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Perfection? Really? A Reflection from Matthew 5:48

If you have been a fan of Downton Abbey, or other television or literary fare that portrays nobility and their servants, you are well aware of the contrast of what happens upstairs where everything is presented in perfect symmetry, and what happens downstairs where the trash must be disposed of and where the coal dust and sewage gather. Something similar happens when you do some fine dining. Linen tablecloths, atmospheric lighting, carefully prepared recipes and meticulously attired serving staff appear on one side of the swinging door to the kitchen. And what exists behind it?  Rinds, soiled cloths, garbage and empty boxes.

Or consider what it takes to create a perfect performance, one that draws standing ovations for incredible dexterity, vocal beauty, or visual delights. Prior to that incredible, memory-making moment comes falls, failure, a frequent being passed over during auditions, and repeated mistakes.

We do our best to create the simulation of perfection, but it is always built on something that has to be destroyed or hidden or lived beyond.

Q. Can you identify other ways the appearance of perfection is built off the consumption of something or someone else?

How does this show up in your life?

How does this show up in your enterprise?

We all have some idea of perfection. Some folks strive for it. They mourn when what they wanted “to be perfect” is not. Nothing less suits them and they are frequently disappointed. Others despair over whether perfection can be achieved and perhaps stop trying altogether. Whichever side of that line we fall, the perfection marker remains in front of us and we are well aware that we cannot measure up, that our perfect moments are built on imperfect ones, and that we cannot maintain them once they’ve begun.

So, when we hear these words from Jesus in Matthew 5:48  that we should be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, it does not sound like an encouragement. It doesn’t sound like it fits with the gospel message of grace that forgives our imperfection and lets us hope to return to God. We simply do not know what to do with it.


Q. Where do you land? Are you mostly disappointed or mostly in despair when it comes to perfection?

The Sermon on the Mount would be easier to hear and respond to if Jesus’ words did not include the standard of perfection. We could then hear them as a call to try, even with the higher standard that Jesus offers.  We would hear it as “you don’t need to swear by anything because your word should be enough.”  We would hear, “Vengeance is a dead-end, try letting someone else’s anger run its course, even if you are its victim rather than adding fuel to their fire.” We would hear, “work at loving your enemy rather than putting your energy into hate.” If the words of Jesus did not hold up the standard of perfection trying would be enough. Grace would cover our mistakes. We could pick ourselves up and give it another go. We would try to hold to what we know to be good for a longer period of time each time we begin again.

And yet, Jesus seems to tell us that trying is not enough. Perfection is what we should be because we reflect God. God is all these things Jesus calls us to be. How in the world do we begin to understand this saying, find it to be hopeful, and claim it joyfully rather than collapse into despair?

(1) Let’s start with the Greek word Jesus uses for perfection. As so often is the case, a word does not fully convey its meaning when moving from the original to a translation. He uses a word related to telos, which  means “the end.”  To understand this more fully, we have to understand that the Greeks had multiple words for time (chronos, kairos and telos)  just as they had multiple words for love (philia, eros and agape).  Chronos refers to a specific moment in time, its flow, the ticking of seconds. Kairos refers to a moment of special magnitude, an auspicious moment. Telos refers to the end of time, the culmination.

Jesus is saying that we need to represent the end state, the culmination of maturity, the completion of the transforming work that God is doing within us. This is a perfection that is NOT built from something that is destroyed. Rather it is built OUT OF what would otherwise know destruction. It is a return to a purpose rather than a triumph at someone else’s tragedy.

It cannot be done perfectly at all times, but we can represent it, call for it, and emulate it to the best of our ability.


Q. Identify an arena in your life where you are

much transformed from what you used to be.

(2) And let’s look to the subject that Jesus holds forth — that of doing what God does. God offers grace where imperfection reigns. According to the Sermon on the Mount God holds a high standard for moral behavior and peacemaking—one that cannot be achieved on one’s own. And what is this moral behavior and peacemaking used for? It is used for showing grace to people who do not deserve it necessarily. And neither do we! We have been shown grace in our imperfection, so we need to represent God as show-ers of grace to others in theirs. And when we do we represent the perfection of God.

(3) And finally let’s look at Jesus’ statement about perfection itself. God is the perfect one. The perfection we point to by living toward our maturity, the perfection to which our lives point, is God’s perfection, not ours.

If we reflect on this a bit more, we can find hope for our journey.

  • We don’t have to be stalled by petty and imperfect matters that surround us. They always will be there so our one choice is whether we respond in grace or nastiness. And nastiness isn’t just acting like a brute. Nastiness can also be a cold distance. Sometimes nastiness is simply a haughty sniff.
  • We can gain perspective on the struggles of our lives - even the severe ones.  Jesus speaks these words to people, most of who lived downstairs, on the kitchen side of the swinging door, who knew the trash heaps far better than gilded rooms. It is to them, those who will listen, that he invites toward perfection. The audience of naysayers who sometimes surrounded him believed that the trappings of their lives were a sufficient substitute even though their wealth and pretend perfection were built upon the oppression of others.

By any reasonable measure, we are people who live upstairs. We are the diners in the restaurant. We are the ones who believe a perfect performance is possible and expected. We are the ones who join the Pharisees and rulers of old, believing that our lives should be perfect no matter who pays the price for our benefit. We are the ones who whine and complain and demand someone pay for it when we are not pleased or service has not been rendered properly. We are the ones who pout, get in a funk or have a snit when something does not go well. It’s hard to embrace the perfection Jesus invites when we are too busy pretending to be perfect ourselves.


Q. Who will you be? A person pretending to be perfect? A person defeated?

A person of grace, pointing to the perfected grace of God?

If it is to be a person of grace, how will you do it?

A Leader and His Family

I slipped into his room late one evening to give him a goodnight snuggle only to find him wide awake snuggled under the covers. “Hey Dad!” my 12 year old said. “Tonight was our date night! You forgot!” Has it happened to you yet? In the midst of the holiday sales and the eggnog latté’s the dashing and the prancing for a place in line at Denny’s after a long night of shopping for the perfect gift? Have you forgotten the most important thing God has entrusted to you? It’s the gift of our family and those we love. It had been weeks since my wife and I had a date together, just the two of us. I knew things needed to change and fast. We set out to meet our work and family goals and somehow in the midst of all the holiday rushing, we forget that waiting at home is that young boy waiting to play catch, that teenage girl who needs to talk about boys or that spouse that needs to be treated with all the attention we gave them back in the spring when things were moving at a slower pace. Why does it happen? Why do we feel like we need run so hard during the holidays?

Recently, over a cup of coffee with a friend, in-between the sips of Starbucks and the glint of the bright sunshine, the truth about his family came out. The friend I was meeting with told me the real story of where things were with his work. You see, his work as a leader was doing great, it was his family that was suffering.

Nobel Prize winning Harvard biologist Dr. George Wald has some thoughts: “What one really needs is not the Nobel laureates but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that’s how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It’s a consolation prize. What matters is love.”

If we were sitting at that Starbucks near your house and talking over our day, would you allow me a pretty personal question? What’s the Nobel Prize you’re striving for? Is it possible that the prize you’re striving for has edged out your precious family?

Well, before the Starbucks gets cold and we’ve both gotta run, if it’s time for a bit of a life re-balancing, here are ten ideas to help you get back on track. Got a pen? Jot em down on your napkin.

  1. Get your family together and craft a family mission statement. It’s just as important to be intentional as a family as it is to do so where you work. We wanted our family to be on the same page as to why we were here on earth. Need a head start? Here’s ours. “Our family is going through life’s journey together, growing roots in Christ and wings for our mission, becoming equipped to make a difference in our world by learning to live like Jesus, for Jesus and in Jesus.“
  2. Carve out time for your family each week…in advance. Put it on your calendar. Stop saying you have got to get ‘one more thing done’ before you leave for home.
  3. Jettison things from your schedule that aren’t important. March to the mission that Jesus called you to, not the mission that others want you to do for them. Be ruthless here!
  4. If your work situation requires constant excessive hours to get the job done, it’s time to evaluate other ways to accomplish the task. You can’t accomplish the mission of the organization single-handedly! Pray for supernatural results throughout your day, then go home and be a minister to your main mission field, your family.
  5. If you’re a leader of others, have people actually write into their job descriptions the need to be committed to their family and specifically how they will be do this.
  6. Develop an activity together with your family as a whole and or with individual family members; maybe it’s hiking, a date at Denny’s for breakfast on Saturday or coffee with your spouse.
  7. Create a spiritual ‘life development plan’ for each of your kids outlining their strengths, areas for improvement and your plans to shape them as they grow up under your care. Our children are arrows that are being sent to a world that we will never fully see. It’s our job to shape them into arrows that will travel the distance to the kingdom target that God has intended for them.
  8. Schedule a date night of at least an hour once a week with each child or your spouse where you just focus on them. It doesn’t have to be expensive, time alone is the critical ingredient here.
  9. When you’re traveling, send email or a postcard back to your family. Pray with them on the phone in addition to chatting.
  10. At the end of a day, ask your kids or spouse these three questions…’What happened today that you’re proud of ?’ ‘What happened today that you wish you could do over?’ ‘Where did you see God in your day today?’

OK, just one more question…If you asked your children to share words that define your parenting, or if your spouse was reviewing your life at your funeral service, what words would they use? If you’re not happy with what words are echoing around in your head, it’s time to make some changes. I love how Eugene Petersen in The Message puts it, “Exploit or abuse your family, and end up with a fistful of air…” (Proverbs 11:29). When my work years have come to an end and the castles of my work stand tall and strong, I want to be holding more than air, don’t you?

“Hey Dad! I passed!” said my 15 year old girl. You see, I’m writing this morning from the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room where I came with my daughter to get her driving permit. Some days you just can’t get to ‘balance’ so lately I’ve been working on “integration” – aren’t laptops great? As my daughter and I celebrated her passing the test with a big hug in the lobby, I was glad I’d decided the to-do list at work could wait. The memory of this morning with her will last forever, and I think we’ll celebrate with a long, slow eggnog latte.



Greg Leith was born in Canada and has lived in all four corners of North America. His career spans over 35 years of senior leadership roles in corporate, nonprofit and academic sectors. He is currently the CEO of Convene , a nationwide group of hundreds of faith based CEO’s learning together to grow exceptional businesses, become higher-impact leaders and honor God. He serves on various boards related to his passion of faith integrated with the marketplace, and he loves helping people get clarity on mission and purpose as a certified life coach. Married for over 35 years to his wife Shelley, he’s the father and friend of five thriving young adults. He and Shelley love to speak on marriage and parenting for FamilyLife, and they live in Southern California.

I Need to Repeat My Vision More

This is the comment I received from the Matt Thalmayer, President of Arrow Staffing. One of his managers had sent Matt an email the day after he and his leadership team had attended a Lead With Purpose half-day Workshop to get their plan ready for 2015. This employee was excited to truly understand Matt’s ‘bigger Vision and future of the company.’ The company’s previous Vision statement was:

“To be the premier privately held staffing service, known for our long-term partnerships with our customers, the character of our staff and the integrity of our services.” 

While this is OK, does this really inspire employees and do they clearly see where the company is going and what it looks like in 10 years? Not really.

In the workshop, the team looked to Matt for input on the future of the company.  Together, the team came up with a vivid story told around a company four times larger than it is today. The company was able to add helping technical and skilled professionals find a great career. There was an expansion into other states so they could support larger companies with multiple sites in different locations. There was the opening of a school to help mentor and develop the people they were placing. The company would have a fulltime person internally committed to employee training and development. If you walked into their offices, you would see the company using the latest technology.

Matt felt the energy of his team go up in the workshop when discussing the new Vision. He saw how powerful and inspiring it can be to help get everyone excited about what they are doing and all on the same page.

The goal for Matt and his team now is to use this story and from it, create a shorter, inspiring and memorable headline that will be easy to remember.

Why Have a Vision?

Having a Vision is invaluable because it encourages you to look into the future and see how you want to grow and shape your company. It stretches your mind to the possibilities of what you can accomplish over an extended period of time. It acts as a focal point for the entire organization in terms of what you will strive to do and who you can become in the world.

One of the most famous Visions is President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 statement that America would commit to landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth “before this decade is out.” Kennedy’s vision of space exploration provoked an amazingly productive decade of scientific and technological innovation, ranging from rockets to space suits to freeze dried food and Tang. His vision was so powerful that it inspired ongoing innovation even after his death in 1963. Ever since Kennedy’s vision of a moon landing within a decade, many have thought of Blue Sky Visioning as a 10-year exercise. Some people even refer to it as “creating a moon shot.”

What the Bible Says

We all know that it is important to have a common envisioned future that everyone can see and feel.  From the Bible, I am reminded of Proverbs 29:18:

                                                 “Where there is no vision the people will perish”

This is also true in businesses today that don’t have a strong Vision and people may ‘perish’ in two ways. Often, the best and most talented employees are looking to move mountains in the work that they do. If you are not clearly showing these ‘A’ players how their daily works links to an inspiring Vision and staying focused on what matters most, they will ‘perish’ from your company and go elsewhere.

Additionally, many people view their current work as just having a JOB. They are working at a company, but they have ‘perished’ in place. They barely do what is minimally necessary to complete their work. This is backed up by the 2013 employee engagement statistics which shows that 70% of all US workers are miserable or apathetic towards their work and where they spend 8 hours of their day.

A strong and inspiring Vision can help solve this problem and create more engaged employees.

How to Create Your Company’s Vision

To create a meaningful Vision, begin by listing real accomplishments you want to achieve ten years from now. These should be grounded in the history of your company—things that you have already achieved and know you can do in a certain timeframe—while at the same time projecting your capabilities into the future under the most positive of circumstances. In your ideal world scenario, you are able to overcome most barriers to your business. You can get the technology you need. You have the right people and enough resources. Given this freedom, ask yourself questions like the following about the period ten years from today:

  1. What products and services do we provide?
  2. Who are our customers?
  3. How many employees do we have?
  4. How many offices do we have?
  5. What do the facilities and offices look like?
  6. What are our annual revenues?
  7. What significant goals have we accomplished?
  8. What awards and recognition have we earned?
  9. How do we impact the world?
  10. What problems do our customers look to us to solve?

If you can answer these types of questions, you are on your way to formulating a great Vision. Work with your team to collate and refine whatever visions everyone offers. Your goal is then to create a headline that best represents the entire story. It is similar to the headline of a newspaper article.

As you look to get your plan ready for 2015, take a look at your Vision and make sure it is well defined, clearly inspiring, and that you are repeating it as often as you can.  Doing so will prevent your employees from ‘perishing.’

Marc Koehler is the President of Lead With Purpose. The company believes that every person is born with the ability to be a leader. The tools and best practices were born out of 30+ years of real-world experiences in business, family, and coaching leadership positions and help leaders get everyone on the same page and focused on the most important things.


"How about if we send wreaths to our pastors at church?" My wife suggested this while I was in the process of ordering Maine balsam pine wreaths for my Convene members for Christmas.  We used to do this several years earlier but due to budget constraints the last several years, we had forgone it.  This year would be different. For two of our four pastors I didn’t have home addresses, so I had their wreaths shipped to our home so I could personally deliver them.  They arrived the week after Thanksgiving so I took them to the church.  Not finding either pastor present, I left the boxed wreaths in their offices.  As I came out of the building, I ran into one of the pastors, John David Crowe, our youth pastor, and we began chatting about how he and his wife were doing.  In April of this year he and his wife Jessica had lost their four-year-old son Noah to cancer.  This has been a particularly hard year for them.

As we chatted his wife Jessica came out of the building, walked up to me and hugged me.  She had found the wreath in the office, and she seemed extremely grateful for the gift.  She then asked me quietly, “How did you know?”  I replied that I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, and she asked again, “How did you know?”  She then turned to John David and mentioned the wreath, and he teared up as he began to explain how he had told Jessica earlier in the month that he couldn’t have Christmas this year.  He couldn’t have the tree and all the trimmings.  He couldn’t have any of those things that would remind him that his son Noah was not going to be there for this Christmas.

But Jessica had to have something that said Christmas.  Not something big, just something that would remind her of this important season, in spite of her deep hurt.  So the day before I came to the church she asked John David if she could at least get a wreath for Christmas.  He said she could.  And God appointed me to deliver it the next day.

We stood in the parking lot weeping.  Weeping over the joy of knowing a Savior who sees to all our needs, before we even see them ourselves.  And as we talked and praised God, our tears turned to laughter as we started to imagine the kind of Christmas that Noah was going to have with Jesus—a Christmas that we couldn’t begin to think about—but a Christmas that Noah would never want to miss out on.

This Christmas Eve John David preached a wonderful sermon on “Being Like Shepherds,” and he coined a word I’ve never heard before:  Godsequence.  As he said the word I flashed back to our wreath experience, and I knew just what he was speaking about.  I silently praised God that He allowed me to witness that Godsequence.