Thursday, June 20, 2013



Therefore you are to be perfect, 
as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5.48

Was Jesus crazy?  How can a man (even Jesus) command his followers to be perfect like God?  It just doesn't make sense.  And so, we generally just read over this and ignore it.  That’s too bad, because either Jesus was blathering on about nothing, or we’re ignoring something important.  There is no middle ground. 

In the next few lessons I’m going to cover this single line in greater depth, and if you stick with it … it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences of your Christian life. 

Before I get too far into this, let’s see where this fits in the SOM.  This line is a sort of “hinge” in the sermon between two sections. 
Prior to this we had the “Rabbi” section, with the six teachings. 
In the next section, we’ll see Jesus teaching disciples they have to be better than religious people.  The tie that binds them together is that disciples aren't supposed to be like pagans or religious people – Jesus says we are to become like God. 

We love God because He created us – He gives us life and love and hope and healing, and He even saves us.  So Jesus tells us that our behavior should be just like Yahweh – we should be healing and loving.  We should be rescuers and caretakers.  So – the link between these two sections is this simple idea: Become God-like. 

Note: this isn't about becoming divine!  Rather, it’s about living our lives in a way that look like what God would do.  This is what Jesus did … he showed us how God would behave if He was a human being.  This is why we imitate Jesus – because he was the human version of God. 

So next time you’re tempted to hate your enemies; ask yourself “What did God do”? 
Answer: He loved us while we were His enemies. 
Response: we should do likewise


OK, now on to some good stuff. 

The Greek word translated as ‘perfect’ here is: teleios (pronounced: tell-ay-oss).  There are varying forms of the word, but I’ll just use teleios for all of them to keep it simple.  New Testament translators have a problem with this word because they need to put a word there – but really the word represents a whole philosophical idea that goes way beyond a simple definition.  Allow me to illustrate:

Old MacDonald had a farm, and on his farm were chickens and cows … and he had them for specific reasons – they’re not pets! 
Chickens make tasty dinners, but they also lay eggs and … they make more chickens. 
Cows give milk, they give ribs and steak and burgers … and they make more cows. 

But all these animals are useless when they are newborns.  One still has to feed and care for calves and chicks, but they don’t give milk or eggs and they’re too small to be worth eating.  If old MacDonald were Greek, he’d say that when a calf grows to the point where she has a calf of her own and starts giving milk … the cow is now teleios.  When the chickens are old enough to lay, eat and reproduce, they are teleios chickens.  When they are old or mature enough to serve their purpose, then they’re teleios.  Then they’re useful and productive.

In the same way, a human was said to be teleios when he or she was working and married and having kids (usually in their mid-teens). 

But then it became a philosophical question.  Kind of like when we ask “What makes a real man,” they may ask … when is a man really teleios?  There would be lots of answers, but the Greek ideal would include a man being excellent physically, a decent mathematician, a musician, a philosopher and an accomplished public speaker.  We might say a teleios man is kind but strong, physically fit, is a good dad … or whatever.  Hopefully you get the idea – we all have notions of what makes an ideal man. 

So that’s why when teleios is in the New Testament, translators use words like “mature” or “complete” or “perfect.”  There really isn't a good single word for it in English … it’s more about being an ideal version of yourself. 

Disciples are teleios when we become useful for the kingdom like old MacDonald’s critters:
  • When we are reproducing (bearing fruit)
  • When we are always thinking of others ahead of ourselves
  • When we’re merciful, full of compassion, loving and kind
  • When our faith is stronger than our fears or anxieties
  • When we become the “Jesus” version of ourselves

And that’s why Matthew uses that word here.  He understood that what Jesus was saying was that we needed to strive to become the ideal versions of ourselves … as God was the ideal.  God has a choice.  He doesn't have to love us.  He doesn't have to forgive us, and has little reason at all to want to give His son to this world.  But we are thankful that He did, because without that, we’d be doomed!

Do you see that this isn't about being perfect?  It doesn't mean we never make mistakes, that we never fail.  Rather, it’s about becoming something that in general is good, strong, loving and faithful.  And when we fail, we get back up and go again, just like Peter or David did when they committed their great sins. 

And since this is not about being flawless, we must not so easily dismiss this teaching of Jesus.  Rather, you should move it to the very top of your “to do” list.  When you do your three column thing … you should have “becoming teleios” as number one. 

The Gospel of Teleios

The good news is that whatever we are today, we can all become teleios if we’re faithful to God. 

This is a message we need to teach over and over again.  We do the work, He gives the growth.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become teleios, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are teleios, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Brothers, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Philippians 3:12-17
Do you see that Paul is instructing the disciples in Philippi (and really all of us) to press on toward the goal … to work toward being teleios?  We should follow Paul’s example, and live accordingly.  Can you honestly say that you are leaving the past behind you and straining forward to to goal?  Are you giving it your best effort; or much deliberate effort at all?  
(Note: Paul was not working to be saved.  The work is to grow to teleios.)  
The word occurs several times in the New Testament, but we miss this idea because we don’t understand the word and concept.  In future lessons, I’ll write more about this.  But for now, spend some time considering … spend some time praying … spend some time and energy contemplating and planning to see what your life would look like if you understood that your job is to grow yourself to spiritual maturity, and also coach/shepherd/mentor others to also become teleios. 

 Things to consider

When we view Jesus as our Lord and Master, and consider that we are trying to become teleios, or the Jesus version of ourselves, we will see ourselves as Jesus’ apprentices.  This will change us.  Just the different way of looking at our walk will actually change us:
  • When we understand ourselves to be growing and developing, we won’t be so judgmental.  We understand that spiritual children make mistakes, and we must help them and keep encouraging them/ourselves. 
  • When we think of discipleship this way we’ll never be content to be “good enough,” but we’ll always want to get better
  • We will become merciful and humble, for we’ll know how hard it is
  • We will understand how discipleship is actually a personal thing … not a big church/system thing, but it’s about small groups intimately invested in each others’ growth
  • We won’t start teaching or sharing our opinions while we are yet learning.  Instead, we’ll focus on learning our lessons before we presume to be teachers.  
  • We will be teachable, correctable and love a good rebuke – for it helps us grow
  • We will understand that we must work, but still only God causes growth
  • We will work hard to become teleios – to be useful – to lay eggs, give milk, or offer ourselves as sacrifices. 

In future lessons I’ll try to motivate you to be deliberate in your quest for becoming teleios.  Our age is a lot like Jesus’ time, with the blind leading the blind:
“A blind man can’t guide a blind man, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit?  A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”
Luke 6:39-40“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
Matthew 23:24
It will fall to the younger readers of this blog to develop into someone who can lead responsibly and with your eyes open.  Preachers, teachers, parents and others these days are comfortable sharing their ignorant opinions (Proverbs 18.2).  I want to encourage you to discover God – and God alone.  Don’t merely talk about having a “personal relationship” with God, but rather actively partner with Him and participate in His kingdom work. 

Then develop yourselves into the kind of loving, working, growing spiritual warrior/athletes you can become.  And one day you’ll be ready to coach others. 

Carry this version around in your head:

Become teleios, as your Heavenly Father is teleios.
Matthew 5.48

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