Be Ye Therefore Perfect
by Nick Galieti
Matthew 5:48 quotes Jesus Christ as saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Due to many interpretations of perfection, what perfect really means, or what the term implies, some may struggle with the best way to assimilate such counsel or commandment.
Whenever I have a hard time feeling clearly about a gospel principle, I will sometimes consider its opposite as a way to eliminate any complex interpretation there might be. In addition, sometimes doing so helps me see the absurdity in questioning the doctrine in the first place. Using a more typical interpretation of “perfect” as being without fault or flawless, we are taught that we are to strive to be perfect, while also noting that to be such in this life is impossible. Knowing that God provides a way to accomplish every commandment (1 Nephi 3:7) I sought for a way to reconcile any perceived contradiction. How can we be flawless or without fault knowing full well that such is not possible in this life? What value is there is offering such a commandment in light of what appears to be an impossible standard?
In order to work through this reconciliation of doctrines I asked the question, “With the commandment to be perfect, if I consider the opposite, what if the commandment was to be imperfect, what then?” Well, I already have being imperfect down. It requires no effort on my part. Such a commandment would claim none of my energy and attention. The commandment to be perfect on the other hand, inspires nothing short of my best efforts, and unlocks in me the ability to move consistently towards improvement and my fullest potential.
Then I discovered the Greek definition or translation of the word we see today in the King James Version of the Holy Bible as perfection. Without going into a history of biblical origins and translations over time, it is sufficient to say that using the Greek text offers a valuable context for this counsel to be perfect. The commonly accepted meaning of the original text would be more appropriately defined as finished or complete, meaning the spirit of this scripture in Matthew would read, “Be ye therefore complete, even as your Father which is in heaven is complete.”
What is complete in this context? What does it mean to be finished?
The LDS view of who God is and how he became God is that he too was once a man, but has completed the work necessary to become deity. Several sources in the Holy Bible show this to be.
1 John 3:2 reads,
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Part of the challenge with the world’s view of perfection is that the world doesn’t believe in a life after this life, that perfection is impossible. It is the position of LDS belief, and correlates to the Bible that all Christians seek to embrace, that we can be like Him.
Now we are told by the Apostle John, that “we are the sons of God, but it does not appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he, Christ is pure.” [See 1 John 3:2–3.] The Latter-day Saints expect to arrive at this state of perfection; we expect to become as our Father and God, fit and worthy children to dwell in his presence; we expect that when the Son of God shall appear, we shall receive our bodies renewed and glorified, and that “these vile bodies will be changed and become like unto his glorious body.” [See Philippians 3:21.]
Image credit: The Journey to Emmaus, Robert Zund, ca. 1900
Ultimately, our mortal pursuit is to complete our work on this earth. Perhaps, through the grace of God, we can one day be found to be “perfected in him.” Moroni 10:32
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfectin Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.