Saturday, February 26, 2011

Being Perfect

The drive to be perfect hurts. Yet, there is definitely a doctrinal imperative to strive for perfection. The most oft-quoted scripture to this effect is Christ's commandment to be perfect.

Often, we explain this scripture with the footnote, which seems to indicate that perfection is to be fully developed or complete, but as I've studied this concept, I have come to believe that touches only the surface of what Christ meant. If you read the context in which Christ made this commandment, you will see that He is discussing love as the climax of His new Law which will supersede the Law of Moses.

In that speech, He has just commanded us to love our enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us. In general, this seems quite easy. It is not hard to love those who commit day-to-day offenses and injustices. It quickly becomes difficult when we begin to apply it to those who truly and unapologetically hurt us. But this is when it is most important.

Take, for example, a Priesthood leader who is discounting or ignoring you. It is so tempting to become angry and frustrated, to rail against priesthood hierarchy or to turn away from participating fully in our religious community. But to be perfect—to follow the Father in Heaven's path—we have to push past that first, natural reaction and learn to love. We have to allow space for others' weakness and even for the evil in them. That does not mean to tolerate the evil, but it does mean to learn to see beyond it.

Believe me, I know how hard this can be. So hard, that I suspect it is only possible to achieve by cultivating a true companionship with the Holy Spirit. As we seek after this love, I believe it is possible to become perfect in this world. That doesn't mean without fault or error. It means perfect in love. In order to demonstrate this love without possibility for misinterpretation, God the Son came to earth and subjected Himself to our weakness and our evil.

This is the love that heals. It is necessary to develop this quality to truly be a disciple of Christ. And when we learn this love, we become perfect.


  1. I've been thinking about that for quite some time. The key in the command to be perfect is the word "therefore", which points back to the previous admonition to be impartial in our love toward all and to treat our friends and non-friends with equal love, just as the Father sends His blessings upon all, freely. The command seems to state that we are to be perfect in our love for all.

  2. Wonderful insight, SR. I think there is a beautifully symbiotic relationship between the idea of being "complete, whole, fully developed" and internalizing love perfectly. I look at the characteristics listed in the Beatitudes and the change in focus described in the next verses, for example, and then the "therefore" (in this way) in verse 48, and it seems to me also that Jesus is saying that "perfection" is a process of growth and addition (becoming more than we are naturally) - NOT a process of elimination (not making mistakes).

    In other words, we eliminate something that is a natural tendency with something that is a divine characteristic - and it has to be a proactive process through intentional effort.

    Tackling that process has been the heart of my New Year's Resolution for the past three years (my Saturday posts), and it has been astounding on a personal level for me.

  3. My second paragraph should have read:

    "In other words, we eliminate something that is a natural tendency **by replacing it** with something that is a divine characteristic - and it has to be a proactive process through intentional effort."

    (e.g., To eliminate a bad temper, we need to become more meek and merciful. Simply trying to control our temper whenever we start to feel angry won't work, since it never really eliminates the tendency toward temper.)

  4. Very well said. Perfect in love. I can think of moments when I had perfect love. It was really amazing.

    (For myself, I need to add that perfect love does not mean letting people walk all over me. Christ loved people, but did not let them hurt Him until it was time.)

  5. The "be ye therefore perfect" scripture always reminds me of the importance of learning to love all also.

    In my opinion, the interesting thing about developing charity is that it is not something that we obtain by sheer willpower alone. In fact, it seems like the harder we try to develop charity for the sake of having charity, the more it will elude us.

    Instead, I think this charity is a gift. We are told to pray for charity. Ultimately though, I think charity comes to us as we "become true followers" of Jesus Christ and become saints through his Atonement. It seems more about yielding our will to His.

  6. Very thoughtful and spot on! I think too many times people strive to be perfect when we are imperfect and never will be perfect unless we embrace the Lord. As he makes up the difference for our imperfections, we can be perfect in love in this life.

    The other thought I have on this is that people compare themselves to being perfect as God is perfect. That's enough to stress anyone out because we will never get there alone. Grace for grace, line upon line, we can get closer as long as we depend on the Lord and acknowledge His hand in all things.


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