Monday, March 11, 2019

Don't forsake the good in pursuit of the perfect

Douglas Frank Photo

“Don’t Forsake the Good in Search (Pursuit) of The Perfect” 
(Attributed to Paul Maliszewski’s Father)

Are you pursuing perfection in your work, relationships or life? Did you know that it is not attainable for humans? This pursuit or concept was discussed in great depth in a men’s small group Bible study recently. We were discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I offered somewhat rhetorically, but for real the question and even the guilt of wondering when I had seen enough patients, families and staff at the hospital in my practice as a chaplain and pastoral counselor. We had quite an illuminating exchange.

I gave a litany on my visits and consultations throughout the teaching hospital where my calling is daily lived out. Encouraging conversations, prayer, sacrament and God’s promises are shared with 1000s in a year. When have I seen enough? Can I make a difference for this one more like the starfish story of throwing one of myriad beach-stranded starfish back into the sea?  Jesus Himself said in Mark 17:10, The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”He meant for us to learn from Him and take His yoke and gentleness upon our labor-filled lives and He would make it easy. He is he solution to our “search (pursuit) of Perfection.” 

 Jesus’s brother James somewhat complicated the conundrum when talking about the Word of God, who is Jesus, saying,  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22 NLT). In other words, act! But when is enough, enough? James even went on to say, “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26). Now this seems to say that righteousness isn’t possible unless we are doing.  Oh, boy, I’d better head back to see one more patient. Do I now join the Apostle Paul saying, “nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature, for I have the desire what is good but I can’t carry it out…What a wretched man am I. Who will rescue me from this body of death?”(Romans 7:17,19,24). He later somewhat answered my dilemma in His Epistle to the Galatians saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NIV). Well, sometimes I am weary, but I must keep, keeping on for God will bring in the sheaves in His time and way. In Thessalonica he even says, “Never tire of doing good.” So what to do?

When Paul asked Jesus to remove his thorn (maybe pain, trial, work hardship or temptation), our Savior offered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in your weakness... When you are weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10). There it is, God will strengthen me or equip me for the work. Paul also offered to the Corinthians that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle because He is faithful to provide a way through or out so that you can handle it. 

So on this perfect work thing, what does the Bible say about God in it? “As for God, His way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him” (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 18:30). Jesus Himself then tells us in the Sermon on The Mount, “Therefore, you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect(Matthew 5:48 NASB). Other versions say “Be perfect,”now that is impossible for men, as it is God who is perfecting us. “He is completing or perfecting a good work that He began in each believer, until the end” (Philippians 1:6, my paraphrase). The author of Hebrews admonishes us, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We already have heard that “His power is being made perfect in our weakness.”  Paul had more advice in Romans saying, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). This is our progressive sanctification through Christ and His Holy Spirit’s counseling, comforting, convincing and convicting. We are being changed to know and do God’s perfect will for each of us. This is what God wants us to do. We are to seek Him for wisdom on the subject without doubting as James 1:6 tells us, “He will generously give to us.” 

God is the only Perfect One.  In King David’s “Song of Praise,” in 2 Samuel 22 he exalts, “As for God, His way is perfect…It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:31,33). Yes, “God stoops down” to help us along the rough way. Jesus is “The way, the truth and the life”(John 14:6). Once again, back to James who began his Epistle, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith develops patience (endurance, perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfectand complete, lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NKJV). So there it is, God is making us perfect in Him. Again, for emphasis, make sure to ask God for wisdom in all things, because He gives it generously.

 My small group-mates offered more on the subject. So let’s look at the title to this essay offered by Paul, the son, in his words, of a “simple man” who brought great wisdom on this topic of doing the perfect work: ‘Don’t forsake the good in search (pursuit) of the perfect.’  In other words, don’t seek perfection in work, keep doing good, but pursue perfection in Christ. The pursuit of Perfect One is our life’s highest calling. Knowing Jesus Christ personally as Savior and Lord makes us perfect in Him, but not until we see Him face to face. In between, He is perfecting us, our sanctification. Or as Hebrews 10:12 affirms of Jesus’s sacrifice, “Since that time, He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  Commentator Ray Stedman offers that, “His sacrifice was so efficacious that it guaranteed the final perfection of all those who were being made holy. It is both an accomplished fact and an continuing process.” “The old has gone, the new has come”(2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the Pascal mystery of the “already, not yet” of Easter.Therefore we can continue to work, give and love through God’s loving power in us because, “God is love…But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:16b, 18). So I will be at peace in the presence of His transformation work in me as I walk in His way, continuously praying and giving thanks always for His guidance. 

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