A Call to Perfection

Matthew 5.48 “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I remember hearing this passage brought up in Bible Study, attached to the qualifying phrase, “Even though we know this is unattainable.” Unattainable, huh? I wonder then, why would Jesus give us a mandate that he knew we could never fulfill? Why not preach about humanity’s imperfection (as Paul sure did!) instead? I entertained these thoughts for just long enough to let them bother me... and thus my word study began.

Step #1: Look up the Greek word for “perfect.” Turns out, a quick look at a lexicon shed a ton of light on Jesus’ command. The Greek word he used in this sentence is teleios, which actually means perfect--in the sense of complete. It can also mean, “mature, adult, full-grown” So maybe Christ isn’t referring to righteousness here, as we tend to assume, but rather, to the wholeness of his Bride.

Step #2: What does that wholeness look like? I looked up all the other uses of teleios in Scripture. Throughout its various uses, the theme of completion/wholeness is consistent. Surprisingly, Christ only used the word twice: The first is in the command above. The other time, he explains it! Check this out:
Matt 19.21 “Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect (teleios), go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
This is what we were made for. It is the highest calling; the goal of all goals. To quote Piper, “You don’t get there and say, ‘Now what?’” It is true surrender. True worship. Sell what you possess, give it to the poor, and follow Christ. Black and white. The end. Except… not the end. There's more.

There are at least two other times where teleios is used as a mandate for the Body of Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul is addressing unity in the Body of Christ, and he calls this unity teleios. Perfection.
Ephesians 4.11-16 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood (teleios), to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, … speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Then, in Philippians 3.10-15, Paul talks about straining upward toward the goal (which is to know Christ and share in his suffering), and he states that anyone who is mature (teleios) will think this way also. In fact, if you’re not thinking this way, Paul’s pretty sure it’s only a matter of time!

To me, this means that we should be actively participating in giving everything we have for sake of following Christ. And not just by ourselves, as Ephesians 4.13 points out, but together with the whole body of Christ.

How would this change our model of what Church looks like?

1 comment:

  1. Hey! That's the old name of my blog! Hahaha... I am honored to share it with the likes of you :)

    By the way, this is a fantastic word study, just short enough for the average, non-theologian reader, yet just meaty enough for people like me.

    Thanks for sharing this.