Our English translation has Jesus tell his disciples: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It is a bit strong for ordinary human beings. The two Greek words “teleioi and teleios” are much milder. Martin Luther used the concept of completeness or fullness. The Greek does not mean that man can be as perfect as God is; rather, it means that man can lead a whole and complete life that is acceptable to God. Man completes himself in what he does for God. He cannot serve God with his spirit and not with his body. Unfortunately, the body cannot keep up with the spirit.

In what connection did Jesus speak these words? Jesus’ disciples had to learn how to behave as sons of their Heavenly Father. They came out of a culture, which demanded “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” You hated your enemies and did favors only for those whom you loved. That, for Jesus, was imperfection and not an acceptable behavior. They were to love their enemies and pray for those that persecuted them. God was good to the just and unjust and so must His worshippers be (Matthew 5:38-48). The disciples were not complete followers of Jesus without treating outsiders the way they treat their own. Favoritism is not a Christian practice and neither is retaliation. Rather it is being able to function in a hostile environment in such manner that godliness emanates in Christians.

The idea of striving to be whole and complete is something I can live with. Perfection has always been out of my reach. It took me a long time to realize God may not want me to achieve such perfection that I am no longer of any use in this world. God wants me to be just the opposite. God gave me an example in Immanuel Jesus. Jesus stooped low to lift others. He loved the world that hated Him and He forgave those that crucified Him. This is heavenly perfection, but it is also human wholeness. That is why Isaiah could announce, “With His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). As long as I pin my iniquities on others, I do not only rupture my life, but also those that I blame for my misfortune. If I harbor hate and revenge in my heart, then I also harbor death. That most certainly does not make me in any shape of form like the Heavenly Father I am to represent.