Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.
As Americans, we tend to misuse words a lot.
For the last few years, pretty much everything has been referred to as awesome. In the 1500’s the word awesome meant “profoundly reverential”, in the 1900’s the word had evolved to “impressive, very good”. Now the word is used as an adjective to describe pretty much anything that doesn’t suck. Try and get through the day without using the word awesome and see how you do.
To my kids now…everything is epic. The original meaning of the Greek “epos” means “word, story, or poem”. In the early 1700’s the phrase “epic poem” was used to describe something “grand, or heroic”. Now it seems that Toby Mac’s new song is “epic”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Toby Mac, but does his new three minute and 42 second song really compare to the ginormous work of Homer in The Odyssey?
Yes, I said ginormous…do you know the word ginormous? This word is bigger than giant, bigger than enormous, yet I heard it used to describe a mosquito that landed on my son last week.
And yes…I said I love Toby Mac…don’t get me started on the misuse of the word love, I’ve never even met Toby Mac. Check out the words to DC Talk’s song “Love is a verb”…the words are rad!!
Why do we do this? What is this need that we have as a society to make everything seem bigger…better….stronger…faster than it really is? Why do we exaggerate so?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I completely understand the evolution of language, and I have no real problem with the idea that over time words can come to mean different things. I know “awesome” means “good”, I know “epic” means…well…”good” too, I know “ginormous” means “bigger than expected”, I know “love” now means “like”. I know “rad” is short for “radical” and it really means “interesting, in a positive way” not “extreme reformist”. However, what we have done, in not reserving the use of these very strong words for situations where very strong words are called for, is we have left ourselves without the proper words to describe things that are truly very important.
Here is what we need to be careful of: God’s words to us were originally written a really long time ago. If we have whittled the meaning of the word “awesome” down to mean the same as what I think of the french fries at 5 Guys, what impact is this word really having on us when we come across it in scripture?
Exodus 15:11 Who among the Gods is like you, oh Lord
Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
Deuteronomy 7:21 Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you,
is a great and awesome God.
The word “awesome” is used 33 times in the Old Testament. How much more might those passages speak to our hearts if we were not desensitized to that word? Awesome isn’t the only example…how about the word sin, or love, or evil, or redemption, or fear, or holiness, or perfection? How much more impactful or amazing or awesome would it be if we were able to read God’s words, written and preserved by him, for us, with a deeper and more accurate understanding of what those words mean? We would know God better wouldn’t we? We would know him the way he means for us to know him!
In a passage that I think is challenging for a lot of us, Jesus says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. He delivers this line in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He drops this lesson on us right in between “Love your enemies” and instructing us to not only give to the needy, but to do it in secret. I think this passage is a stumbling block to a lot of people. If I can’t be perfect…like Jesus said…why should I even try?
“Perfect”. Here is another word we don’t really have a proper perspective on. Watch TV for an hour…you can have perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect body, perfect kids, perfect cars, perfect spouse, perfect anything as long as you have a perfect job, or at least perfect credit. See, we have been led to believe that under the right circumstances, we can obtain perfection on our own. If we work hard enough, earn enough money, achieve a certain level of discipline, that perfect “whatever” is right there within our grasp.
Since we all are used to thinking that perfection is right there within our grasp, when Jesus says “as your heavenly Father is perfect” is it really that big of a deal? I think too many of us have the attitude that God is just a little bit bigger than us, just a little bit smarter than us, just a little bit stronger or aware or in control or whatever than we are. We might respect God for this, but it leaves us treating our creator like we treat our boss. “She might be a little bit smarter than me, but if I really wanted to I could do her job…probably better than she does.” “He knows more about the business than I do, but if I worked the hours he works I would know that much too…probably even more.”
I don’t believe Jesus says these words to frustrate us, and I don’t believe this is hyperbole. I believe Jesus says this so that we realize how much we need him. Perfect doesn’t mean almost perfect, or pretty close to perfect, or on my way to perfect. I can achieve all of those things without Him. Perfect means PERFECT, like our heavenly Father is perfect. For that, all we can do is trust in Jesus.
James 2:10 drives this point home: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. You can’t get close to perfect. Imperfect is not right next to perfect, it is all the way on the other side of the Universe away from perfect. It’s not a sliding scale, you are either perfect in every way, and are therefore God, or you are not, and therefore need Jesus. The law (rules) simply serves to make us aware of our sin (imperfections) so that we recognize the need for our savior.
And we have a Savior in Jesus who loves us more than we can even understand.
…THAT is epic…