Summary: Perfection is often thought of as being sinless. But there is more to the Biblical ideal of "perfection" than that. Opening illustration is humorous and informative.
OPEN: This morning I’m going to give you a quiz, and I don’t want you to think real hard about your answers. I just want you to answer as you feel you should.
Question #1: How many of you believe you are perfect?
Question #2: How many of you believe it is possible for someone WHO IS STILL LIVING to become perfect?
(only one or two raised their hands on the 1st question, and about 8 raised their hands on the 2nd)
Did you notice how few raised their hands? I suspect that the reason so many of you didn’t raise your hands was because - for many of us - “perfection” means “sinlessness.” And we all know that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
However, consider these scriptures:
Gen. 6:9 “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”
Philippians 3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded…”
Hmmm. Now one of two things is wrong here. Either these people of Scripture defied Romans 3:23 by being sinless... or there is something about the Biblical concept of “perfection” that we don’t understand. I believe that Matthew 5 indicates that maybe there is something about “perfection we don’t understand. In fact, the REAL Biblical concept of “perfection” can be best summed up in what I call the “Theology of the Donut.”
ILLUS: Donuts Story (throughout the illustration, I would take periodic bites from the donut until it was all gone – speaking as I chewed and swallowed each bite)
BITE “Did you realize that the most popular donut in the world is the glazed donut?”
BITE “Doughnuts originated in 16th century Holland. They were cooked in oil, and were so greasy that the Dutch called them olykoeks, or ‘oily cakes.’”
BITE “The Pilgrims, who’d lived in Holland, brought the cakes with them when they came to America. Their version was a round doughy ball about the size of a nut – thus the term ‘donut.’”
BITE “Now, the origin of the donut hole is intriguing. It seems there was a captain Hanson Gregory, a 19th century Main sea captain who was eating a doughnut while sailing through a storm. Suddenly, the ship was rocked violently and he was thrown against the ship’s wheel…”
BITE “… impaling his cake on one of its spokes. Seeing how well the spoke held his cake, Gregory began ordering all his cakes with holes in them.”
BITE “Doughnuts were popularized in the U.S. after the Salvation Army fed doughtnuts – cooked in garbage pails and served on bayonets – to troops during WWI.”
BITE “Soldiers got so hooked on them that they were called ‘doughboys.’”
(at this point all of the donut has been eaten. If you do this illustration, be sure to practice ahead of time).
Question: Now, what’s left of the donut??? Answer: The Donut Hole.
APPLY – To say that “Perfection” is the same as sinlessness is like saying that a donut is the hole. Just as there is so much more to the donut than the donut hole, there is more to perfection than the idea of sinlessness.
I. What is perfection?
In Greek, the word translated "perfect" in Matthew 5 is “teleios.” “Teleios” shows up many times in the New Testament, and it almost always is translated “perfect.” But there is one passage where “teleios” is translated in a way that is easier for us to understand. In Hebrews 5:12-14 we read these words:
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature (“teleios”), who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
In other words, to be “teleios” means to be mature. What does it mean to be “mature?” It means to GROW UP. Become responsible, reliable, dependable. In short, it means to learn how to behave like an adult.
And that’s what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 5 (reread vss 43-48). There’s a certain kind of behavior you need to exhibit… THEN you’ll be (vs 45) “sons of your Father in heaven.” So, when Jesus tells us to “be perfect like your Father in Heaven is perfect” he’s saying: “Grow up to be like your Father in heaven”
II. What does it mean to grow up to be like God?
In this passage, Jesus doesn’t say a thing about being sinless. What Jesus does say in Matthew 5:44 is that “perfection” (or growing up to be like God) means you must “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”