Appendix VI: MATURE NOT PERFECT
There are several verses in Scripture that appear to encourage us to be perfect. The most obvious one is:
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
When we consider that God alone has no beginning or ending and that He alone is able to be present everywhere, we see this verse is not saying that we are to be as God’s essence. We are constantly growing, maturing, and changing (as we should) while God remains the same, so we cannot become wholly perfect like God. Consequently, the above verse must speak of something else.
The first recorded statement God made about mankind proclaimed that we are intended to be made into the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). We must ask, what is this image and likeness we are designed to be? It obviously has nothing to do with a physical appearance, an ability to stand upright, or a communicative ability. All humans and many animals are endowed with such abilities.
The image and likeness of God really speaks of the heart character, attitude, and personality that we are intended to reflect and resemble.
In mankind’s beginnings, God told Adam and Eve to not partake of one tree. When they were tempted by the idea that they could “be like God and know everything from good to evil,” they ignored God’s guidance and accepted a different perception of God’s stated purpose.
Then, as God promised, their close fellowship with the Father ceased (Genesis 2:16-17). When they submitted to “knowing” through the variables of good and evil, their ability to clearly hear and respond to God’s insightful lead was compromised. Apart from God’s guidance, we live in sin’s separation as dead people.
The image and likeness of God we are created to experience does not relate to our ability to reason, discern, and learn by experience. Even in fellowship with God, we do not always make the right choices. To amplify the death they chose, God removed them from the Garden of Eden so they would not eat of the Tree of Life in their unrepentant condition.
In what form or fashion are we to be as our heavenly Father? Clarity comes when we realize the word “perfect” is translated inappropriately from the Greek word teleios. In the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, the scholar Spiros Zodhiates defines the Greek teleios as:
Adult, full-grown, of full age as opposed to little children. God’s perfection is absolute; man’s is relative reaching the goal set for him by God with each individual different according to one’s God-given ability…Teleios is not to be confused with anamartetos, without sin or sinless.
In other words, to be perfect (teleios) really speaks of us reaching a goal, completing a process, and finishing a cycle. It refers to the process of completing levels of maturity. There is an indication that the finishing of teleios is preparatory to entering other stages or processes, like seeds maturing into plants that continue to grow and children mature into adults who continue to age and mature. Life continues and we face a variety of trying situations, never as perfect beings, but as more mature children of God.
The KJV usually translates teleios as “perfect,” but in one place it did not:
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age [teleios], even those who by reason of use have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
The NASB version translates teleios as “mature” four times and “complete” two times. The context of these verses confirms the word is concerned with levels of maturity rather than errorless perfection.
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern… (Hebrews 5:14).
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature…of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age… (1 Corinthians 2:6).
We proclaim Him, admonishing…teaching…so that we may present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell…and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21).
The following instance is one of 13 times the NASB translates teleios as “perfect.” Notice how the text verifies that the word actually speaks of a level of maturity:
But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Corinthians 13:10-11).
Why is this important? Perfect and mature refer to different ideas. Humans are unable, at least in this life, to be perfectly errorless. We can however, enter levels of maturity. Obviously we want to be on our best behavior, but even our best discerning behavior can miss the mark.
Take a moment and consider this instruction from Jesus. In context, it speaks of loving our enemies as God loves them.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:44-48).
We want to come to a level of maturity so we can love as our heavenly Father loves. Yes, some of our brothers are close and some are distant, while some are really out there. Nevertheless, we are all God’s offspring even if we do not respond to His love as children of God. We are family.
We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).
We are all intended to partake of His guiding presence and mature as children of God.
Relational Concept Connects Us
A man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, “Lord, I would like to know what heaven is like.”
The Lord then led him to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water.
The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms. Each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.
The Lord said, “You have seen hell.”
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. The large round table in the center held the same large pot of stew, which again made the man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long handled spoons, but here the people were plump and well nourished, laughing and talking as they ate.
The Lord said, “You have seen heaven.”
The man said, “I don’t understand.”
“It is simple,” said the Lord, “it requires but one skill. You see, these people have learned to feed each other, while the selfish ones in the first room only try to feed themselves.”
This story demonstrates the deeply rewarding value of our relational interactions. Our willingness to share with one another and recognize that others are as important as we are improves our life as well as theirs. The healthy way to live includes a care for one another.
A Relational God
While God created the almost fathomless time and space universe with all its life forms, He relates to each of one of us as a parent. His declared intention to birth and grow offspring into mature children is recorded in Scripture:
- Then God said, “Let Us make man [mankind] in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
While God reveals Himself to us in multiple ways, He relates to us primarily in three ways: God relates to us as a Father who oversees our birth and growth (Matthew 7:7-11); He relates to us as a Son to demonstrate His desire for us as His children (1 John 1:1-3); and God abides with us as a Spirit presence, to lead and guide us through our life processes (John 16:13). God is very relational!
God also created us as relational beings. What we have is a composition of body, soul, and spirit. Our soul consciousness is a blend of mind, will, and emotion. And our heart’s character, attitude, and personality illustrate who we are as expressive persons.
We have examined how God declared His creative planin the first chapter of Genesis, and then the second chapter describes how He made the first individual and remolded the one into two, making male and female. Together, they could be a better “one”-a relational one.
We trust you’ve enjoyed the preview for this chapter. We hope you’ll purchase a copy of the book and join us on this exciting faith journey. Created to Relate is available from this website or Amazon.com