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Copyright © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION
Patricia M. Pope
ON BEING FAITHFUL, AND BEING PERFECT
In 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), John Fischer writes:
Being faithful is a far cry from being perfect. Faithfulness means being authentic, devoted, consistent, loyal. ... Faithfulness allows for failure; perfection does not.
... the call to faithfulness is a call I can answer. Faithful to follow, faithful to confess, faithful to obey, faithful to repent, faithful to believe, faithful to pray and seek God ...
WHAT IS PERFECTION?
This, however leads to the question, what about perfection? In the Scriptures Jesus admonished His disciples to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). So what is one to make of this? Is the Christian called to be faithful as Fischer says or perfect? Are these two things mutually exclusive or is the Christian called to be both faithful and perfect? How does one reconcile the fact that faithfulness may allow for failure, while perfection does not?
THE HUMAN AND BIBLICAL DEFINITIONS OF PERFECTION
The answers to these questions lie in the distinction that Fischer appears to be making between the human and Biblical definitions of perfection. The first thought that generally comes to mind when one hears the word perfect is "flawless" while the other definitions are ignored. According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, perfection can mean "expert, proficient, satisfying all requirements, pure, total, complete and mature". The one definition however that really seems to capture what Jesus was communicating in the book of Matthew is, "faithfully reproducing the original". That goes right to the heart of Jesus' message - imitating the Heavenly Father.
Furthermore, in looking at the original language used in Matthew 5:48, one will find the Greek word teleios, meaning complete or perfect. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, variations of this word are used in the following contexts, just to name a few: a heart turned wholly toward God (I Kings 8:61; 11:4); mature adult (I Corinthians 2:6; 14:20); that which is in agreement with God's will (Romans 12:2; Colossians 4:12); whole (James 1:4; 1:25; 3:2).
Within the context of the passage found in Matthew 5:43-48, the theme of which is love of one's enemies, Jesus' disciples were called to be mature in the expression of their faith. They were also being encouraged to be imitators of God, the One who is the essence of wholeness and completeness.
It was in this vein that Jesus urged His disciples to do that which is mature and Godly and love their enemies, rather than taking the easy way out and resorting to retaliation. It is much easier to strike back in an impulsive manner as opposed to exercising restraint and humility in the face of persecution. (It is much later that Paul would write of Jesus' own humility and obedience leading to death in Philippians 2.)
Spiritual maturity however extends to more than just love of enemies. The mature person is one who exhibits self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, the presence of the various fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) is a good indicator of spiritual maturity. After all, it's only mature fruit that a farmer picks and it is important that fruit is harvested "at the proper stage of maturity in order to maintain their nutrients as well as their quality and freshness."
Just as maturity is the sign that real fruit is ready to be harvested because of what it has to offer (nutrients, quality and freshness) when followers of Christ reach maturity, they are ready to rise to a higher level of faithful service to God and one only gets there through the practice of their faith. It is through the trials and tests of life--the very act of living-that one gains the skills necessary to grow toward maturity (see James 1:2-4).
PERFECTION WITH FLAWS
Godly perfection then, is not the perfection that is generally defined as being without flaw. Rather, Godly perfection is the faithful (i.e., consistent) pursuit of all that is right and good as defined by the Heavenly Father.
Thus, if God Himself defines perfection in such a way as to include flawed, finite human beings who are endeavoring to make consistent efforts at wholeness and maturity, the Church should encourage faithful and diligent modeling of one's life after God. God and God alone should be the prototype. Anything else and people find themselves living under heavy burdens with unattainable goals that lead to feelings of failure and defeat.
To use Webster's definition, Christians should make every effort to faithfully reproduce the Original. In doing so, people will find much joy in their Christian walk as they grow in grace.
DO GOOD CHRISTIANS SIN?
Even so, will good, Christian people at times sin? Of course, but this is not a license to do so. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that "though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Proverbs 24:16). Thus, the question is not whether a Christian will sin, but what will their response be to that sin? The only thing to do is to seek forgiveness from God and draw closer to Him.
It is only in this way that one can gain the strength and the grace to go forward, rather than sinking into a life of futility. Not only is God the model of perfection, but He provides the power that enables one to walk in it. Apart from Him, the Christian is powerless (see John 15:1-6; 8). This should be an encouragement to those who strive towards the mark of the high calling of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-15).
© 2004 by Patricia M. Pope. All Scripture quotations are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
John Fischer, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me). (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2000), 21.
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1981), s.v. "perfect".
Verlyn Verbrugge, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 559-560.
Schmidt, James C., Harvesting Fruits (Urbana: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); available at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/fresh/fruit.html.
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THE HUMILITY OF GOD - A POEM | LIVING AS A CITIZEN OF HEAVEN - Philippians 3:16 - 4:1 | GROWTH OF DIVORCE AMONG CHRISTIANS
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE | BUILDING THE BODY OF CHRIST | ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, WE LIKE THEM BECAUSE WE CAN CONTROL THEM! | PERFECTION - A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION | RICHARD WURMBRAND - A Voice from Behind the Iron Curtain | IS ARMINIAN THEOLOGY AN ERROR? | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
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