Chapter 8: “Be Ye Therefore Perfect”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 56–62

Map Chp. 8

The Galilean Ministry





Place and Audience

5:1, 2*









Obligation of Discipleship



Righteousness of Christ’s Disciples to Exceed the Righteousness of Pharisees



The Law of Moses Fulfilled by the Law of Christ











Forgiving Others

6:14, 15*





Lay Up Treasures in Heaven



Ye Cannot Serve Two Masters



Special Instructions to the Twelve



Judge Righteous Judgment





Earnestness of Prayer



Golden Rule





Two Gates and Two Ways

7:13, 14*


Final Test of Character





Effects of the Sermon

7:28, 29*


*Indicates emphasis


Interpretive Commentary

(8-1) To Whom Was the Sermon Given?

It was given to members of Christ’s church. In the opening verses of a parallel sermon delivered to the Nephites in America, the Lord is clearly addressing this sermon to members of the church. Cross-reference Matthew 5:1 with 3 Nephi 12:1–3.

Sermon on the Mount

As you study this sermon, you should remember that “some portions of this comprehensive address were expressly directed to the disciples, who had been or would be called to the apostleship and in consequence be required to renounce all their worldly interests for the labors of the ministry; other parts were and are of general application.” (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 230. Italics added.)

(8-2) Clarifications Concerning the Sermon on the Mount

“One of the problems which sectarian gospel harmonists cannot resolve with certainty is whether Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Plain are records of the same or of different sermons. It is clear that the Sermon on the Plain, as given by Luke, was delivered immediately following the selection and ordination of the Twelve. Those who maintain that two different sermons are involved assert that Matthew is recounting an occurrence prior to the call of the Twelve, and also that he is assembling from many different sermons some of Jesus’ greatest ethical teachings, so that by presenting them as one continuous sermon a better concept of our Lord’s teachings may be had.

“Actually Matthew does not tell of the call and ordination of the Twelve. He merely names them when he records the instructions which Jesus gave at the time they were sent forth to preach and heal the sick. (Matt. 10.) Further, with some major additions, corrections, and improvements, the Sermon on the Mount as preserved by Matthew was given over again by Christ to the Nephites (3 Ne. 12; 13; 14), showing that the material recorded in Matt. 5; 6; 7 is all one continuous discourse. The Nephite version was given after the call of the Nephite Twelve, and portions of the sermon are addressed expressly to those apostolic ministers rather than to the multitude in general. (3 Ne. 13:25.) In Matthew’s account, as found in the Inspired Version, the Prophet adds a considerable amount of material that applies to those called to the Twelve rather than to people in general. (I.V. Matt. 5:3–4; 6:25–27; 7:6–17.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:213–14.)

(8-3) Matthew 5:29, 30. “If Thy Right Hand Offend Thee, Cut It Off”

“… When the Lord spoke of parts of the body, it is evident that he had in mind close friends or relatives who endeavored to lead us from the path of rectitude and humble obedience to the divine commandments we receive from the Lord.

“If any friend or relative endeavors to lead a person away from the commandments, it is better to dispense with his friendship and association rather than to follow him in evil practices to destruction. This use of comparison or illustration was as common in ancient days as it is in the present age. We should not, in reading these ancient expressions in the New Testament, take such a statement as this referred to in the words of the Savior recorded by Mark in the literal interpretation. When properly understood it becomes a very impressive figure of speech.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:79.)

(8-4) Matthew 6:1–4. How Can One Give Alms in Righteousness?

Almsgiving is the contribution of free gifts to relieve the poor; the spirit that attends such a course is of God and finds its highest manifestation in the organized charitable enterprises of his earthly kingdom. … In modern times the major portion of the almsgiving of the saints is administered through the great Church Welfare Plan.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 30–31.)

(8-5) Matthew 6:5–15. How Does One Pray in Secret?

“… go where you can be alone, go where you can think, go where you can kneel, go where you can speak out loud to him. The bedroom, the bathroom, or the closet will do. Now, picture him in your mind’s eye. Think to whom you are speaking, control your thoughts—don’t let them wander, address him as your Father and your friend. Now tell him things you really feel to tell him—not trite phrases that have little meaning, but have a sincere, heartfelt conversation with him. Confide in him, ask him for forgiveness, plead with him, enjoy him, thank him, express your love to him, and then listen for his answers. Listening is an essential part of praying. Answers from the Lord come quietly—ever so quietly. In fact, few hear his answers audibly with their ears. We must be listening so carefully or we will never recognize them. Most answers from the Lord are felt in our heart as a warm comfortable expression, or they may come as thoughts to our mind. They come to those who are prepared and who are patient.” (H. Burke Peterson, “Adversity and Prayer,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 19.)

(8-6) Matthew 6:19–23. What Are Treasures in Heaven?

“Treasures in heaven are the character, perfections, and attributes which men acquire by obedience to law. Thus, those who gain such attributes of godliness as knowledge, faith, justice, judgment, mercy, and truth, will find these same attributes restored to them again in immortality. (Alma 41:13–15.) ‘Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.’ (D&C 130:18.) The greatest treasure it is possible to inherit in heaven consists in gaining the continuation of the family unit in the highest heaven of the celestial world.” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:239–40.)

(8-7) Matthew 6:24. What Is Mammon?

“Mammon is an Aramaic word for riches. Thus Jesus is saying, ‘Ye cannot serve God and riches, or worldliness, which always results from the love of money.’” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:240.)

(8-8) Matthew 6:25–34. Should Members of the Church Really Take No Thought for Temporal Concerns?

“This portion of the Sermon on the Mount was delivered to the apostles and such of the disciples as were called to forsake their temporal pursuits and carry the message of salvation to the world. There is not now and never has been a call to the saints generally to ‘sell that ye have’ (Luke 12:33), give alms to the poor, and then to take no thought for the temporal needs of the present or future. Rather, as part of their mortal probation, the true followers of the Master are expected by him to provide for themselves and their families. (D&C 75.)

“However, a special rule applies to those who are called to go into the world without purse or scrip and preach the gospel. For the time and season of their missionary service they are to have no concern about business enterprises or temporal pursuits. They are to be free of the encumbering obligations that always attend those who manage temporal affairs. Their whole attention and all of their strength and talents are to be centered on the work of the ministry, and they have the Father’s promise that he will look after their daily needs.” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:243.)

(8-9) Matthew 7:1. Must True Disciples Follow the Injunction “Judge Not”?

The element of judging and discerning is a necessary part of life. Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of the Bible provides some guidelines in this regard.

“Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.

“Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.” (Matthew 7:1, 2, Inspired Version.)

See also Luke 6:37.

Some forms of judgment, however, must be rendered only by the Lord. President N. Eldon Tanner, using the calling of David (1 Samuel 16:7) as an example, said:

“The reason, therefore, that we cannot judge is obvious. We cannot see what is in the heart. We do not know motives, although we impute motives to every action we see. They may be pure while we think they are improper.

“It is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. Because of a different environment, unequal opportunity, and many other things, people are not in the same position. One may start at the top and the other at the bottom, and they may meet as they are going in opposite directions. Someone has said that it is not where you are but the direction in which you are going that counts; not how close you are to failure or success but which way you are headed. How can we, with all our weaknesses and frailties, dare to arrogate to ourselves the position of a judge? At best, man can judge only what he sees; he cannot judge the heart or the intention, or begin to judge the potential of his neighbor.

“When we try to judge people, which we should not do, we have a great tendency to look for and take pride in finding weaknesses and faults, such as vanity, dishonesty, immorality, and intrigue. As a result, we see only the worst side of those being judged.” (“Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 35.)

(8-10) Matthew 7:13, 14. “Enter Ye in at the Strait Gate.”

“The course leading to eternal life is both strait and straight. It is straight because it has an invariable direction—always it is the same. There are no diversions, crooked paths, or tangents leading to the kingdom of God. It is strait because it is narrow and restricted, a course where full obedience to the full law is required. Straightness has reference to direction, straitness to width. The gate is strait; the path is both strait and straight.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 769.)

Points to Ponder

The Ultimate Goal for Latter-day Saints Is to Become like God the Father

Have you given much thought as to what your ultimate goal is? How does it make you feel when you read these words of Jesus: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48.) Your divine potential is to become like your Father in heaven, perfect and without sin.

(8-11) The Doctrine of Becoming like God Has Been Taught by Prophets

“We have been promised by the Lord that if we know how to worship, and know what we worship, we may come unto the Father in his name, and in due time receive of his fulness. We have the promise that if we keep his commandments, we shall receive of his fulness and be glorified in him as he is in the Father. [See D&C 93:11–20, 26–28.]

“This is a doctrine which delighted President Snow, as it does all of us. Early in his ministry he received by direct, personal revelation the knowledge that (in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s language), ‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens,’ and that men ‘have got to learn how to be Gods … the same as all Gods have done before. …’ [Teachings, pp. 345–46.]

“After this doctrine had been taught by the Prophet, President Snow felt free to teach it also, and he summarized it in one of the best known couplets in the Church in these words:

“‘As man now is, God once was;
As God now is, man may be.’”

(Address by Joseph Fielding Smith at Snow College, 14 May 1971, pp. 1–8.)

We Can Begin the Climb to Perfection Here and Now, One Step at a Time

(8-12) Perfection Is Compared to Climbing a Ladder

“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” (Smith, HC, 6:306–7.)

(8-13) Faithfulness to the Commandments Is the Key to Growth

“How can the saints receive of his fulness and be equal with the Lord and not be as he is, that is, gods?

“The Father has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be given to those who are obedient to his commandments. They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon them. They shall, through the glory and blessing of the Almighty, become creators. All power, and dominion, and might shall be given to them, and they shall be the only ones upon whom this great blessing shall be bestowed. …” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36.)

The Sermon on the Mount Teaches Us What We Must Do in Order to Draw upon the Power of Christ in Our Quest for Perfection

(8-14) The Sermon on the Mount Is Our Constitution for Perfection

“In that matchless Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given us eight distinct ways by which we might receive this kind of joy. Each of his declarations is begun by the word ‘Blessed.’ Blessedness is defined as being higher than happiness. ‘Happiness comes from without and is dependent on circumstances; blessedness is an inward fountain of joy in the soul itself, which no outward circumstances can seriously affect.’ (Dummelow’s Commentary) These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christian world as the Beatitudes and have been referred to by Bible commentators as the preparation necessary for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. For the purposes of this discussion may I speak of them as something more than that as they are applied to you and me. They embody in fact The Constitution for a Perfect Life.” (Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, p. 56.)

How can the Sermon on the Mount help you to become as your Father in heaven? Has it occurred to you as you read this sermon, that Jesus is actually describing the qualities of an exalted person? With this in mind, the Beatitudes become steps of perfection that enable us to truly love God and our fellowmen. Study the following commentaries on the Beatitudes:

Turning from the love of the world to the Love of God

  1. 1.

    Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

    “To be poor in spirit is to feel yourselves as the spiritually needy, ever dependent upon the Lord for your clothes, and your food and the air you breathe, your health, your life; realizing that no day should pass without fervent prayer of thanksgiving, for guidance and forgiveness and strength sufficient for each day’s need.”

  2. 2.

    Blessed Are They That Mourn

    “To mourn, as the Master’s lesson here would teach, one must show that ‘godly sorrow that worketh repentance’ and wins for the penitent a forgiveness of sins and forbids a return to the deeds of which he mourns.”

  3. 3.

    Blessed Are the Meek

    “A meek man is defined as one who is not easily provoked or irritated and forbearing under injury or annoyance. Meekness is not synonymous with weakness. The meek man is the strong, the mighty, the man of complete self-mastery. He is the one who has the courage of his moral convictions, despite the pressure of the gang or the club.”

  4. 4.

    Blessed Are They That Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness

    “Did you ever hunger for food or thirst for water when just a crust of stale bread or a sip of tepid water to ease the pangs that distressed you seem to be the most prized of all possessions? If you have so hungered then you may begin to understand how the Master meant we should hunger and thirst after righteousness. It’s that hungering and thirsting that leads those away from home to seek fellowship with saints in sacrament services and that induces worship on the Lord’s Day wherever we are. It is that which prompts fervent prayer and leads our feet to holy temples and bids us be reverent therein.”

Learning to love our fellowmen

  1. 5.

    Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

    “If you would see God, you must be pure. There is in Jewish writings the story of a man who saw an object in the distance, an object that he thought was a beast. As it drew nearer he could perceive it was a man and as it came still closer he saw it was his friend. You can see only that which you have eyes to see. Some of the associates of Jesus saw him only as a son of Joseph the carpenter. Others thought him to be a wine-bibber or a drunkard because of his words. Still others thought he was possessed of devils. Only the righteous saw him as the Son of God. Only if you are the pure in heart will you see God, and also in a lesser degree will you be able to see the ‘God’ or good in man and love him because of the goodness you see in him. Mark well that person who criticizes and maligns the man of God or the Lord’s anointed leaders in his Church. Such a one speaks from an impure heart.”

  2. 6.

    Blessed Are the Merciful

    “Our salvation rests upon the mercy we show to others. Unkind and cruel words, or wanton acts of cruelty toward man or beast, even though in seeming retaliation, disqualify the perpetrator in his claims for mercy when he has need of mercy in the day of judgment before earthly or heavenly tribunals. Is there one who has never been wounded by the slander of another whom he thought to be his friend? Do you remember the struggle you had to refrain from retribution? Blessed are all you who are merciful for you shall obtain mercy!”

  3. 7.

    Blessed Are the Peacemakers

    “Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. The troublemaker, the striker against law and order, the leader of the mob, the law-breaker are prompted by motives of evil and unless they desist will be known as the children of Satan rather than God. Withhold yourselves from him who would cause disquieting doubts by making light of sacred things for he seeks not for peace but to spread confusion. That one who is quarrelsome or contentious, and whose arguments are for other purposes than to resolve the truth, is violating a fundamental principle laid down by the Master as an essential in the building of a full rich life. ‘Peace and goodwill to men on earth’ was the angel song that heralded the birth of the Prince of Peace.”

  4. 8.

    Blessed Are They Which Are Persecuted

    “May youth everywhere remember that warning when you are hissed and scoffed because you refuse to compromise your standards of abstinence, honesty and morality in order to win the applause of the crowd. If you stand firmly for the right despite the jeers of the crowd or even physical violence, you shall be crowned with the blessedness of eternal joy. Who knows but that again in our day some of the saints or even apostles, as in former days, may be required to give their lives in defense of the truth? If that time should come, God grant they would not fail!”

  5. 9.

    Continuing Efforts to Acquire the Attributes of God

(All the above quotes are taken from Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 56–63.)

Can you see from this that the Beatitudes form the stairway to Christ by which you can receive power from him to become like him? But remember, it takes effort to climb this stairway. Some say it is impossible, but that is a false idea.

It was late one night when I was abruptly awakened out of my sleep by a telephone call. On the other end of the line was a voice of a distraught ward member. He indicated that there had been some problems in the home and wondered if I could come over.

When I walked into Richard and Jennifer’s home, the atmosphere was charged with tension. Richard spoke first. He was nearly in tears. Jennifer wanted to leave him and the children. He spoke vaguely of some problems she had had earlier during the day, obviously wanting to protect her. Jennifer then interrupted, “Why don’t you quit beating around the bush, Richard. Say it. Tell him that I struck one of the children. Tell him what I’ve said to you and the children! Or are you afraid what the bishop might think of our ‘model’ home!” Richard only looked at me.

“Suppose, Jennifer, you tell me what’s wrong,” I said.

“I’ve had it—that what’s wrong, Bishop. I’m fed up with my husband—my kids—and this house. I’m tired of the pretense of being an ideal Latter-day Saint family when we’re anything else but. I want out of this situation, the sooner the better.”

And so I listened—from 1:00 A.M. until 3:00 A.M. in the morning—to a woman who had previously enjoyed the Spirit of the Lord but who was now filled with vindictive, accusing feelings. It is not necessary to attempt to recreate the sordid scene, nor the events of that day or days previous which brought about this nightmare. It is sufficient to say that the Spirit which had once attended this sister was now gone. All feelings of refinement, sensitivity, kindness, congeniality, and charity had disappeared. In their place were accusation, coarseness, abusiveness, and hatred. I prayed inwardly for the wisdom beyond my natural ability to help.

When she had finished her tirade, she said defiantly: “Now I suppose, Bishop, that you’re going to try to dissuade me from leaving Richard.”

“No, Jennifer, it appears to me that you have already made up your mind about what you‘re going to do. Neither I nor anyone else could dissuade you. So perhaps the thing for you to do is to leave.” I paused and then added, “But, Jennifer, I want you know before I leave here tonight that there is a way out of your misery if you’re willing to try.” Though she didn’t say anything, her eyes pled for help.

“Do you remember what the Savior taught those who sought to be his disciples? You have probably read or heard some of these teachings many times. You remember as a girl in Sunday School how you were asked to memorize the teachings of Jesus called the Beatitudes. Tonight as you were talking I couldn’t help but think that they must apply here.

“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ The first step, Jennifer, is to realize that you have need for the Lord’s help. The Book of Mormon states: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me.’ This is the way you can solve this problem—by coming to the Lord for help. But how can you come unto him?

“‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ We come unto the Savior by manifesting a broken heart and a contrite spirit. In other words, we mourn about the condition which prevents us from becoming his friend and having his Spirit with us always. I’m not talking about self-pity, Jennifer. I’m talking about the kind of sorrow that purges ugly feelings and desires from the heart. The Savior then tells us how we may overcome this depression and despair that is such a burden for you right now.

“‘Blessed are the meek.’ To be meek is to humble ourselves before the Lord and ask and plead for his help to overcome our weakness. The Savior has also said, ‘My grace is sufficient for the meek.’ What does that mean? ‘If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they be humble … for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.’ [Ether 12:26–27.]

“‘Now, Jennifer, you have discovered a weakness in your character that is preventing you from having the Spirit of the Lord. Don’t you desire the blessings that will enable you to overcome your weaknesses? Don’t you desire that joy and happiness that has been absent from your life during these past months?

“‘Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.’ That’s the blessing you need so desperately, Jennifer! Now let’s consider the rest of the Savior’s beatitudes.

“Do you want to be more kind? ‘Blessed are the merciful.’

“Do you really desire to overcome hypocrisy? ‘Blessed are the pure in heart.’

“Do you want peace in your own home? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’

“And then there is the teaching about being able to bear persecution. But what about bearing up against stress and persecutions of the adversary in your own home?

“The point is, Jennifer, if you really want these attributes, they are available to you as you ‘hunger and thirst’ after them. This is the righteousness the Savior is referring to—these are the blessings that come as one is filled with the Holy Ghost. By recognizing your need to depend daily, even hourly, upon the Lord, by fasting and prayer you can overcome this problem that is now leading you to such misery. Here is the Savior’s promise to you:

“… remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.’ [Helaman 5:12.]

I then bore testimony to her of the truthfulness of these principles. Her tears, the first indication of the spirit of repentance, told me she also knew them to be true. There was a way out. There was a hope. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she began to sense how the gospel becomes a power to solve our problems, to refine our natures, and to help us become more Christlike in our disposition.

Before leaving that night we knelt in prayer together. As we arose from our knees, I knew that Jennifer would not be leaving her husband or her home.

It has been seven years since the incident of that evening. Jennifer and Richard have added three more children to their family. Overcoming her problems has not been easy; in fact, it has been an intense struggle. Gradually, however, by applying the principles of the Savior on a daily basis, she has found a strength she did not previously know.

(Based on a true experience.)

As with Jennifer, you may find your weaknesses and problems difficult to overcome. But could you feel justified before God if you failed to make the effort to climb the stairway to perfection? Can you see that it is possible for you to progress a step at a time toward your ultimate goal of perfection?

Now you might wish to review the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, asking yourself this question: How can I apply the qualities suggested by Jesus that will help me to grow toward perfection?