You claim to be one, others have told you that you are one, or you know one – a perfectionist, or to use the psychologised term, you have a form of OCD!

But it is only with strong sarcasm that the word “perfect” is part of the word “perfectionist”. It is no secret that the claim to be a ‘perfectionist’ in one area of life, is a confession of failing miserably in other areas of life (thereby destroying the notion of a ‘perfectionist’). For example, a perfectionist in cleanliness is often a perfected failure at family harmony. A perfectionist in timeliness is often a proven failure at patience. A perfectionist at peace-keeping is often guilty of flattery. The list goes on and on.

There is indeed a command in Scripture to be “perfect”. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus gives the command “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But this is not what is commonly understood as perfectionism.

What then is the Biblical term for “perfectionism” as we use it? What is the Biblical term for that insistence on some standard in one area of life that causes so many problems in other areas of life?

There is a little phrase in the famous ‘love chapter’ that is perhaps the simplest Biblical reference to what we think of as perfectionism. In 1 Corinthians 13:5 it is written “love does not insist on its own way“. Human perfectionism is not so much an objective standard of what is the perfect clean room or perfect attitude, as it is the perfectionist’s insistence on his/her way of having a clean room or proper attitude. In that sense, the opposite of perfectionism is not failure or incompetence, but love or humility.

the opposite of perfectionism is not failure or incompetence, but love and humility

Christian love does not insist on its own way, but rejoices with the true standard of heavenly-Father-perfection.

Love does not insist on its own way;

1 Corinthians 13:5

Jesus’ humility made that He did not insist on His divine perfections, but came to die for sinners.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:5-7

A Christian perfectionist (may it be true of us all!) will be a perfectionist in Christian love.

A Christian perfectionist will be a perfectionist in Christian love.