Every other Saturday, due to her circumstances, I take my sister to work and then go get her when she gets off at noon. Since she only works half-days on those days, it affords us an opportunity to spend some quality family time together, so we take advantage of the time have a brother-sister “date”. We have taken our turn at pizza, Mexican and Chinese – several times around. This past Saturday we stopped at Tim’s, our small town home-town diner and had home made burgers.
I had a bacon cheeseburger which was just about as close to perfect as can be found – at least in our neck of the woods. And then when the waitress tempted me with an offering of home made banana pudding my will power “wilted.” If there is anything I am a sucker for it is home made banana pudding. I make a mean one myself – made from scratch – cooked – not instant pudding (ugh!) – piled high with meringue. The pudding Tim’s mom had made was a masterpiece. I hate to admit it was as good as mine, but it was so near perfect one would have to go a long way to find any better.
Perfection. About things like food, everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a perfect dish or a perfect meal. It largely is a matter of personal taste and preference. But the concept of perfection is a bit more complicated than we often realize. Sometimes the word has the meaning we have been using. At other times it means something different than superlative or ideal in quality.
The word perfect or perfection appears about 50 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible. Often it is used of God, his word or his work. From a human standpoint, it is difficult to conceive of something that is absolutely flawless. We are all flawed beings. We live in a world that is not free from blemishes. How can we rate the things we do on a scale from zero to absolutely perfect? People often do things or form habits that are hurtful to themselves and cause pain and sorrow to others. Too many people all too often ask questions like “Why must things be like they are?” and receive no good answers other than just that we do not live in a perfect world.
There is such a thing as perfection. God is perfect and his work is perfect. He is perfectly just, perfectly faithful, perfectly sinless perfectly righteous.
Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
His creation was perfect until man went and messed it up. What about man? Did God create him less than perfect? Of course not. God dignified man by making him in his own image, bestowing on us the freedom of making our own choices – but with the responsibility of having to endure the consequences of making wrong choices. Our earliest ancestors made some wrong choices and things have been messed up ever since. The whole human race is still suffering the consequences of theirs (and our own) bad choices.
But when it comes to us flawed human beings, in most instances of our usage of the word perfect it must be understood relatively. There are no absolutely, perfectly flawless human beings. The apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That truth is underscored every time we lie, steal, cheat or hurt anyone. And there are as many ways of doing such wrong things as there are human beings in the world. There is no one who has not let someone down, who has never neglected to do what they know is right, has never misled someone. No, none of us are perfect. So, how is it that Jesus demands in Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?”
First, we must understand that even though we are flawed, imperfect beings, our Creator desires deeply to restore us to the original state of innocence with which we were made by him and which we are intended to once again to possess. He sent his perfect son into the world. Jesus “…committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” 1 Peter 2:22. It was this perfectly sinless Son of God who became the sacrifice to cleanse us and make it possible for us to appear before God, dressed in “white garments” of purity and perfection.
But the sense in which Jesus uses the word in Matthew 5:48 has the meaning of “finished, complete or mature.” With God held up as the absolute standard it should be evident to us that this goal is unattainable. What is in view here is the relative completeness or perfection of adulthood as compared to childhood. We, in terms of love – loving our enemies, which is what Jesus is talking about – are to be mature, grown up. While we will never reach the degree of perfect love the Father manifests, we can be like him as we increasingly grow in our ability to love even our enemies. For being acceptable before God we will always have to depend upon a righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9).
Yes, we are to strive for perfection through the process of sanctification. However we do not and cannot make ourselves completely perfect. Now, as we undergo that process of sanctification, we are being moved more and more by a loving Father toward the goal of perfection he intends for us. We haven’t attained it yet, but there will come a time when we will be perfected, completed, made to be all we were ever intended by our Creator to be. Paul put it this way …
Philippians 3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When will that happen? Again the same writer tells it will happen when we receive our inheritance. He says …
Romans 8:22-24a “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved…”
Now, as the country saying goes, that will be “better than banana pudding!”