Yes by all means you should live a “perfect” life.

Matthew 5:48 [widescreen]

pərˈfekSH(ə)n/

n. – the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

Ever met someone who was a spiritual perfectionist? Or someone who lived their spiritual life in trying to be so perfect they tried to manage, control, or manipulate their life to project they “have it all together?” Yea I’ve never meant one either (cough cough). Yes I have been guilty of this in my life.

This word “perfection” in the above Scripture has often been misunderstood and even twisted down through the years. Its even been dumbed down and included on bumper stickers like “Christians aren’t perfect; only forgiven” (insert child like sneer). Even in this bumpersticker a noble minded Christian is furthering the misunderstanding of this word.

This verse has been used by Christians who tend to be legalistic in nature. I used to They use it to justify their self-righteousness and in doing so tarnish and twist the original meaning and context of this word.

I used to live and think that to make the Father proud, to do this “Christian thing” right, I had to be perfect. I had to analyze my daily list of do’s and don’ts. I had to have all my stuff together. I had to ensure that each thing was lining up for my moral life so that what I was projecting on the inside really was perfect just like Jesus says. Thankfully, I have come to understand what Jesus was saying.

A Harmful Word or An Unfortunate Translation?

Kathleen Norris, a famous New York Times bestselling author said something fascinating in her book “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She has this to say about the “disease of perfection”:

“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know. It is a marked characteristic of contemporary American culture, a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks and causes them to suffer when, although they’ve done the best they can, their efforts fall short of some imaginary, and usually unattainable, standard. Internally it functions as a form of myopia, a preoccupation with self-image that can stunt emotional growth.” Amazing Grace, 55.

Norris is right on. This is a frightening verse and word for many of us. Thankfully when we look at the Christian landscape it is not so much a scary word that has harmed us but rather a scary translation. What often happens in the transmission between the Greek text into English is that we impose certain meanings on the original language that were not present in the original context. This is one of those times. On this one, we are imposing our American and Western understanding of perfection as opposed to a first century understanding of τέλειος which when transcribed is teleios.

This is usually what our concept of perfection in American society and even the American church looks like. Sadly, we’re missing it.

 

Perfection according to Jesus

Teleios, in the way Jesus used it and in this context refers not to a purity that is free from flaw or garnishment but rather a word that denotes a completeness, maturity, full-grown, and developed. Kind of like the perfect Cabernet wine. Is a perfect wine one that is bottled perfectly, fermented perfectly, and free from any imperfection? Some would say yea. However the majority would say the perfect wine is one that has aged well. Over time. One that matured. One that has grown complete with time. This stands in serious contention with our imposed meaning which usually involves setting forth an impossible goal, living without flaw, and so on.

This certainly does not give one license to live without holiness, morality, and a certain godliness that (along with our actions) marks us as different from others who do not follow Christ. But understood in the proper context, holiness is part of maturity. A mature follower of Jesus will understand that we lose certain liberties in following Jesus. Certain actions or ways of thinking that without the knowledge of Christ we were free to partake in, are left/ should be left behind us. These things should be realized through walking with the Holy Spirit. Not the legalistic pressure of others around you.

To be “perfect” in the way Jesus is calling us to be in this context means to make room for growth and to do so on purpose. It is to make the necessary changes which bring about maturity or ripeness. As Norris says, “To mature is to lose adolescent self-consciousness so as to be able to make a gift of oneself, as a parent, as teacher, friend, or spouse.” (Amazing Grace, 56) In other words, to mature, to be perfect, is to leave behind our childish ways so that we may prosper in any given role or position God has us in.

Jesus embodied this. In fact Jesus gives us an amazing window into what perfection really is. For him it was being mature enough to give yourself to others. Whatever we have or whoever we are, no matter how little it seems, is something that can be given and shared with others around us. That requires a mature perspective that as followers of Jesus we aren’t here for ourselves.

We are here to draw everyone around us to the love and joy of knowing Christ. That is the glorious summation of our lives as followers of Christ. It is one that is glorious, adventurous, and perfect. Whether married, single, with kids, no kids, or any other situation–we are to live this life. A life clinging to this world, status, material goods, or anything else we try and fill that God-sized hole with would be an imperfect and immature life. One that is stunted by the frivolous things of a society that has lost its way in the tragic depths of shallowness.

Understanding and Aiming for the right kind of Perfection

Life is to be lived in the perfection Jesus calls us to live in. A perfection marked by growth. Not a lie of “having it all together.” A perfection marked by honest and authentic faith. Not a shallow veneer of sinlessness and self-righteousness. A perfection marked by the tension of seeking holiness and acknowledging brokenness. Not an embarrassing and harmful projection that one has already arrived.

In Ephesians Paul says, “in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” We are that structure. The church. We are the ones growing, maturing, perfect-ing…

May all of us be driven by this daily desire to grow in Him.

Let it be our prayer that in all of our hearts what drives us is not a worldly image of perfection but rather a Christlike pursuit of growth and maturity.

How about you? How do you understand perfection? Is it hard to break away from societies concept of perfection  and embrace the biblical one? Why or why not?

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Did you really think being forgiven was free? C’mon now.

As hard as it may be, forgiveness is the first step on the road to redemption.

Conflict Resolution

I will never forget my 3rd grade school year. I was one of the lucky ones who displayed exceptional character and got picked to be my grade’s “conflict manager.” I, along with three others, had the esteemed honor of wearing bright green vests over our clothes at recess every single day.  Needless to say I was quite the trendsetter when it came to fashion. This was part of a national initiative to end bullying in grade schools. My role was to help two or more individuals in disagreement understand both sides and come to terms and forgive one another.

We were trained in what to say and communicate in hopes of finding resolution at the end. We had ground rules that were explained and things they would have to agree to as we talk. Things like not interrupting, not using bad language, and so on. Believe it or not that was the easiest part. I ended up mediating probably 15 fights that year and help my fellow classmates “hug and make up.” Looking back,  the hardest part of each conflict was always the conclusion.

In all of those instances we would end with a promise to go and show the same forgiveness to others that they both experienced. I would go through my little speech on this and they would roll their eyes and say “yea yea I get it, I have to forgive just like I was forgiven. We get it Noah.” Needless to say, I wasn’t really the cool kid in third grade. Even despite my huge collection of pogs. Click here to see what these were.

The Hardest Part About Being Forgiven

Twenty two years have passed since I was a conflict manager on the mean streets of Suffield Elementary in Ohio. However I find myself in very similar situations as a pastor. I often help people come together, reconcile, and demonstrate grace and forgiveness when it seems impossible. Sure the problems and issues have changed but the hardest part of the entire process has not.

I am convinced that we as followers of Christ (let alone humanity) struggle very much with showing grace and forgiveness even after we have experienced it ourselves. That same thread of hypocrisy runs deep whether its on the playground or in adulthood. We can embrace forgiveness but hesitate to extend it. We can hear I am sorry a lot easier than we can say it.

Jesus was a fan of forgiving others. In fact he thought it was so important he said this:

14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Mat 6:14-15 NLT

I have heard this verse preached on and written about on many occasions. Sadly the powerful potency of what is being said is stuffed with exceptions and excuses. “Well if such and such did this… or… If the sin was so grievous then…” There is a strong temptation to pacify what Jesus meant to be bold. You know what I think should follow it? This:__________________. Nothing. We should take it for what it is and wrestle with it.

There are times when we need to allow the words of Jesus hit us square in the eyes and challenge us at our deepest places. Being a forgiving person is one of those. We, as followers of Jesus, are to be forgiving people because we of all people have experienced the tremendous joy of that very same forgiveness. This is the hardest part about forgiveness; its never cheap.

Forgiveness is Not an Emotion

I was talking to someone a few years ago who genuinely wanted to forgive her husband who had abused her. She wanted to forgive him like this verse says and move on with her life. She talked to me and with tears explained how she felt she was not forgiving him because the emotions were still very raw and difficult for her. She then asked me if she truly forgives even if she feels hatred and anger.

I explained to her that forgiveness is not an emotion. It is an act. It is difficult and takes humility. Saying “I forgive you” does not take away the memory or emotion involved. Forgiving is a process that takes time to develop to where the emotions come into alignment with the reality of our will in showing forgiveness. There is still common sense involved and we may choose to forgive someone but still flee from them for practical reasons such as sanity, safety, or any other reason. There are even  times when we may have to forgive from a distance because of the seriousness of the situation.

Forgive and Forget

Short side note: we would do well as the body of Christ to do away with the phrase “forgive and forget.” That completely takes away the beauty and depth of forgiveness. I understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Keep no record of wrongs.” This is in the context of hanging ones faults and bad deeds over the head of the other. This is different.

Forgiveness, the kind that we experience in Christ (click here for more on this) and are to extend to others, is an act that says “I see this [insert offence or grievance] and I want you to know that I am forgiving you for [insert offence or grievance].” Paul explains this same thing  to the church at Rome regarding Jesus and us as sinners. He says, ” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV.

Do you noticed what came first? Our sin. Our grievance. Our offenses towards God. What followed? Forgiveness and grace. Paul never says, “Christ died for all of you!” Person in crowd says, “Why? For what?” Paul replies, “I don’t know and he doesn’t either!” No. This would be foolish. Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain involved and stares it straight in the eyes and says, “I forgive you.”

Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain caused rather than forgetting it.Yes its hard. Yes it takes time.

Forgiving is hard work. Never easy. But always freeing. Trust me. When you choose to withhold forgiveness you are the one who suffers more in the end than the one who caused the hurt.

What do you feel the hardest part about forgiving others is? Feel free to take the poll below. This will give us a window into the struggle of forgiving others.