As women, we are relentlessly bombarded with the idea of being “perfect.” We’re pressured, by advertisements of seemingly flawless women, to have the very same perfectly wavy hair and sharply winged eyeliner, as well as their equally perfect (and might I add, expensive) clothing. We’re expected to look perfect like they do, while at the same time holding down a perfect job that provides a perfect income, and maintain relationships with our perfect friends, boyfriends (you can’t live without one of those!), and families – with no effort.
That’s a lot of “perfection.”
This burden is something we carry on our backs all the time. I’m sure that upon being asked what we wish we could do better in life, we could readily list off a hundred imperfections and flaws that we perceive about ourselves that we’d get rid of in a heartbeat.
Jesus also tells us to be perfect. However, His fulfilling definition of perfection is quite opposite from that above. Matthew 5:48 reads:
“Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
What does our Savior mean by this? He clearly does not expect us to attain the level of accomplishment and worldly qualities that our culture desires. Here he is calling us to be like our Father, God. But what exactly does that entail? Digging into the Greek language will give us a better understand of what this word “perfect” means, and how we can apply it to our spiritual lives.
What is perfection?
Digging into the Greek language will give us a better understanding of what Christ meant by perfect, and how we can then apply that to our spiritual and practical lives.
The English perfect that we read in Matthew 5:48 comes from the Greek word teleios, meaning:
- brought to its end, finished
- wanting nothing necessary to completeness
- that which is perfect
- consummate human integrity and virtue
- of men
- full grown, adult, of full age, mature
By these definitions, we can gather that perfection is completeness, and having reached spiritual maturity, as opposed to having no (earthly) flaws. We can also find this word in Romans 12:2, which reads:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As we read from Matthew 5:48, Jesus calls us to be perfect. Before this verse, starting in verse 21 of the same chapter, Jesus describes practical instructions as to how we can achieve perfection in our every day lives.
Anger and Hatred – Matthew 5:21-26
Ephesians 4:26 teaches us that anger itself is not a sin. Anger is an emotion from God just like any other. But Jesus told the listening crowd in Matthew 5 that being angry to the point of insulting, ridiculing, slandering, and hating our brothers and sisters is just as sinful and wrong as murder. So wrong, in fact, that even during a time when sacrifices and offerings for sin were still a command from God, Jesus preached that it is more important to make sure there is peace between your brother and yourself than it is to continue offering your sacrifice.
The last verse in this text, verse 26, may seem kind of random at first. Why does it mention that once our enemy has thrown us into jail, we most likely will never come out? Look at it this way: even when my enemy is hateful enough to make sure I’m in prison for the rest of my life, I am still required to do my part to make friends with them. Romans 12:18 reads: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Adultery – 5:27-30
Adultery, like murder, is not a sin you or I every plan on committing. But here Christ calls us to completely do away with the very thoughts that lead to adultery. Strong’s concordance defines lust as having desire for or coveting that which is forbidden. And any person to whom you are not married is forbidden.
Lustful thoughts may not seem harmful at all. No one sees them, or ever knows you’re doing it, and the thoughts may never be acted upon. But Jesus taught us that even these “little” thoughts are just as sinful as having an actual affair. Anything that is causing you to stumble in this way needs to be cast out of our lives – no matter how difficult it may be to do so.
Divorce – 5:31-32
Divorce is a very common occurrence for most people in the world. A lot of people do not expect most marriages to “last,” and it is considered normal when some do not. There are many reasons people divorce, but Jesus teaches us here that there is only one lawful reason to divorce your spouse: unfaithfulness. That’s it.
This statement has never been popular. In Mark 6:17-29, John the Baptist was put to death for preaching this concept to Herod – who had his brother’s wife at the time. It’s obvious that whatever role Herod believed this woman to fulfill, God still saw her as the wife of Herod’s brother. It is evident that they were not divorced for lawful reasons, and that was sinful in God’s sight. And still is today. Whether or not this is a popular teaching, unlawful divorce keeps those involved from being spiritually perfect.
Blasphemy – 5:33-37
When one swears, they use their tongue to make an oath that they don’t intend to keep. When one swears, they are guilty of talking about serious matters in a lighthearted way. Cussing, taking God’s name in vain, and even the flippant use of God and Christ in ordinary conversation, are all examples of making false vows. Phrases like “for heaven’s sake” or “Lord knows” don’t seem that big of a deal, but when we speak this way we are referring to sacred topics in a non-sacred way. Even swearing by something as seemingly insignificant as your own head – it is not actually your own, but God’s, and no one can keep age from changing it.
Christ calls us to keep using our words meaningfully, efficiently, and beautifully. Colossians 4:6 calls us to season our words with grace. Let us keep our words to a minimum, saying what needs to be said in the way they need to be said, and leave it there. Perfecting our speech is one more step taken toward being like God.
Kindness – 5:38-42
As simply as this passage can be read, this can easily be one of the most difficult practices to perfect. Sometimes people around us can be hateful, rude, spiteful, and mean – and sometimes we are helpless as to why that is the case. But we are commanded to treat these people without more kindness than we would even show to the people that love us back. If we’re going to be perfect like God, we need to go above and beyond what is normal and make an effort to be kind to those that treat us horribly.
Whenever this gets hard, as it always does, just remember how Christ went above and beyond for you. We sinned against Him, treated Him far from the way we want to be treated, and let Him down every day. Not only did He continue to show us kindness and love, He went as far as to die in agony on the cross so that we can spend eternity with Him.
Kindness Continued – 5:43-47
These verses are similar to verses 38-42, but true love doesn’t stop doing good when our enemy has left the room. We are called to love our enemies so much that we pray for them – for their souls, for their well-being, for their lives. This command sounds easy at first, but have you ever tried praying for someone who has purposefully wronged you? It’s not an easy thing to do. But we are commanded to do so. Learning to pray for people we would rather forget about is going to make us more like God, just as we are called to be.
Referring back to our earlier definition of perfect, one of its descriptors is “brought to its end, finished.” Perfection is not going to be reached quickly. It’s not something anyone is born with, or blessed with more than others. It’s a process we are going to be working on until our life is brought to its end, and finished. Christ does not call us to do everything we can look like everybody else. He calls us to work every day to look like God.
By Rosie Smith