When I was in high school, a coach by the name of Grant Palmer asked me to lead a devotional for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes gathering. Despite my nerves about speaking so vulnerably in front of my peers, I selected a Bible verse, prayed over it, and wrote out a message. I chose the following verse from Matthew.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:48
Admittedly, this verse was a strange choice, especially for a group of teenagers, many of whom were new to the Christian faith. But I also read the surrounding verses and explained that in this passage, Jesus is talking about how He wants us to love one another. And loving one another perfectly means loving others the way Jesus loves us.
I remember asking all 50 or so students to stand and form a single line that stretched from one end of the gymnasium to the other. I then asked them to look at the line and imagine one end was failing at everything God wants us to do and be, and the opposite end was God-like perfection. I told them to adjust where they were standing based on where they felt they should land on that continuum. I noticed many of the students looking at others ahead of and behind them, and then adjusting their own position, which I expected. We all, especially teenagers, view ourselves in relation to those around us. Next, I instructed them to find someone they felt was “out of place” and move them where they “deserved” to stand in the line. To my relief, every single student was moved forward by another student.
My message was this: it doesn’t matter where we land now on our journey to Christian “perfection”; what matters is that we are consistently pressing forward in our relationship with Him. What matters is our continuous pursuit to take on more and more characteristics of our Savior. What matters is that we always strive to love others the way Jesus loves us. In other words, our past doesn’t define us — our relationship with Jesus does.
My pastor, David Payne, said in his most recent sermon that when it comes to our faith and our daily walk, we are not striving for perfect execution, but for progress. When it comes to loving others, we can all focus on improvement.
We are perfectly, completely loved by our Heavenly Father. May we strive to love others in the same splendid way.