The Bible says: ” Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect ” (Matt. 5:48) What does it mean to be ‘perfect’, and how can a human being attain it? When can we say of a person that he is ‘perfect’?
Absolute perfection belongs to God alone, no human being can ever attain it, because we will all be found wanting, when weighed in the balance.
So the perfection which a human being can attain is a relative perfection.
The state of perfection he can reach will be in relation to his abilities, his possibilities, and the extent of heavenly grace bestowed upon him.
The Lord God, speaking of the righteous Job said: ” that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” and ” there is none like him on the earth ” (Job 1:1 & 8). Job’s ‘perfection’, was only relative not absolute perfection.
In the same sense, Noah was said to have been a righteous and God-fearing man: ” Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. ” (Gen. 6:9).
Jacob too was perfect, even though he had various weaknesses. (Gen. 25:27). But God judges each human being in relation to each one’s possibilities, according to the era in which he lives, his level and the work of the Spirit within him.
The quality of being perfect might be in relation to a particular commandment, such as when the Lord Jesus said to the rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. ” (Matt. 19:21)
It is our duty to strive for perfection, but we can never say that we have reached it. In any case, the road to perfection consists of stages, so that as soon as a person reaches one of them he finds another higher, further stage awaiting him, and he becomes like someone pursuing the horizon.
Look at St. Paul, the apostle who ascended to the third heaven, and who laboured harder than all the other apostles, who said:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on… But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. ” (Phil. 3:12-14)
If the great St Paul did not consider that he had become perfect, but that he needed to strive and strain to reach it, what can we say about ourselves?
Even so, Paul said directly after this: ” Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; ” (Phil. 3:15), where he is referring to all those who might have thought that they were ‘perfect’, or whom other people might have considered to have attained that stage.
A pupil in primary school may reach the highest grade in mathematics, and they might say that he has become perfect, at that level. But as he gets older, he then moves up from the level of ‘perfection’ in the primary school, to the level of ‘perfection’ in his junior school, and then to the highest level in his high school, and so on until university. But each standard of ‘perfection’ is relative, and even so, he would never consider himself to have become ‘perfect’ in mathematics for there are always higher and higher levels to reach.