If Thou Wouldst Be Perfect

The essay below appears as the Commentary to the April 3rd entry in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.

The Lord saw in him sore need of perfection-the thing the commonplace Christian thinks he can best do without-the thing the elect hungers after with an eternal hunger.  Perfection, the perfection of the Father, is eternal life.
— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, The Way

Perfection is indeed eternal life.  For eternal life is the completion of the work of the Father within us.  That is the Scriptural definition of the Greek teleios.  It means completion, fullness, or to reach the end of the thing desired. 

We often misunderstand perfection by interpreting it as flawlessness.  But flawless perfection is the devil's religion and, as it is something that we cannot achieve, we are left in despair desperately trying to achieve what we cannot.  Our misunderstanding of perfection can lead to many psychological disorders.  It creates a driven-ness and a desire for everything to be “just so,” and yet life rarely achieves the level of perfection that we have set up in our heads.  That is the rub. 

The perfection that we seek to achieve is not God's perfection but, rather, our idea of perfection. We little know, being finite, what is God's idea of perfection.  In fact, it lies beyond our powers to know what God really has in mind for us, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Cor. 2:9)  If this be the case then how can any of us who desire perfection, know what it looks like?  Therefore, it is much to our advantage not to fill our minds with any such silliness as to what perfection looks like.  Rather, let us find ourselves longing for completeness in Christ.  To “be filled up with the fullness of Christ” is the call of the Christian, for that which is perfect is Christ and we can only hope to achieve it through abiding in him. 

Since we cannot know what perfection is, we find ourselves in the same difficulty as the rich young ruler.  We must ask of Christ, “What must I do to be perfect?”  And we like this man must await the answer.  For each of us it will be slightly different and yet, essentially the same.  It is different in that we all must discover in what area do we lack faith, in what area are we trusting the world to take care of us, instead of resting our souls entirely upon Christ?  People often speak of the wealth of this “rich young ruler,” but he never owned a car, had air-conditioning, electric lights, computers, iPads, cell phones, cameras, or the best health care.  So, if he was rich, then what are we?  Did he have indoor plumbing, gas stoves, dishwashers and all such devices of convenience?  I think not, and yet he was attached to his “great possessions.” 

I wonder what are we attached to that keeps us from going on to completion with Christ?  It is not wrong to own such things, and Jesus did not condemn the man for having “great possessions.”  But it is a question of whether or not our possessions possess us.  The obsession of our age with technology is astounding.  People seem to be quite lost and left, literally, “to their own devices.”  It is difficult to even carry on a conversation at dinner or one on one, as people are constantly looking down at their devices to keep up with an artificial world.   Can we be torn away from such things long enough to follow Christ?  Can we let go of these things?  Not that technology is the problem, or any material thing for that matter, but it is our obsession with these objects that blind our way.  I think we have failed to realize how all these things have kept us from the inner life of prayer and presence before the Lord.  We have replaced spirituality with technology.  We live in a cyberspace instead of the spiritual realm of the kingdom of God.

The only sure answer to all this is to make following Christ our priority.  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  If we would take time to think about it, nearly all of our struggles in this life come because there is some secondary thing we want more than just loving and obeying the voice of God.  People are often angry at God because something that they valued more than God either didn't work out or was lost to them.  We all grieve what we lose, in particular those loved ones who are dear to us, and it is right to grieve them--otherwise, we didn't love them very much.  But should our grief cause us to lose sight of those other loved ones in our life, or grow bitter with God to the point we turn our backs to him, then we must come to the realization that we love other things much more than we love God.  Our struggle is the evidence of the conflict. 

The rich young ruler goes away sorrowful, because he had an attachment to his belongings.  We too might go away sorrowful if asked to give up what we cherish most.  Letting go is the key.  Casting our bread upon the waters is to live without the need to hang on to what we think we must have, to trust that after many days God will send back to us all we need.  But that is kind of like walking on water.  It's all risky business, but it is the business of Heaven.  Learning to trust, to rest, and to follow Christ could lead us to places we have never been before, and that can be just plain scary.  But faith is not a call to complacency or to sit comfortably in our arm chairs praying for others who are less fortunate.  It is an adventure in the real world of life, it is risking all to dare to be like Christ and to go on to completion.  And completion is the perfection we are seeking in Christ.

But what does this completion look like?  It is to know that the longing we have inside of us for something more is the divine yearning to be home in the presence of God.  The emptiness that we feel is the absence of Divine presence.  We try to fill it, but it remains an unfinished work.  God is ever calling us through this longing for something more.  We stumble from people, to things, to dreams that we all thought would satisfy us, but this longing still goes on. 

When we finally enter into His presence, we are shocked by the fulfillment that we encounter.  It is this first taste of completeness that puts us on the quest to follow Christ.  In John Six, Jesus has told his disciples that they must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, and those that found these words difficult to understand, “walked no more with Him.”  He turned to the twelve and said, “Will you leave me also?”  To which they replied, “Lord, where would we go?  Only you have words of eternal life.”  There it is, we are back to the beginning. Perfection is eternal life, it is finding life at its fullest in Christ.  For he said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”  Paul bowed his knees and prayed for the Ephesian church “...that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”  That is always the perfection we are looking for.