But when we turn to the Sermon on the Mount there are some who would say that Jesus is over the top when it comes to love. He says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:46-48). It kind of sounds like He’s saying, “Make sure you can do the Rubik’s Cube in 20 moves. If you take 21 moves you’ll hear a buzzer that tells you that you are going to hell.”
So we need to find out what Jesus is saying here. The whole reading is about love. Turn the other cheek, if someone sues you for your t-shirt give him your coat too. Don’t refuse to lend to a needy person and don’t look for it to come back. And if someone makes you carry his suitcase a mile, carry it two miles. Jesus sums all this up with the words, “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” (Matt. 5:44-45). The question is can we be over the top with our love? Can we love in moderation? How about if we just loved our friends and families? Wouldn’t that be good enough? Jesus would say, no. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Many couples who had once loved each other but now apparently had watched their love grow cold go for marriage counseling. Some were restored but others ended in divorce. If only their love would have been over the top.
In the 1970s Dr. Thomas Harris’ book, I’m Okay, You’re Okay, became a New York Times best seller. In it he presented what he called “Transactional Analysis” as a way of doing psycho-therapy. In the book he talks about the way people relate to each other, child to child, child to adult, adult to child and adult to adult. The optimal way of relating according to Dr. Harris is adult to adult, not talking down or up to each other. The catch phrase in this is “I’m okay, you’re okay.” But is that okay? Is mutual respect the same thing as love? Or is that no more than what the tax-collectors and gentiles do? Jesus is looking for a love that is over the top.
Is imperfect love a heaven or hell issue? Surely Jesus can’t be saying that, can He? In fact He does. He says in the same chapter, verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees knew a lot about religion, but their love was less than perfect. Indeed, harboring persistent and willful hatred or unforgiveness is punishable by hell, as Jesus states clearly in his parable of the unforgiving servant. It is a sin against holy love. But Jesus can’t expect us to be perfect, can He? Yet the words stand there staring us in the face, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So are we all damned?
To answer that, I want us to step back and look at this scripture from a totally different angle. True, we do not have perfect love, but our Heavenly Father does. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” So what does God do? For those whose consciences are alarmed over their less than perfect love He tells us that He loved us when we were His enemies. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That Son lived a perfect life of love. He loved even those who were crucifying Him. Remember His saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Perfect love is all about Christ. The Bible says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). It is all about that single offering, the cross. Through that one act on the cross God has declared us to be perfect in His eyes forever.
But it doesn’t stop with a declaration. It leads to a changed life, “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified,” that is, those who are being changed. The evidence that you have received the declaration is that your life is becoming more and more conformed to the image of His perfect love. The Bible also says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). I have pictured this as the light of the sun and the moon. The sun is the source of the light and the moon is just one huge reflector in the sky. We are like that moon. We have no light or love of our own, at least no perfect love, but we reflect the love that God has for us to those around us. We will find ourselves loving the unlovely and even the enemy. We will find ourselves forgiving those who have done us wrong, and even doing good to them, like the Good Samaritan. And when we fail, instead of excusing ourselves or justifying ourselves we will run to the cross. God’s love is over the top. It is excessive. It is transforming.
If you can’t do the Rubik’s Cube in 20 moves, you do the only thing that makes sense, you bring it to the One who can and did.