Andrew Murray prayed like this: “Teach us to believe that we can love, because the Holy Spirit has been given us.”/1
We don’t believe that we can love as God loved. We doubt that our love can be like the love of Christ. We discard the possibility of fulfilling this commandment of Christ:
So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5.48 NET
Rarely do I criticize Bible versions — after all, who am I to criticize? — because they are generally excellent and do a good job of communicating in our tongue the original languages, but this translation of the NET Bible, and of almost all the versions, is unfortunate.
(Yes, if we pay attention to the context of the passage of verses 43-48 and understand that the meaning of “perfect” in the Bible [mature, complete] has nothing to do with the modern sense of the word [to be without sin], we can understand the verse as it’s translated above.)
Worse still is the translation of José Raimundo Vidigal in his New Testament: “In a word, the ideal is to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (my translation). To his credit, he removes “ideal” from the translation in his whole Bible version, Bíblia de Aparecida.
Jesus does not express some ideal in Matthew 5.48, but rather lays down a commandment to be fulfilled and live each day. When we put this necessary perfection as an ideal, this word of our Lord Jesus loses its meaning as a commandment and we relax our efforts to be and do what we ought.
Jesus is telling us that our love must be as complete as the Father’s love, so encompassing that it includes both friend and foe. (Our brother Harold Littrell translates it as “complete” in his version, the English Study Bible , though without specifying what it we ought to be complete in.)
So we could translate the verse this way: “Therefore be complete and comprehensive in your love, just as your heavenly Father’s love is complete.”
A version that gets close to the idea is the Revised English Bible: “There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.”
But it’s the Common English Bible that hits it squarely: “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”
And how is it possible to reach such an all-encompassing love like the Father’s?
- By occupying ourselves totally with the sacrifice of Christ and activating in our life the desire of his Spirit that expresses itself exactly in this way.
- By devoting ourselves to the Word and to prayer, where we open our hearts to God’s love.
- By showing true, selfless love to the family of faith, exercising sacrificial benevolence in the ultimate safe-space, permitting this love to gain muscle.
- By practicing this love in small ways, with baby steps, so to speak, and watching it grow in greater depth and breadth.
We squelch the Holy Spirit’s action by our lack of faith. We sadden or grieve him in this way, Ephesians 4.30.
Believe that the Father’s complete love is possible in your life. You can love like God. To this were we called.
To love like God, in sacrifice,
What woman or man might dare?
But we, like Christ, must pay the price,
His cross is ours to bear. —JRMatheny
1/ The One-Year Book of Personal Prayer (Tyndale, 1991): April 25.
This article is an expansion of the Brazilian devotional thought.