Be Perfect.

I was wondering if you have any thoughts to share about perfectionism. When I look back on my younger years and when I consider some of my perennial struggles, I think this is one theme that intersects my life at various points. When I was younger, it was a concern that I needed to at least put up a facade of perfection and strive for what is perfect and well received and admirable. The moment when I confronted my own imperfection was life changing. But I think I still struggle with how perfectionism (or perhaps “success” more so as an adult) affects my actions and self-perception. –S

Dear wonderful friend,
Thank you for another challenging topic that so many of us can identify with!  I’m going to use two days to respond – first generally on the topic of perfection and then tomorrow more specifically about the trap of perfectionism.

So how do I, as a believer and follower of Christ, respond to the concept of perfection? I know from watching, well, everyone fail that this doesn’t seem possible.

But then I read this challenge in Matthew 5:48:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” NIV

But maybe that’s just a random translation.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” NLT


OH SNAP. What about the old “nobody’s perfect” saying?

I’ve spent a large portion of my life learning that presenting a perfect image benefits no one.  And the concept of having to actually reach the perfection of my Heavenly Father sounds so defeating and impossible. In fact, any ounce of what I would consider to be “perfection” is going to be as appealing as a pile of dirty laundry in COMPARISON to the perfection of a Holy and Righteous God.

So what gives?

This portion of Scripture puzzled me for years. I know that the entire Bible is God’s Word and that it’s useful for teaching and correcting in my life, but I couldn’t reconcile this verse with so many others.

And then I wondered if the word perfect might just have different meanings in the original text.

The most frequent words translated “perfect,” are the Greek words telefos (adjective form), and teleloo (verb form).  Oftentimes the word is translated to mean complete or finished.  (I immediately thought of Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.)

“Perfect” can also have the meaning of mature or grown up. In Philippians 3:15, Paul writes to “as many as be perfect” (KJV). The NKJV translates this phrase “as many as are mature.”

Ok. So that makes more sense. But let’s get the complete picture by checking the broader chapter context of Matthew 5:48.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (The Message Translation)

If I may humbly make an interpretation, I sense that the perfection of God  described in this section is in regards to how we love others. Love others the way God loves others. Most days this doesn’t even seem possible to me. But the fact remains that I have been loved much and given much grace. Why then should I not love others?  (“We love because He first loved us.” -1 John 4:19, NIV)  I will not reach perfection in love this side of Heaven, but that shouldn’t discourage me from desiring growth in that perfect love.  This is yet another prayer that God loves to answer: “Lord, let me love your people.  Let me see your people through the loving eyes of Jesus.”  By His grace I am sanctified and grown each day that I may one day be perfected in Him and made complete.

I know that this may be the long way to address your question, but I felt like we needed to lay some groundwork before we proceed to more specific components of perfection! :)

What do you think? This is simply my interpretation of the passage. I certainly welcome your thoughts!


  • Anonymous

    “We are also shown that what makes us “imperfect” is fear, which is linked to punishment (breaking the rules).  If we are fearful we cannot be made “perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).” – This provided additional fuel for writing the second post.  I think this is dead on!

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  • Sarah D.

    Yes, Matt 5:48 is exactly the verse that was coming to mind.  Thank you for reminding me to check the context though, this makes such a difference.  I think the word “perfect” easily lends itself to a legalistic approach – to be perfect is to follow the rules, to do everything correctly.  In this passage we are reminded that the greatest commands (“rules”) we face are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And this approach is far more organic and personal and creatively responsive than simply following prescriptives.
    I was reminded also of some of the context around 1 John 4:19 that you referenced.  In 1 John 4:17-18 we are reminded that completion (“perfection”) is indeed linked to love and that God is love.  We are also shown that what makes us “imperfect” is fear, which is linked to punishment (breaking the rules).  If we are fearful we cannot be made “perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).