Thursday, May 26, 2011

Be perfect... really?



I wish I could call myself a "recovering perfectionist." Then it would seem as if I had figured it out, figured out how to let go of being so cautious and so focused on doing the "right" thing.

But I haven't figured it out. I have a constant tension between diving deep into the freedom of Christ and completely distrusting my own ability to walk the narrow path... even to fully grasp the boundaries of the narrow path.

For years I struggled with the verse in Matthew in which Jesus says

...you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 
~ Matthew 5:48 ~

But isn't this completely impossible if this is also true?...

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 
~ Romans 3:23 ~

The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
      To see if there are any who understand,
      Who seek after God. 

They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
      There is no one who does good, not even one. 

~ Psalm 14:2-3 ~

Eventually I decided that Jesus had to have been stating the goal. We all have to work toward something, right? Why not set the goal to be like Jesus, like our Father... perfect?

Well, sort of.

While I still believe that perfection is the goal - God's goal - the flaw in my reasoning was the work part.  I had in my mind that it was me who had to strive for perfection.  And that if I failed I was a failure.

Obviously failure was a given.

I bumped into that pesky word "perfect" again recently as I was studying Philippians 1. I am currently mostly reading from the New American Standard, in which Philippians 1:6 is translated...

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 
~ Philippians 1:6 ~

Unlike in the verse from Matthew, in this verse perfect is a verb, not an adjective.

I have a bit of an obsession with words, and I recalled that in the New International Version it is translated as "complete," so I dashed to the shelf, grabbed a few more versions and a few concordances, and dug in.

The Greek word translated as perfect is epiteleo. It means to fulfill further, to execute, accomplish, finish, do, perform. It also shows up in these verses from the NAS (I've noted epiteleo in bold):

But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. 
~ 2 Corinthians 8:11 ~

Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 
~ Romans 15:28 ~

So I don't have to exactly be perfect, as in perfect now, I just have to let Him perfect me, finish me, complete me. Because

...He who began a good work in you will perfect it...
~ Philippians 1:6 ~ 

I can rest in the truth that it is God who perfects me, not me. Not only that, but He is the one who began it and His completion is yet to come.

But I still can't avoid the fact that Jesus did say

...you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 
~ Matthew 5:48 ~

That sure sounds like a command. Like I am supposed to do something.

I went back to my concordance to look up the Greek word in Matthew that is translated as perfect.  This time the word is teleios, which means... (drum roll please)... complete.  Finished.

Be complete.

It should be pretty obvious that I can't complete myself. The only way to be complete is to be in absolute communion with our Holy God.  The only way to be finished is to become the real me, the one God meant for me to be before the beginning of time.

And the only way to be the real me is to lose myself in Him.

It's just this: my idea of perfection has been based on flawed reasoning. It is based on worldly things, some maybe not completely worldly, but absolutely colored by my I'm-so-stuck-in-this-body glasses. My warped idea of perfection includes me never ever doing the wrong thing, never letting anyone down, always behaving in a loving and gentle manner. And being thoroughly, exhaustingly careful to ensure it.

But it seems like God's idea of perfection is being made whole, complete, finished. I'm just not seeing anything that says "Work yourself into a frenzy to make sure you don't do one single thing wrong."

As far as I can tell, the only way to obey Jesus' admonition to "be perfect" is to be with Him. Because that's the only way I will get anywhere near being the real me, being completed and finished. I've come to realize that I don't even really know the real me because the more I let Him into my life, the more I am surprised by what changes.

What I can't escape is this:
  1. It's not about what I can do to be a better person, but about what God will do if I let Him
  2. It is a process and it is not going to be finished until the day of Christ Jesus
What then?

Time to stop striving so hard. Time to remember to constantly dwell in His presence. Time to rest and be still.

Perfection, completion... it is only possible in Him.



photo by Patti Brown


I'm linking up with my friend Michelle  this week...





1 comment:

  1. I think what you said about perfection being the goal is really important - if we aim at nothing we usually hit it. Also that it is God who does it - my favourite verse is Psalm 18:32 - 'It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect'. I recently was reading in Grudem's Theology about God's role and our role in sanctification - and we both have a part to play, which is why both sides come up in the Bible. But I do think it is so important to depend on God for help, and like you said to realise we won't actually get to perfection till heaven, and that He is full of grace, so then we won't worry about it but just get up again when we fail :)

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