One of Jesus’s commands always seemed more troubling to me than helpful. It’s the one recorded in Mark 5:28: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
In our work each day—whether at the office, or on the factory floor, or around the neighborhood, or in the home—we all know as Christians that we should strive to improve. We should work toward being more excellent employees, more charitable in our dealings with colleagues, more patient in our conversations with family.
But Jesus’s command that we are to be perfect? On the surface, this suggests the following kind of troubling scenario.
We wake up each day, resolving to do well in our work and in our engagement with others, following Christ’s model of what a perfect life looks like. And then in the course of the day we inevitably fall short. And then we have to ask for God’s forgiveness at the end of the day. So that we can wake up the next day and again resolve to be perfect that day. And inevitably fall short. And then again ask for forgiveness. Then wake up again and make the same pledge. And fall short….
Looked at from one perspective, our lives end up looking like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. Ad infinitum. From this perspective, Jesus’s command to be perfect in our dealings with others hardly seems like a recipe for abundant living. It seems more like a recipe for neurosis!
But there’s another way of looking at Jesus’s command to be perfect. The model of our heavenly Father’s perfection—again demonstrated in the life of Jesus—serves as a fixed point for all people, regardless of the specific work they may be doing each day.
I find an analogy to basketball helpful. Think for a minute about how great basketball shooters go about their craft. Players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Ray Allen are identifiable by their form when they shoot. If you’re a fan of basketball, you can recognize these players even if you can’t see their faces. You know what the form of their shot looks like. And this really is the hallmark of every great shooter. They produce the ‘same shot’ every time.
Now, think about what guides these players as they work on their shot in practice each day. Put another way: what exactly are they trying to do when they practice shooting? You might say, “Well, they’re trying to make their shots!” But that’s not really the deeper story. What guides their practice each day is this goal of producing the same shot each time. That’s the key to consistency when they take shots in real games. And so that’s the goal—the fixed point—at which their daily work is directed.
Here’s a key point: none of these players ever meet this goal of a perfectly consistent shot. Even Steph Curry misses from time to time. So, although they keep in front of them the goal, or fixed point, of a perfectly consistent shot, these players inevitably fall short every day of this perfection. And yet, they seem to have joy as they’re going about their work.
So should Christians. Yes, perhaps it’s inevitable that we will daily fall short of Christ’s perfection as we go about our work. But this perfection nevertheless gives us all a fixed point at which to aim. We can see this as a recipe for neurosis. Or, we can see this as something that gives us constant direction—a constant fixed point—in whatever work we find ourselves doing each day. And hopefully, just like the basketball players, we will be working toward this perfection with a team of comrades who are picking one another up and encouraging one another every step of this journey.