You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~Matthew 5:48
I don't know about you, but every now and then I read a verse and it has the opposite effect on me than I think it was intended to have. This verse in Matthew is a prime example. I think it is supposed to create this wonderful desire in me to strive to be like my Heavenly Father. But, if I am really honest, most of the time it makes me feel deflated, defeated, and hopeless. Why is that?
I think it might be because my definition of the word is so skewed and flawed. Most of the time, when I think about the word perfect, I tend to define it as being without flaw, which makes me feel like it is something unattainable, impossible, and beyond my reach. So when I hear Jesus saying, "You must be without flaw, as I am without flaw," it feels depressing, frustrating, and a little oppressive, which is not at all the way I think Jesus intended it to feel. I think he meant it, and said it, in a much more positive, hopeful, inspiring way.
Which made me start to think that maybe my definition of the word perfect was the problem. Maybe I had a flawed definition to begin with. So I decided to look it up. As it turns out, the forth definition on the list (dictionary.com) was indeed without flaw, but the first three were much more positive and hopeful, defining the word as the state of something becoming what it was intended to be. Which is further supported by the Greek word that is used in Matthew (teleios) that means to be complete or whole; to be brought to its intended end or purpose. Now that's a definition that I can embrace, one that creates some really good momentum in me. It is a definition that pulls me toward change rather than trying to push me into it. And I discovered long ago that pull (love, affection, longing, desire) has always produced much more long term transformation in me than push (ought, fear, guilt, shame) ever has. Not saying that both aren't necessary, because they are, but one (pull) has definitely been much more fruitful in my life. When I hear Jesus say, "Be all that I intended you to be," it does something very good in me. It creates some positive energy toward living a quality of life (both with him and for him) that I most deeply long for.
So I think Eugene Peterson may have been on to something when he translated this verse in Matthew: "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 graciously and generously toward others the way God lives toward you." (Matthew 5:48, The Message)
Lord Jesus, continue to capture my heart with your great affection. Continue to transform me into that beautiful image you imagined for me long ago, before the foundations of the world. Continue to make me more and more gracious and generous with each passing day. Continue to make me more like you. Amen.