I haven't followed the entire thread, but I think I have some things to say about Matt. 5:48, and what bothers you about it.
Originally Posted by buster
The central thing is that Jesus -- even while stating strictly the high and life-giving standards to which God calls us -- emphasizes God's kindness, and how much God loves us all. The goal of our lives is to love thoroughly, as God loves us. God is kind and good to bad and good alike, to the ungrateful and evil as well as to the relatively good. We are to act with whole-hearted love to others so that we may understand, enter into, and cooperate with God -- not God judging us, but with God helping us into that kind of good-hearted wholeness of life, in spite of our many faults and sins.
First of all, let's think about the word translated "perfect" here.
For many people the word (the English word) "perfect" connotes flawlessness, absence of defect or blemish. That's what's suggested by the common phrase "nobody's perfect". But this is mostly a modern usage of the word. The English word comes from Latin roots per-fect, that is thoroughly (per: through, or thorough) and made (fect: anglicization of factus, made. So in its origins, even the English word means something like thoroughly-made, or complete.
However, the English simply translates the Greek: τέλειος (teleios). That word unambiguously connotes "complete" rather than "flawless." It derives from τέλος (telos) which means "purpose", or "end" in the sense of one's objective or goal or purpose.
For these reasons "Be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect" might, in contemporary English, be better translated "Be whole-hearted even as your heavenly Father is". Whole-hearted about what? Well, in context, about loving others.
Next, let's try to put the verse that bothers you in its context
The context of the injunction to be "whole-hearted" or "perfect" is that in order to be like God, who is good and kind to everyone, despite their flaws and sins, we also should be good and kind, even to our enemies. Thus, the command is meant to set our hearts on God's mercy and kindness to all people, and in particular God's love and care for us, despite our many flaws.
Context in Matthew 5
For the passage in context (5:43-48) reads:
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy."
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 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 just and on the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Therefore be teleios (perfect, whole-hearted, complete in your love), just as your Father in heaven is teleios
The emphasis here is upon how generously God loves us: God loves even the evil and the unjust: God loves all without exception (He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust) That's the point of Jesus saying "love your enemies ... so that you may be children of your Father in heaven" Jesus is saying that God is kind and supplies the needs of all people, even though many are against God, and are unjust and evil. If God is so kind even to those who don't deserve it, we should be similarly thorough in our love for people, even those whom we don't really enjoy, and even those who treat us badly.
Context from a similar passage in Luke 6
In a similar sermon of Jesus, which Luke (6:31-36) gives us, Jesus puts it this way: "Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Again, the accent is upon God, who is merciful to all, and who is "kind to the ungrateful and evil". Here, as in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is telling us to be good and kind to others, so that we may participate in the life of love and mercy which is God's very own life.
Again, the emphasis throughout is on being good to others, and about the fact that such goodness on our part is only an echo of the mercy, grace, love, and kindness that God shows to us, and showers upon us!!
In context, Luke says this:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Paul has this same balance: God loves us very dearly -- yet it is very important that, in view of His kindness and forgiveness, we do all we can to walk in the right way. In Ephesians 5:1-2 he says
Yet at the same time, he also notes that we need to be careful to walk in the right paths. He says this in Ephesians, and also in Galatians 6:
Be therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
Paul is telling us to be kind to one another, and help one another, just as God is kind to us, and helps us. Yet he also wants us to understand that we harm ourselves when we leave the right paths that God sets out for us. For as verse 7 in Gal 6 then states:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
How we come to God, who loves us very much
and how our preconceptions can get in the way
Sometimes we come to God with a pre-set understanding of what we think He is like -- and often the idea that God is a cop, or hostile authority figure, who is out to punish us. That gives us a distorted lens, though which, sometimes, we misunderstand what the Bible is saying
That God is mean or out to get us is not the Biblical idea. Just the reverse. Rather, God is the one who made each of us in love -- made you, buster, in His love for you and made me Scruffy in love -- and who continues to love and care for us.
Certainly, God has high standards, and wonderful purposes for us, and is strict about our following the path that is right and good -- what He commands is right and good, and for our good! To be sure, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is telling us about God's high calling and standards, and warning us also that moving away from the good path God gives us is very harmful for us. But it does so in the context of God's love for us -- and that includes (as many other passages of Scripture also state explicitly) God's help and love for us despite our sins and problems.
But in Matthew 5 itself -- and the parallel passage in Luke 6 -- even here, while stating strictly the high and life-giving standards to which God calls us, Jesus emphasizes that the end point, the completion, the goal, the telos, is to love thoroughly, as God loves us. God is kind and good to bad and good alike, to the ungrateful and evil as well as to the relatively good. We are to act with whole-hearted love to others so that we may understand, enter into, and cooperate with God -- not God judging us, but God helping us into good-hearted wholeness of life, in spite of our many faults and sins.
Blessings be upon you, dear buster!