Be perfect . . . as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know,” Kathleen Norris writes, thoughtfully contrasting modern-day perfectionism with the “perfection” described in the book of Matthew. Modern-day perfectionism she describes as “a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks.” But the word translated “perfect” in Matthew actually means mature, complete, or whole. Norris concludes, “To be perfect . . . is to make room for growth [and become] mature enough to give ourselves to others.”
Understanding perfection this way helps make sense of the profound story told in Matthew 19, where a man asked Jesus what good he could do to “get eternal life” (v. 16). Jesus responded, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17). The man thought he’d obeyed all of them, yet he knew something was missing. “What do I still lack?” (v. 20) he asked.
That’s when Jesus identified the man’s wealth as the vise-grip stifling his heart. He said that if he wanted “to be perfect”—whole, willing to give and receive from others in God’s kingdom—then he must be willing to let go of what was closing off his heart from others (v. 21).
Each of us has our own version of perfection—possessions or habits we cling to as a futile attempt to be in control. Today, hear Jesus’ gentle invitation to surrender—and find freedom in the wholeness that’s only possible in Him (v. 26).
When have you mistaken personal goals for biblical “perfection”? How can surrendering control to God offer freedom from perfectionism?
Loving God, forgive me for so often mistaking my own self-improvement ambitions for growing in You! Help me to surrender control and embrace a life of freedom with You.
Luke 18:18 identifies the rich young man in Matthew 19:16–30 as a “ruler,” which can mean a synagogue leader, a Jewish elder, a leader of the Pharisees, or a member of the Sanhedrin. He asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter the Messianic kingdom (v. 16). On another occasion, “an expert in the law” asked Jesus the same question to test Him (Luke 10:25). In Matthew 19:24, Jesus used the ludicrous illustration of the camel going through the eye of a needle to highlight the impossibility of anyone being able to “do something” to save themselves, for it’s God alone who saves (v. 26).