Summary: We try to be perfect, in the "spotless" sense. But perfection means completion, and is tied to meeting others’ needs rather than achieving our goals. Jesus’ sacrifice was his "finished" accomplishment.
It happens every January. Just as sure as snow and the Super Bowl, with or without your favorite team, it always happens in January. Broken resolutions.
Broken resolutions are the order of the day in the first month of the year. Those noble impulses we all have to do better and to be better – we write them out, we post them on the walls, we do everything but sign them in blood. But we also break them, oh, how we break them!
How many of us started the year with promises to ourselves that we would go on a diet? How many of us said, "Looks like it’s time to change my eating habits"? My wife and daughter and I did that; we’re consuming lettuce a head at a time and drinking gallons of water and stuffing down dry toast. We’re going to trim down and firm up.
But guess what? If you won’t tell on me, I will tell you the honest truth. I’ve cheated on my Scarsdale dying, er, I mean diet. I didn’t exactly break that resolution, but I sure did bend it!
Anybody else want to ’fess up? Anybody else want to acknowledge that the diet plan is on the scrap heap by now?
The problem is, you see, that we set goals that are unattainable, unreasonable, and so set ourselves up to fail. We can’t keep most of our unrealistic resolutions.
Another thing I always do is to resolve to make better use of my time. I write out a plan for each day’s work ... so much time in reading, so much time in preparing to preach and teach, so much time In visiting, so much time in counseling, so much time on building issues, so much time on leadership training, and so on and so on. But by the time I’ve written out this list, I need a 25-hour day to do it all!
What have I done? I have set myself up for failure. I have pretended to be able to attain the unattainable and reach the unreachable. It’s all very well to sing about dreaming the impossible dream and fighting the unbeatable foe; but singing about it is one thing. Doing it is another. We set ourselves up for frustration and failure.
Now then along comes Jesus and breaks into our lives with the most impossible demand of all, the most unattainable goal of them all. "Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect."
"Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect."
It feels like time to close the book and go home, doesn’t it? Who can be perfect? Who can get it all together and keep it together? Who is ever going to attain this unattainable goal? Sounds like this is a new year’s resolution we’ve already broken, doesn’t it?
"Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect." Who is equal to that?
The word translated as "perfect" in this text means finished. It means completed. Better yet, it means mature, it means grown up. Be mature, as your heavenly father is mature. Be grown up, as your heavenly father is complete.
And, while it may not be immediately attainable, I want to argue that to follow Jesus’ demand for perfection, for maturity, is not frustrating. It is freeing. While it may be beyond immediate reach, I want to insist that Jesus’ command to be grown up and complete is not just another invitation to failure, it is not just another resolution to be broken and put on the ash heap.
Jesus’ counsel to be perfect and mature is instead a way to live in power. It is good news, not bad news. It is empowering, not frustrating. This resolution we think we’ve already broken is good news!
You see, first I want you to notice that this resolution we’ve already broken, this goal that seems unreachable ... it starts with learning to value others’ needs more than our own wants. Moving toward maturity, moving toward God’s kind of completeness, begins with valuing others’ needs more than we value our own wants.
"If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."
The issue is always our bondage to things. Things matter to us. We want our stuff. And we’re very tied to it. Our security is wrapped up in having things at our fingertips.
Here’s a little child, playing the sandbox with his toys. Another child sees that bright red pail and that lovely yellow shovel and decides to invade the sandbox. What happens? The first child draws his things around his knees ... gets them close in. Got to protect his stuff. And if the second child starts to take those toys, the first child will grab them and weep and wail and will probably get very possessive.