“Being perfect is…about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth.” — Coach Gary Gaines in the movie, Friday Night Lights
1 Peter 1:15-16
Despite our widespread and deep-seated notions of perfection, it is not what we think. We look at perfection as having to do with a great veneer- don’t smoke, curse, drink, wear baggy clothes, see R-rated movies, sleep late or spend too much money.
Jesus never saw perfection in these. He emphasized loving enemies, turning evil on its head by responding with and in love, honoring marriage, and reconciling with debtors. Jesus viewed life, and the perfection of it, in entirely relational terms.
This is an important distinction to grasp. In our world, perfection always denotes a degree of achievement or performance as measured by and against others. But Jesus understood perfection more fully and more clearly: it isn’t just about some performance in competition with others, but in our relating with others. To borrow from a political phrase, “It’s the people, stupid.” How do we treat them? How do we serve them? How do we consider them ahead of ourselves? How do we dispense mercy, kindness, gratitude, generosity, grace? Do we live about and for others, especially the Lord?
You see, we can’t just live any way we choose. Because you matter to God. And I matter to God. Therefore, we must matter to one another, because through this, God shows us that he loves us and wants something better for us than our short-sighted self-indulgence; that’s a reckless way of living that not only neglects the needs of others, but also endangers them. Others matter. God loves them and wants us to love them, too. He wants us to give to them, to look out for their best interests ahead of our own. This is perfection.
We’ve gone about this morality business all wrong, missing all the points the scriptures have tried to make. Profanity, alcohol, television violence and premarital sex were never the issues Jesus had with us. They are the issues we have with and among ourselves. They are the symptoms we focus on to the exclusion of the real illness.
Jesus was concerned with the underlying problem and its more specific manifestations: cursing our neighbors; drinking to escape others while creating more relational hazards; valuing violence and sitting before an altar to it; sex in such a way that people lose their inherent value. All of these acts indicate deeper issues in the heart and stem from them.
A life free of tobacco, alcohol, profanity, and sex does not lead to holiness or perfection. Devoid of love, all it creates is an alienating facade that does nothing but lie about the truth and scream deceitfully about perfection. We must understand his teachings and to whom they point us.
Until we get this, we’ll miss what Jesus wants us to learn. As long as we focus our attention and energies on peripheral issues, we’ll miss it. And if we do that, we’ll miss the kingdom itself.
What is perfection? Holiness?
How do we understand them?
What do they imply about us, our lives?
What is the result of holiness/perfection?
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