Resetting the Bar
Resetting the Bar
“Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Growing up on the farm, we often focused on getting the job done. Because there is always so much to do, especially during the harvest, the focus is on getting things going. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to get the job done. We accepted that things were not perfect because we had many other priorities.
Often in our Christian life, we take the same approach. Because we are never perfect and still struggle with the daily battle with sin, we can become complacent and begin to accept our shortcomings. We compare ourselves to others, and if we are as good (or better—at least in our estimation) as other people, then we are content. As long as we are as good as other people in the church, then we are good enough. The standard we use to set the bar is based on our comparison with others. This is especially true regarding our relationships with other people.
In this passage, Christ addresses this mindset. Being kind and loving towards our friends and the people we like is easy. If we see a friend in the store, we stop and say hi and converse briefly. If they have a need, we volunteer to help them. We are friendly with them because that is what is expected. Helping a friend in need is “what friends do.” Our culture sets this standard upon us, so we act accordingly.
However, in this passage, Christ calls us to a higher standard. He raises the bar far beyond the gauge determined by our culture. The world standard is “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” In other words, the benchmark is to care and love your friends but disregard and ignore the people that have wronged you or with whom you have an adversarial relationship. Nevertheless, Christ calls us to treat all people with the same love regardless of their actions toward us. This new attitude is grounded in the character of God, who pours out his blessings on both the wicked and the righteous. In Luke 17:11-19, Christ provided his disciples a visual example when he healed the ten lepers. Christ knew the heart of each of those who came to him. He knew that only one would be genuinely grateful and embrace him as his savior (vs. 19). The other nine only saw Christ as a person to manipulate to get what they desired. Despite this, Christ still healed them. When they asked for physical healing, Christ responded in love, although they would reject his offer for spiritual healing.
In Matthew 5:48, Christ reveals the standard we strive to attain. The measure is not just “good enough.” The bar is the character and actions of a perfect God. Yet, we cannot meet this standard ourselves, for we are still marred by sin. This points us to surrendering our life to Christ and asking him to conform us to his image. While we recognize that we are still imperfect and need God’s grace, we must also seek the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. We must aim to be like Christ (see Phil. 3:12-15). This starts with asking God to transform our attitudes in our relationships so that they might reflect Christ, whether our attitude toward our friends or enemies. It is not good enough just to love our friends; we are also to love our enemies. We are to love those whom we naturally are repelled by. As Christ demonstrated, only when we love all people, despite their treatment of us, are we “good enough.” The world does not set the bar; Christ does.