Jesus promises that he came not to abolish God’s written word, but to fulfill it. This announcement is important because his interpretation of Scripture is strikingly different from what is commonly taught and thought (see Matthew 5:17-48).
People may think that they are good with God if they avoid murder. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid murder, but avoid getting angry. In fact, we should go out of our way to reconcile with others, even our adversaries, even if it means taking a loss.
People may think that they are good with God if they avoid adultery. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid adultery, but not even think about it. In fact, if our right eye or right hand causes us to sin, we should gouge it out and cut it off.
People may think that they are good with God if they legally divorce. Jesus says that his followers should consider marriage to be a life-long commitment. In fact, we should think of remarriage as adultery (except when the first spouse was unfaithful).
People may think that they are good with God if they keep their oaths. Jesus says that his followers should forget about swearing oaths. Instead, we should make sure that our words are always truthful. In fact, anything else is from the Devil.
People may think that they are good with God if they are fair when they punish those who do them wrong and if they refuse those who are undeserving. Jesus says that his followers should not seek retaliation or restitution at all. We should turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give to those who ask.
People may think that they are good with God if they love their family and friends. Jesus says that his followers should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Even sinners love their friends. We should do more.
And then Jesus says something even more astounding: So, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Is he saying that we are not really his followers unless or until we are perfect? No, that is not what he is saying, because Jesus is speaking to those he has already called and he already considers them to be his followers, knowing that they are imperfect.
What is Jesus saying? Jesus’ words are not a legal code but an interpretation of God’s legal code which is recorded in the Old Testament. He is not giving us a new and improved Law, but he is showing us the right way to think about God’s existing Law.
God’s Law does not set a minimum standard that defines the least we must do in order to be right with God. God’s Law is his way, a pathway that leads us toward absolute godliness. When we become followers of Jesus, we begin our journey on this pathway, the narrow path which leads to life.
As we walk along the pathway of God, we begin to go beyond the letter of the Law and to pursue the spirit of the Law. We concern ourselves not merely with what our hands do, but with what our hearts do.
As we follow Jesus on the pathway of God, we turn ourselves not merely toward protecting and nurturing our own, but toward reaching out to the “others.” We do not insist on getting what we deserve, nor do we always insist on punishing others as they deserve. We promote more than justice; we promote mercy and grace.
As we walk the way of God, we grow toward maturity. Yes, sometimes we fall back, but then we move forward again. For those followers of Jesus who heard these words first, it was Jesus’ physical presence that empowered them to progress. For us, it is God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that empowers us to grow toward perfection.
At no time in this age do we arrive, so we always have this labor of love. But we are not frustrated because our journey is not without end. One day this narrow path will bring us to our destination. And on that day we will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Let us walk the narrow path that leads to life,
Brother Richard Foster