Before I worked in retail, I used to marvel at how neat and tidy stores looked; everything was so immaculately pristine, well, until it came into contact with customers, that is. However, when I began visual merchandising, I realised that it certainly doesn’t happen by accident. We had a whole app to advise us on how to style mannequins, display collections, and fold clothes (there is indeed a wrong way to fold!). In my efforts to ensure the store mirrored the guidelines, I proudly called myself a ‘perfectionist.’ Unfortunately, I was less eager to apply the same diligence to other areas of my life.
“You, therefore, will be perfect [growing into spiritual maturity both in mind and character, actively integrating godly values into your daily life], as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, AMP)
This is the concluding sentence in the passage of scripture where Jesus tells the multitude to love their enemies. Click here for my thoughts on Matthew 5:43-47. The reason that I opted to write about this verse on its own is because it talks about the outcome of loving your enemies: perfection.
- Jesus expects you to love your enemies (v44)
- If you don’t want to love your enemies you’re essentially rejecting God as your Father (v45)
- The process of loving your enemies makes you as perfect as God (v48)
There’s a slight chance you might be taking issue with the third bullet point. Surely sinful humans can’t possibly be as perfect as God, right? Actually, I would argue that we can. I firmly believe that Jesus chose His words carefully: the perfection we will attain is equivalent to God’s. The Greek word for perfect (teleios) means complete. In essence, Jesus is simply saying that you can’t be complete (like God) if you don’t love your enemies. As a Christian, you are aiming to be like Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 4:17-24, 5:1-2). The same Christ who is like the Father (John 10:30). Choosing to hate your enemies means you are incomplete; a true follower of Christ would strive to change that narrative.
Love by Design
It’s best to conceptualise how you relate to others as a love-hate dichotomy. From a human perspective, we perceive a middle ground that is non-existent in spiritual terms. There are no categories for mere liking or indifference: you either love someone or you don’t. If you consider what it takes to genuinely love everyone, then you have a better appreciation of how that, in turn, makes you perfect. You are forcing yourself (initially but hopefully not always) to respond in a way that is counter-intuitive: opting to override your human nature in instances where you have been provoked. Or maybe you haven’t been provoked, you simply don’t want to expend the energy it takes to actually love. It’s hard. But every time you act counter-intuitively, you understand what it’s like to do something that comes naturally to God.
Perfection is reserved for those who love by design, not convenience.
An individual who has mastered the art of loving everyone can’t ‘switch it off.’ What Jesus is trying to explain is that God’s love is impartial: He loves those who love Him and those who don’t. This requires the removal of bad habits which have created a ‘hierarchy of love.’ For most people this refers to the fact that their love for family/friends is deeper or richer than it is for ‘others.’ Although love is expressed in different ways depending on the person/context, loving certain people less is never permissible.
Love in Action
When was the last time you pondered about your love for your boss/colleagues/lecturers/peers/flatmates? Whilst loving family and friends can be difficult; we are far more motivated to navigate those challenges than we are in relation to others. Since love is applicable in every context, it is incompatible with unloving behaviours, such as:
- Doing the bare minimum at work because you hate your boss
- Being cordial but not friendly with certain colleagues because you don’t like them
- Doing things you know you can get away with, instead of the right thing (e.g. falsely calling in sick)
- Not contributing as much as you should to the group project
- Arriving late/not attending lectures because you don’t like the lecturer/module
- Being frosty with a flatmate due to a past issue
Challenging love should be embraced not avoided: it is the springboard for perfection.
Disregard for how you treat those you deem ‘undeserving’ of your love is indicative of your contentment with imperfection. You might think the examples above are ‘not that deep,’ but that mentality is what inhibits perfection. Whether you think your actions are inconsequential, or you feel the recipient is unbothered about how you treat them, is irrelevant. Your responsibility is to love irrespective of reciprocity. Moreover, if you view these actions in light of the love-hate dichotomy, you realise that you wouldn’t treat anyone you truly (agape) loved in this manner. Jesus is clear that perfection doesn’t come from reciprocal love; evidently, you are missing something crucial by loving selectively. In essence, use every (challenging) opportunity to ask God how you can love like Him.
On the first page of an old journal, I wrote “What Does It Look Like?” – ‘it’ referred to love. The function of this journal was to record how ‘well’ I loved. I happened to be reviewing 1 Corinthians 13 at the time and I realised that I fell short in many areas. Therefore, my intention was to review my interactions at the end of each day and see if there were any areas which needed improvement. The journal is in England so I can’t check how long I actually used it for, but it was certainly a very short-lived period. Why do I mention it? Because perhaps I need to resurrect it.
You can only change what you’re aware of, therefore, reflecting on how you treated someone vs what they deserved (from God’s perspective, not yours) is incredibly helpful. Perfection won’t happen overnight, but it’s certainly attainable. Perhaps you could start with a 7-day log instead of committing to a full journal and see if it helps. If you do keep a log, I’d love to hear how you get on – drop me a message on the Contact page.
I can’t think of any other practical ways to ensure I can live up to such an exacting (but realistic) standard. Comment below if you have any ideas!
You don’t lack the ability to be perfect because Jesus is your model and guide… what you lack is the motivation. A perfectionist is someone who “refuses to accept any standard short of perfection” (Oxford Dictionary). Why should the quality of your love for others be exempt?