Why are we drawn to perfection? Whether in professional sports, music, art or leadership, we all admire excellence. Perfection is defined as “the highest degree of proficiency, skill, or excellence, as in some art.” The Lord has blessed each one of us with different abilities and passions. These God-given skills remain dormant in our lives like seeds unless they are cultivated with good coaching and watered with hard work.
I have been thinking a lot about this word recently. I believe that the pursuit of perfection is a noble endeavor, but this chase can be fraught with danger. The Bible teaches us that God is flawless and His ways are always perfect. It also teaches us that man was created in God’s image “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV) So if we are created in God’s image, one could argue that the desire for perfection is in our genes, right? Let me ask you a question. Do you look to other men and women for inspiration, or do you look to God? Jesus is the only one who achieved perfection. Shouldn’t Jesus be our only source for inspiration? I call our obsession with man-derived inspiration “Perfectitis.”
Why do we laud Michael Jordan, Celine Deon, Albert Einstein, Rembrandt, and Abraham Lincoln? There is no doubt that these driven individuals coupled their God given abilities with training and hard work to make a mark on humanity, and they deserve a certain amount of admiration and respect. On the other hand, shouldn’t the praise that we offer these men and women pale in comparison to the praise that we give our Lord? How many of us spend our lives striving to be perfect athletes, perfect musicians, perfect academicians, perfect artists or perfect leaders? Are we trying to obtain fame, money and prestige? Jesus said that the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those that are persecuted for righteousness will be blessed. (Matthew 5:3-10,NIV) Do we have equal admiration for the unknown men and women who have spent their lives in the pursuit of these goals?
Another problem with “Perfectitis,” is that we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and on others. Trying to live up to these unrealistic expectations can be exhausting and lead to a constant feeling of failure. On the other hand, if we believe that we have achieved perfection in some area of our life, we can become self-righteous. The Bible says that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast before Him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29) The Bible also teaches that believers should “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV) So how do we boast about our weakness, and become a beacon of light for God at the same time? Think about all the people in your life. Do you prefer to be around people who constantly boast about their strengths, or do you gravitate towards simple folk, who rarely finish first? Are you attracted to people who claim to be perfect, and never admit that they are wrong? Do you admire people who acknowledge their limitations and readily admit failure? Which of these categories would people associate you and me with?
Jesus did say to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NIV) The Greek word for perfect in this verse is teleios, which means perfect, mature or finished. When Jesus said this, it was in the context of talking about loving and praying for your enemies. How easy is that to do? The older I get, and the more that I understand about myself, the more that I realize that I am a weakling who is in great need of a Savior.
So what are we to do? Is there a cure for “Perfectitis?” I am afraid that as long as sin is in this world, and men look to themselves or to other men for inspiration, we will have to suffer with this disease. The Good News however, is that there is One who has conquered sin and death. There is a Perfect One who understands our weakness and helplessness. What do you think would happen if we stopped trying so hard to be perfect, and just concentrated on loving the Perfect One and the people around us? My guess is that others would start to see glimpses of the perfection of Jesus in our broken lives. Only Jesus can heal our eyes and hearts. He is the only cure.