June 2018           "A Journal of Biblical Understanding"           Volume 14           

(Daniel 4:25)
" ... and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will."


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On Being Perfect


March 1, 2003

Dear Friends,

Would Jesus ever ask the impossible of us? It doesn't seem reasonable that He would, but sometimes people wonder. Take His exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). I don't know how that strikes you, but it seems to ask something of us that none of us could ever achieve.

Oh, I have heard the explanation that perfection is only the goal, and we will only reach it in the resurrection. But if that was what Jesus meant, I would think He would have said this rather differently. According to every translation I have ever read, Jesus didn't say we would be perfect someday. He said, "Be ye therefore perfect."

In truth, though, that is not what Jesus said at all. What He said was, "Be ye therefore teleios, even as your Father which is in heaven is teleios." Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic, but Matthew chose to render the word in Greek and used telios to tell us what Jesus said here. And telios does not mean "perfect," thank God. Teleios means "complete," not perfect, and there is a world of difference between the two.

The word "perfect" is defined as "being entirely without fault or defect." While I am sure that is an accurate description of God, I am equally sure it does not describe me. Not now. But even the word "complete", misses what I think Jesus was driving at. Getting it straight may turn out to be a life changing experience.

One of the biggest problems we face when tackling a subject like this is getting our semantics right. What do we mean by the words we use? For most of us, the definition of "perfect" is perfectly accurate, but let me try to explain where perfection falls short of what Jesus was saying.

Imagine a pianist in a recital, performing a difficult Chopin etude. It is possible for him to do a flawless performance, getting all the notes right, using the pedal as indicated on the page, following instructions for loudness and softness. I have heard people, listening to such a performance comment on its perfection saying that he didn't miss a single note. Now can you understand that it is possible to do a perfect, flawless performance, and still have the performance be entirely mediocre and uninspired?

You can have a flawless piano solo by one pianist, and a performance of the same piece by a genius, and even the untrained ear can hear the difference. What I am saying is this. Perfection and excellence are two entirely different things.

Perfection means something is merely without flaw. Excellence means that something is eminently good, it is first-class. I had never thought of this until recently, but perfection is essentially a negative idea. It defines what is not present: faults or defects.It says nothing at all about what is present. I went back to the Bible, ran a search, and began to look at the way telios is used. I concluded that what Jesus was saying was that we are to be excellent, even as our Father in heaven is excellent.

I headed off to the Internet to test my theory. I booted my trusty Google search engine and looked up "perfectionism." What I found was fascinating. Superficially, there are two opposing views. One holds that perfectionism is a good thing if managed properly. The other holds that perfectionism is a neurotic condition that is harmful. I said that they are superficially different because the difference is almost entirely semantics. The scholars I read were using the words "perfection" and "excellence" as though they meant the same thing. They don't.

I came to define perfectionism as "the obsessive striving toward being without fault or defect." Perfectionism thus defined is essentially negative because it defines what is NOT there--a fault or a defect. And perfectionism tends toward apathy because everyone knows he can never measure up one hundred percent.

There was a time when my mentors urged me to work on my faults, my defects, my weaknesses. It seemed a reasonable thing to do. But one day someone told me that a man who does nothing more than that can only hope for mediocrity. The advice he gave me was to improve my strengths. Build your strengths, he said, and your weaknesses will come along for the ride. We should learn to strive, not for mere perfection. We should strive for excellence.

I have much more to say on this, and I said it recently in a message delivered to a church group in Fort Worth, Texas. It is titled, "On Being Perfect." I would like to send you a cassette tape of this sermon for the simple reason that I think it may change your life.

To get your free tape, just write to the address below and request the tape, "On Being Perfect". 

Christian Educational Ministries
PO Box 560
Whitehouse, Texas 75791

or call (903)509-2999

In the service of an Excellent Savior,

Ronald L. Dart

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