What did Jesus mean when he told us to be perfect? This sermon addresses this question and shows us how we most often miss Jesus’ point.
In this sermon, Dan Kent addresses what it means to be perfect, as Jesus instructed in this passage. This issue has been debated through church history, extending back to the fourth century and a theological struggle between Augustine and Pelagius. Pelagius was a man who had passion for God and wanted to encourage the church to live out their faith. To do this, meant that people have free will. Augustine, on the other hand argued that everything that happens is God’s will and that he desires whatever actually happens. Pelagius challenged this as fatalism. Augustine was focused on the fact that the church was expanding and that God was behind it, while Pelagius was challenging people to give their lives for God in a radical way.
Augustine did not view this focus scripture as a literal command. He saw it is as something that is impossible for us to do, and therefore we need God’s grace to live in this way. He argued that if this verse were possible, then we could save ourselves. Pelagius, on the other hand used this verse in a literal way to stir up radical obedience.
The problem with this debate is the fact that they become fixated on the word “perfect” and miss Jesus’ point altogether. The key to understanding this passage is “therefore,” because it shows us that this verse is the conclusion of the previous verses. This verse is a calling to live in perfect unity, as the previous verses focus on how Jesus wants us to treat one another. The perfection that we are called to live is discovered in our relationships. This is not about performing some kind of individualistic ideal life but in the life described in John 17:20-23 and Colossians 3:12-14.
This kind of relating in the Bible is not merely a series of connections that an individual has with various people, but where the individuals remain primary. Actually the relationships or connection shared between people is a distinct entity which individuals enter into as they love each other. The us-ness that is shared between people when they love each other, creates a transcendent entity that is distinct from the identity of the individuals involved.
With this understanding, we might read this verse as “Pursue unity even as the heavenly father is perfectly one.” This is not about individual accomplishments. It’s about being the type of people who are compatible with perfect unity.
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