Raising the Bar
For my three-year-old son, a very good day is one during which he has not once wet his pants. As a very young man, the bar of success for him is not very high. As adult Christians, the standard that we are to use was given to us by our Lord during the Sermon on the Mount, wherein he told us that we must be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.
The word Christ uses for perfect also is used to denote a type of completeness or an attainment of full maturity. In this sense, Christ is calling us to become fully mature men and women, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. We are to put away childish things, to use the words of the Apostle Paul. We are to become Christian men and women, but more like the unfallen man than the fallen one. This is what it means to be perfect: to be the person God created us to be—whole, complete, and mature.
Paul addressed the topic of maturity several times in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. He chided them for not acting as spiritual men but as babes in Christ (v. 3:1). He told the Corinthians, “Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (v. 14:20). He also told them that “when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away” (v. 13:10) and then wrote about his own attainment of maturity. He compared the childish thought and reason of his younger years with his mature thought as a man, saying that he had done away with childish ways (v. 13:11).
Hence, an opposite meaning of perfection is childishness or immaturity. And just as it was a major problem for the first-century Corinthians, the same could be said for the modern man.
Our immaturity is evident in our lack of responsibility. For example, many in our culture postpone marriage and delay having a family because they are not ready to “settle down”—a euphemism for being insufficiently mature to take on the responsibilities of a man or woman. They are slow to accept the responsibilities of their own actions and file lawsuits at the drop of a hat. For this reason, one cannot purchase a hammer that does not have warning labels instructing the user not to hit his thumb with its head or his eye with its claw: childish instructions for immature people.
In church, we do no better, expecting entertainment in place of worship. Worship in the strict sense is considered to be too difficult and boring for those with such limited attention spans. Only the immature would expect God to meet them halfway, easing the burden of worshiping him as the angels do so that they might find it more palatable.
Becoming perfect is the action of a saint. It is accomplished by looking less at yourself and more at others. The road to perfection has turns that require you to go where you do not wish to go and it generally has many painful bumps. To become perfect is to cease to act like a child and to become a man, the kind of person that others turn to for guidance and support. It involves denying your own hurts and needs and taking on those of your family, friends, and acquaintances. Becoming perfect as God is perfect requires sacrificing all that you have and all that you are. What we expect of ourselves sometimes isn’t much higher than what I expect of my youngest son. Perhaps it is time we raise the bar.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Raising the Bar” first appeared in the March 2000 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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