What does Jesus mean when he says “be perfect”?

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48

In my Wednesday evening men’s group this week we continued our study in the Book of James, focusing on the section that talks about the damage that can be done by “the tongue” (James 3:1-12). Of course, we don’t have to look far to see evidence that confirms the point.

We spent some time talking about the concept of “perfect” (For if we could control our tongues we would be perfect… – James 3:2). It’s an idea referenced several times in the New Testament and I am fascinated with the implications.

The Greek word in question – teleios – is explained in the NLT study Bible this way: “This word describes something that lacks nothing and has come to complete maturity in a particular area…”

Take from a Biology PhD

What we are talking about here is completion and maturity rather than an idealized sense of purity and of being without a flaw. “In biology,” my friend David said, “a flower is considered perfect when it has all the necessary parts for reproduction.” Again it’s this idea of complete and mature.

When Jesus points out that we are to be perfect he’s not suggesting that we’re not good enough for God if we make any mistakes, he is talking about the fact that we need all the component parts, that we need to grow in spiritual maturity.

This is a journey we are on, friends! We were created as spiritual beings and – as we grow – the spiritual/faith/Jesus part of us needs to come to maturity too.

How Do We Know We are Alive?

I really like the idea from biology that reproduction is part of what it means to be mature, to be complete. In fact – and I explore this in some depth in my book 10 Life-Charged Words – reproduction is also part of the definition of life. We are not even alive as people of faith if we are not in the reproduction business!

Here are some of the questions used to determine if an organism is alive:

  • Does it grow?
  • Does it interact with its environment?
  • Does it reproduce?

These are good questions for us as people of faith, and they have more to do with what Jesus means by “perfect” than the largely unattainable idea of being flawless.

men’s ministry advocate, writer, speaker Derek Maul lives and writes in Wake Forest

Are we growing toward spiritual maturity? Am I, are you? Does our faith interact with the world where God has placed us? Are we reproducing (are we making disciples?).

Read that section from Matthew 5 again, and take note of how Christ’s context is love. Love our enemy. Pray for the people who make our lives difficult. Grow up in the faith. Be perfect.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

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