I think there are many different reasons as to why so many who grow up in the church leave when they get older but I think one of them is the ridiculous notion of behavioral perfection that we’ve burdened our kids with.
Check this out.
At the end of Matthew chapter 5 Jesus is talking about loving your enemies, which is hard enough alone, but then he throws in this little bit that serves as the very last verse of the passage.
Matthew 5:48 – 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So let me get this straight not only do I have to love the people that I hate but I also have to be perfect like God.
As if I don’t have enough to worry about during a normal week, now I have to strive for and attempt to attain perfection?
If I was actually able to do this wouldn’t I be like God?
or maybe that’s the point, to show myself that I can’t be perfect which is why I need God?
Either way, this verse has loomed over the church for ages.
Like a cloud that’s blocked the sun and cast a shadow over all creation.
Either way, this verse has been used to condemn and control people for ages.
For a long time, Christians and the Church have taken this verse and this whole concept of being perfect and turned it into some sort of moral code whose primary objective was to help determine behavior.
We’ve taken this moral code that we’ve developed for the sake of our understanding of perfection and turned it into a religion.
Here’s the big secret…… (read in a whisper voice) Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.
So what is Jesus saying here?
In the Greek text, the word that gets translated as perfection is the word Telios. While Telios can mean perfect it’s first and primary definition is completeness.
Perfect – Telios – Completeness.
When Jesus says to be perfect like God is perfect he’s not talking about perfection the way that we think of perfection. What he’s saying is … be complete the way that God is complete.
If you were to back up one chapter Matthew says…
Matt 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The word repent in the Greek text means to change one’s way of thinking or to change one’s direction.
The word repent in the Hebrew text means to return or to come home.
So Jesus busts on to the scene as a rabbi and his primary message to Israel is…. Return.
Return to what or who?
Return to their God.
There’s this ancient prayer that sits at the heart of Judaism known as the SHEMA. This is considered by many to be one of the most essential prayers in all of Judaism. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6 vs 4. This prayer gets recited for both morning and evening prayers and the reason it’s so important is that it’s an affirmation of the singularity and kingship of God.
Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
The Lord is One. He’s not divided. He’s whole. He is COMPLETE.
Ok so let’s put this together…..
The people of God are lost and wondering and desperately waiting for a savior to rescue them from the hands of the Roman empire.
Jesus shows up and starts preaching return, come back, come home to God.
Then he says to be perfect like God is perfect. Except perfect doesn’t mean perfect it means complete.
Well, this is starting to make a bit more sense, isn’t it?
Jesus message is calling people to return wholeness and completeness. Which is who God is. Which is the image that we as humans were created in.
The Message of Jesus is to return to the God who is whole and complete so that you will be whole and complete.
Be Complete, therefore, as your heavenly father is complete.
What difference one word can make.
Do you see why so many kids who grew up in the church are so messed up?
We were taught about the love of Jesus and then we were taught that we were to be perfect like God is perfect. Except it was taught through the lens of behavior. So the message that many of us received growing up was that the goal of my life and faith was moral and behavior perfection.
At the same time, we were taught that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Which means we were raised with a terrible disposition of the reality that I can never be perfect because I’m damaged and messed up because I can’t follow all the rules.
Faith is presented as the futile pursuit of the impossible.
No wonder so many Christians seem so miserable.
No wonder so many people leave the church when they’re able.
We’ve set ourselves up for failure.
We’ve set our kids up for failure.
We’ve made our primary understanding of faith and our relationship to God as being a lost cause.
Jesus was never calling people to moral or behavioral perfection, he was calling people to experience the fullness and completeness that we were designed for. He was calling people to fully embrace their humanity in a healthy way. He was calling people to return to the image of their creator that they were created in, which happens to be an image of completeness.
The goal wasn’t perfection it was wholeness. Herein lies my hope.
I know I can’t be perfect but I do know that I can continually move towards wholeness as I move towards God.