You Must be Perfect? Matthew 5:48


Jesus says in chapter 5 in the middle of the sermon on the mount:

***You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Isn’t that a radically tall order?? What exactly does Jesus mean? And how do we achieve it?


The only way we can be perfect is if we borrow some of God’s own perfection. I.e we have to follow Christ and be his disciples. Then we will be on the path to becoming perfect. Yes it’s not always easy, but we were told by Christ to carry our cross and follow him. But the cross becomes light following Jesus since his burden is light. Our perfection will only be complete in heaven.


Ditto previous poster. Also, it is indeed a tall order. But it speaks to the perfection necessary to be in union with God who is Himself incompatible with imperfection. Perfection thus becomes our benchmark, our goal, that on which we set our sights. And as we continue on that path, even if we do not achieve it in this life, as long as we remain in a state of grace, the encounter with Christ in the afterlife will result in that perfection, also known as our final purgation or purgatory. 1 Cor. 3:10-15 is about this.


Christ knows that many human persons won’t be able to perfectly purify themselves before death, but the standards must be set.


Why do you think Purgatory exists? You do your best and leave everything in the Hands of Jesus.


Note also that the expression there is most literally “finished” (which is what Latin perfectus means): there is no expectation of anyone being finished before his or her life has ended.


Yes it is a radically tall order. To better understand it’s meaning, let’s look at it’s context.
43"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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 righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (RSV)
Note that the context here is speaking of love…to be perfect in loving others. This ties in with other core passages in the Gospel.
Mt 22:36-40 - Where Jesus reduces all of the law and prophets to the two great commandments of: Loving God above all else and loving your neighbor as yourself.
John 13:34-35 - Where Jesus gives the Apostles a single command - to Love one another as he has loved us.

St Paul takes up this view and tells us in 1 Cor 13 that Love is greater than either faith or hope (1 Cor 13:1-13), and he reinforces Love at the totality of the law in Romans 13:8-10 where he says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

St John in his first letter says that he who knows love, knows God for God is love (1 John 4:7-8)

Remember that Jesus was speaking to Jews in Mt 5, 6, and 7 (the sermon on the mount). He was speaking to them about the Mosaic Law. He was giving them the key to keeping the law. Love is the fulfillment of the Law.

your last question - how do we achieve this? As mere human beings, we cannot, but all things are possible with God. So we rely on God and His grace and then we go forth and do what we are able. In short, we practice what we preach and over time we become more perfected in Love.

Hope this helps.



Love makes us perfect.

The call to perfection was an elevation of the law of Moses which commanded the Jews to be holy.

***For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." **(Leviticus 11:45)

You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)

You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:26)*

Obeying the law made you Holy. The law of Moses made you Holy if you obeyed it and brought punishment if you didn’t.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

Jesus calls us to a higher law, the law of love, which transcends the law of Moses. Jesus’ command to be perfect is a command to do more than the Law of Moses. It is a command to love to the point of forgiving your murderers.

The law of Moses said, “Be holy because God is Holy”
The law of Jesus says, “Love perfectly because God loves you perfectly.”

Love makes us perfect.



Looking up the word “perfect” in the DRB concordance gives a lot of interesting context to Jesus’ words. I was actually surprised that it showed up this much :slight_smile:

Some interesting ones:

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you.”

"For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body. "


Yes, and this is the real point. God, Himself, comes down and makes a dwelling place in us, even before we are perfected. This is the reconciliation that Christ wrought between God and man; man must commune with God first of all in order to be righteous, in order for him to be the being God intends: “Apart from Me you can do nothing”, Jesus tells us in John 15:5. We don’t have to achieve perfection in order to achieve the life of God in us, rather the life of God in us is the only authentic means to and source of perfection. And, as JRKH and others have said, this perfection is defined as love, the image of God which we are to be transformed into. Our only part is humble faith cooperating with His work.


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