But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 NLT
… you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Perfection. To me, every baby I’ve ever seen, and every toddler, arms outstretched, wobbling across the floor toward something they need to touch, is perfect. I don’t know exactly when these little ones start to acquire the ugliness of sin, but boy, in those first few months or years, they are simply perfect. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is filled with just such little ones.
But perfection in grown-ups? Not so much, right? Because our informed definition of perfection means something without flaw. That is, never a bad thought, never a cross word, never a sinful deed, and a million other things. No, in grownups, this kind of perfection describes exactly zero people in our generation and only one in all history—Jesus Christ.
People are far from perfect. But for most of us, it’s not for lack of trying. We sincerely want to be better than we are.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Philippians 3:12 NKJV
I press on. Pressing on is the heart-cry of the devoted disciple. Pressing on is the undercurrent of Christ’s commands – I haven’t made it yet, but I’m pressing on, Like Tolstoy, I’m staggering down the road, I may stumble and I may fall once in a while, but I’m not giving up.
So the question is, what does Jesus mean when He tells us to be perfect? when the fact is, even though we try, we press on, perfection eludes us. We fall short. We will never be flawless, that ship has sailed.
And the clue is found in the Greek word used for perfect in this verse. The word is telios, and thankfully, it does not mean flawless perfection.
In English, telios more accurately conveys the idea of being full-grown, complete, whole, or mature. Like a cluster of grapes that have grown to full maturity on the vine, and picked at just the right time—they are complete, they are full-grown, sweet juicy, they are telios – perfect.
This is God’s desire for all people, to be fully-grown and mature in Christ.
Telios is described for us in Ephesians when it says:
…until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full-grown (telios) in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:13
Jesus is directing us toward maturity, toward wholeness, in body, mind, and spirit. God wants us to be fully-grown and complete in Christ.
Did you know that you could be in the church for a lifetime and still be an immature Christian? It’s true. For many churchgoers, their Christian experience amounts to little more than going to church on Sunday mornings, being a pretty good person, saying a prayer before you eat, and, generally trying to be a decent, law-abiding citizen. We leave it to the older prayer warriors in the church to dig deeper and really press into the things of God. By the definition of telios, then, they are the perfect ones, like their heavenly Father. The rest of us are still nursing, not even ready for solid food!
…A person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid foods are for those who are mature (telios), who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. Hebrews 5: 13-14 NLT
I think in today’s American church the milk is the feeling you get when you gather together; worship, praise, corporate celebration, and inspiring preaching, the emotional boost, the feel-good refreshment of the grace of God. Kind of a feel-good, Facebook-type Christianity.
The meat, the solid food, is found in receiving the commands of Christ and adjusting your life accordingly. Not just feeling good but enacting change, that’s how you become mature.
- When the bible tells you to repent, you do it.
- When it tells you to reconcile with your brother, you don’t wait till Christmas.
- When the Lord directs you to minister to the orphans and widows, you get with it.
- You don’t wait for a program to be created that fits your schedule.
- It’s learning to be the servant of all.
- Being grown up in the Lord is recognizing that you are a soldier, not a baby.
- You don’t need to be coddled, cuddled, or cared for.
- You’re not going to cower at the first hint of persecution.
- You’re not going to change your core beliefs to adapt to cultural pressure.
- Jesus Christ is your Lord and King and it is His banner that you will stand under, His name you will honor.
If you have been a Christian for a while and these things don’t describe you, then God may have a message, especially for you, in this command to be perfect, mature and complete. GROW UP!