“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NIV)
As strange as it may sound, you can’t be godly and perfect at the same time.
To a certain degree, what I just said doesn’t make sense. After all, in Matthew 5:48 Jesus invites his hearers to “Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So doesn’t that mean perfection and godliness go hand in hand?
It really depends on your definition of “perfection.” If you think perfection has to do with never making mistakes and being right all the time, then I think you’ve slipped into some quicksand of misunderstanding.
The word in Matthew 5:48 that’s translated as “perfect” also has the implication of being “complete” or “wholehearted.” Plus, Jesus’ statement comes on the heels of a teaching about how God is a Father not only to other believing people who are “like us,” but to people who aren’t. So what I think he’s saying is that our love should be more all-encompassing—more complete, more wholehearted—just like the love of our Father in heaven.
When I think about some of the admirable people in my own life, they’re not “perfect” in the narrow sense. Instead, they’re people who are mature because they still make mistakes, but are able to admit when they’re wrong, and then learn from their experience. In other words, they’re devoted to doing the right thing. Integrity mixed with honest failure, humility, and a heart for others, trumps self-justifying “perfection” every time.
If you think you’re already perfect, you’ve got a long ways to go. But if you know you’re not, you’re probably closer to the kingdom than you think.
So yes, “Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Shoot for love, for truth, for the kingdom each and every day. Pray that God’s Spirit continues to make you more like Jesus. But in the process, remember that the opposite of imperfection isn’t “perfection”—it’s humble wholeheartedness in the service of God and neighbour.
You can’t be godly and “perfect” at the same time.
By Matthew Ruttan