by David R. Kenney
Our family was watching J*A*G* and I took notice of a quotation used about one of the characters, Sturgis, who had fallen into the malady called Perfectionism. It was ruining himself, his friendships, and his faith. The quotation was attributed to "Zito" who is also the name of the producer of the show—“If you demand perfection in yourself, you will always be unsatisfied. If you demand it of others, you will be disappointed.” I think this was a very insightful look into the potential snare of perfectionism, a world that I myself fall prey to as well. Oh, I know that I am not perfect, but sometimes I feel so driven to reach a standard that I not only fail to reach but also fail in other important matters that I could have obtained.
Now, are Christians supposed to strive to be better? Yes. Are we to become satisfied with our own righteousness so as to give up on improving? Certainly not! Christians are to work to improve their walk with God as the apostle Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV.) We must have a balanced view of ourselves and others, or we risk being out of balance. Imbalance leads to friction, frustration, surrender and defeat.
Now, I am not speaking of lowering standards in order to make ourselves “feel good”. As Christians, the standards are the teachings of the New Testament. What does it mean to lower the standards in Christianity? It means compromising doctrine! We cannot lower these standards by compromising doctrine, but we should not expect to exceed these standards either. We should strive to achieve the standards of Christ; however, God knows that we will fall short. That is what the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was about. If God loves us enough to send His beloved Son, if Jesus loved us enough to die for our sins, if the Holy Spirit was willing to work with imperfect men to reveal the perfect will of God, then why cannot we love ourselves enough to be more charitable to ourselves, thus being more charitable with others? Remember what the second greatest commandment was—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, NKJV.) We may be able to examine ourselves more objectively by reflecting on how we feel about others. For example, there is an old saying, “All the world is mad save for me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee.” When we examine our brothers and sisters, does this expression describe our feelings? If so, we may be struggling with perfectionism, expecting such of others.
Perhaps we should consider the consequences of perfectionism on the church. Have you ever wondered why we have men who are reluctant to lead prayers, direct singing, teach classes and other areas of service? Why are women less likely to be involved in service of the church whether teaching Bible Class or a host of other matters that women perform in service to Christ and His church? Could it be that they are so reluctant because it is new to them? Certainly. But I would like to ask this question—could it be that we have less willing to serve in worship and the operation of the church because they have been impacted by seeing expectations of perfectionism in others? If they see us expecting perfectionism of others, then could this discourage them from even trying? We should give serious consideration before we offer those words of “constructive criticism” for all to hear. Perhaps instead of offering what we think is “constructive criticism” we should try to give perfecting praise!
So, let us work to go onto perfection realizing that perfection in New Testament context means that we grow and mature as Christians. We are not perfect, but we are being made perfect through the ministry of Jesus Christ. Remember that pursing excellence as a Christian includes love, for yourself and one another—“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:13-15, NKJV.)