This statement I find turns off a lot of people. It does not turn me off. It becomes the goal — a goal I will not reach any time soon. Nevertheless, it is the goal, and I keep trying.
Matthew 5 : 48 KJV
48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Considering the Meaning from Greek
Recently I studied the English and Greek editions of the New Testament, concentrating on each use of the term perfect and its derivatives. Studying both languages together provided some interesting insights, since Greek was the original language of the New Testament.
In Matthew 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.” The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.” Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words.
Teleios is not a total stranger to us. From it comes the prefix tele- that we use every day. Telephone literally means “distant talk.” Television means “to see distantly.” Telephoto means “distant light,” and so on.
With that background in mind, let us consider another highly significant statement made by the Lord. Just prior to his crucifixion, he said that on “the third day I shall be perfected.” Think of that! The sinless, errorless Lord—already perfect by our mortal standards—proclaimed his own state of perfection yet to be in the future. His eternal perfection would follow his resurrection and receipt of “all power … in heaven and in earth.”
The perfection that the Savior envisions for us is much more than errorless performance. It is the eternal expectation as expressed by the Lord in his great intercessory prayer to his Father—that we might be made perfect and be able to dwell with them in the eternities ahead.
The Lord’s entire work and glory pertains to the immortality and eternal life of each human being. He came into the world to do the will of his Father, who sent him. His sacred responsibility was foreseen before the creation and was foretold by all his holy prophets since the world began.
The atonement of Christ fulfilled the long-awaited purpose for which he had come to the earth. His concluding words upon Calvary’s cross referred to the culmination of his assignment—to atone for all humankind. Then he said, “It is finished.” Not surprisingly, the Greek word from which finished was derived is teleios.
That Jesus attained eternal perfection following his resurrection is confirmed in the Book of Mormon. It records the visit of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America. There he repeated the important injunction previously cited but with one very significant addition. He said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” This time he listed himself along with his Father as a perfected personage. Previously he had not.
Be Perfect? Why not just go back to bed and pull the covers over our head.
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect.” With that concluding imperative, we want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our head. Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep. Let’s see where this quandary takes us.
Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. One insightful Latter-day Saint, Sister Darla Isackson, has observed that Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making.
What I now say in no way denies or diminishes any commandment God has ever given us. I believe in His perfection, and I know we are His spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as He is. I also know that, as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That is not what the Lord wants for Primary children or anyone else who honestly sings, “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
The Scriptures on Perfection
The scriptures are replete with references to man’s potential for perfection and thus godhood. As early as the book of Genesis an angel appeared to Abraham and extended to him this heavenly mandate, “Walk before me, and be thous perfect” (Genesis 17:1). What type of perfection was the angel alluding to? As compared to other men? Angels? God? During the Sermon on the Mount the Savior gave the unequivocal answer: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This challenge was consistent with the Savior’s high-priestly prayer. Speaking of the believers, he petitioned “that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:22-23). Paul taught that a vital reason for the church was “for the perfecting of the saints, . . . till we all come . . . unto a perfect man, . . . unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Note the measuring rod–not man, not some form of mini-Christ or quasi-God, but rather “the fulness of Christ.” The standard of perfection was not other men, nor angels, but Christ himself.
–Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, Page 231