore, does not mean making no mistakes ever, so we are not to claim imperfection and give up whenever we mess up. Perfection, that is love, is about impartiality. We are not to love those who can do something for us more than those who cannot. We are not to prefer rich over poor, white over black, male over female, Christian over Muslim, friend over enemy. Hard, right? The good news is that you don’t have to be God to be perfect to love perfectly.