You claim to be one, others have told you that you are one, or you know one – a perfectionist!

Only with due sarcasm does anyone mean true perfection when talking about perfectionism, for 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”. If you are not a perfectionist, you must work harder at it. If you are a perfectionist, you must perfect your definition of perfectionism.

In Matthew 5:48 Jesus gives the command “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The “therefore” in the verse should cause you to ask “what is it there for”, and should turn your eyes upward in the passage to see that perfectionism is pursued in terms of kindness to friend and foe alike (vv. 43-46), not to mention the rest of the chapter.

Matthew 5:48 is not what is commonly understood as perfectionism. What then is the Biblical term for the perfectionism 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 one of the Biblical references 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.

Christian love does not insist on its own way, but rejoices with the true standard of heavenly-Father-perfection. As a result a Christian perfectionist (may it be true of us all!) will be a perfectionist in Christian love.

Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
—1 Corinthians 13