Perfection Is Moving the Right Direction

by Mike McKinniss

Sometimes, while reading Scripture, you find yourself nodding along in total agreement. “Yes,” you whisper to yourself. “It’s so true!” And the warm fuzzies cover you head to foot like a Snuggie. Sometimes, the words leap off the page, get right up into your face and cut you in the heart. Like surgery, conviction is an uncomfortable, often grueling, but entirely necessary affair. Cutting out a cancer still requires a painful incision.

And then there are the passages that simply stop you dead in your tracks. Neither affirming nor convicting, they simply elicit a good long head scratch.

Luke 2:52 is one such passage:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people (HCSB).

Now, I can understand the young Jesus increasing in stature. Luke inserts this tidbit right between Jesus’ dedication in the temple as a young man and the arrival of John the Baptist heralding the Christ’s arrival. I couldn’t tell you how tall Jesus was at 13 or at 30, but I’ll bet there was a significant difference.

I can also wrap my head around Jesus growing in favor with people. I, for one, am typically fairly skeptical of a teenager’s sufficient character to follow through on a pledge or listen to instructions or generally act like a decent human being. It’s easy to imagine Jesus consistently having to prove himself worth his young salt as he approached manhood.

But how does Jesus Christ grow in wisdom? And how does the Son of God increase in favor with God?

Paul called Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The author of Hebrews wrote similarly of Jesus, “He is the radiance of [God’s] glory, the exact representation of [God’s] nature” (Heb. 1:3a). From these and myriad other New Testament references, we rightly regard Jesus as perfect—as Jesus would himself say—just as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48).

What gives?

Perhaps we need a fresh understanding of God’s expectations of “perfection” for Jesus, certainly, and maybe also for us too.

Several weeks ago, I wrote here that the Lord’s intention for us is that we increasingly reflect him outward to the world around us. One indispensable way your family, friends and coworkers get to know God is through his people. But this doesn’t happen all at once or always in the same capacity. We ooze God over time.

While I’ve been tinkering in my garage on the weekends, I’ve yet to master the art of slowing, stopping or jumping through time. (I’m having some success wasting it, but that’s another story.) It is the very nature of life on earth that we are bound to time. Our thoughts, words and actions only come into being in forward motion. Nothing exists which did not come into existence eventually.

As most leaders understand implicitly, this is very much the case with influence—our ability to affect others through the strength of our relationships. No one begins life—or even their careers—as an executive, for example. (Even entrepreneurs, though they may start their own business at a young age, typically have little genuine influence when they start.) Authority and leadership have to develop over time, as character, productivity and reliability are proven moment to moment.

It’s precisely through these developed traits that the Lord is able to work in increasing measure through you, as time goes by.

Should we expect it was any different with Jesus? It seems the biblical witness indicates that the Father was ready to move through him after a long time of developing and expanding obedience in his body, heart and mind for what had to be done at the right time. Jesus had to grow.

So maybe we ought to cut ourselves some slack too, when we consider the Father’s demands for perfection (see again Mt. 5: 48). Maybe we can take comfort and celebrate the progress we make in the growth that comes with incremental obedience, knowing that each steps gives he Lord a bit more of you to work with and to work through. And maybe, at the end of our lives, those who knew us best will be able to look back and say we were always growing in favor with God and with people.