[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given at the Portland annual campout on August 27, 2016.]
Toward the end of the book of 1 Peter there is a passage urging believers to submit to God and resist the Devil, famous for its comparison of Satan to a roaring lion. Shortly after this comparison there comes a much less famous verse that discusses what our heavenly father will do with us in 1 Peter 5:10. 1 Peter 5:10 reads: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strength, and settle you.” Today I would like to focus on the first of these four promises: the promise that God will perfect us. In a world filled with intense demands of perfectionism, and a widespread disapproval of the demands of other people, how are we to attain the sort of perfection that God promises to accomplish in us? What does this perfection look like in our lives, and in the body of Christ?
When we think of the demands for perfection in the Bible , it is easy for us to look back on verses like Matthew 5:48, which tells us: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” When we look at the demands that Matthew 5 places on us to love our enemies, to give to those who ask from us, to refrain from oaths and to let our word be a certain promise, to reject the spread of divorce and remarriage, to repent of looking at others with lust which is equated with adultery, or to wrestle with our hatred and ridicule of other people which is equated with murder, we may all find ourselves falling far short of the mark of perfection which is demanded of us. I know that is true for me. Similarly, when we look at verses like 2 Corinthians 10:5, which commands us to take every thought captive, we may despair at the epic scope and sheer multitude of the thoughts that escape our control, whether or not those thoughts are acted on. On the one hand, this idea of perfect that we have is too large of a scope, in that if we know ourselves, we do not feel ourselves even remotely close to the perfection that we strive after. Only those who do not know themselves or the darkness inside their own hearts and minds can feel that they are a good person, much less anywhere close to perfect.
Yet on the other hand this idea of perfection that we often have as applying ourselves is far too small for what Peter means in 1 Peter 5:10. To understand this, we need to understand what Peter means by perfect. The word used in Greek in 1 Peter 5:10 for perfect is transliterated as kataptisei, and it means “to put you into complete joint as the timbers of a building.” Immediately, upon seeing this definition of perfection, we should gain some insight as to the sort of perfection that God expects from us, and if no less demanding than the idea we might have of our own internal perfection, this perfection is of a much larger scope than ourselves alone, but rather the perfection of a building that is perfectly fitted together, in which the individual parts perfectly match to make a larger and harmoniously balanced and unified whole. The perfection that God promises for us in 1 Peter 5:10 is not individual perfection, where we are right with God and where there is no one else involved in our relationship with God and with our moral improvement, but is the sort of perfection that requires us to fit in perfectly with those around us.
Certainly, we all struggle to fit in with other people, to work well with others, to get along with others. I know that I struggle with that myself, all the time, and continually find myself deeply frustrated with my difficulties in being fitted together with other people on many levels and in many situations. Perhaps the same is true for you also. Yet this perfection in fitting is not merely a demand that God places on us, but it is something that God promises to accomplish in our lives, even if it requires that we suffer for a while in the process, as we often do. If we look beyond a focus on ourselves alone, we can see that the moral perfection demanded, for example, in Matthew 5 precisely involves the other people with whom we are to be fitted together. We are told not to treat our brethren with contempt and view them as worthless, because they were created by God for His purposes, and were worth the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. We are told not to look at others with lust, with a desire to possess others, because they are not ours to possess. We are told not to cast aside our marriages, or to hate our enemies, but instead to seek harmony in our relationships with others as much as it is within our own power to do so. This is a task of such immense importance and such harrowing difficulty that it ought to be a noble enough aspiration for even the most ambitious among us.
It would be encouraging enough if God only told us that He would perfect us through our suffering so that we were fit closer together with others, especially among our brethren. But we are not only told that we will be so fitted together, but we are also told how we are to reach this perfection and who is to provide us with the help that we need to be perfectly fitted together like a well-constructed building. Let us turn to Ephesians 4, and discuss verses eleven through sixteen. Ephesians 4:11-16 says: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried with end of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body of edifying of itself in love.”
Here we see the same idea of perfection that Peter was speaking about in 1 Peter 5:10: believers being built up, equipped, taught, encouraged in our maturation and growth, fitting together like a building or like a body where every part does its task for the betterment of everyone else. We are to grow up, to speak the truth in love, to become shrewd enough not to be deceived by the trickery of other people, and to grow into the tasks we were created to accomplish through the instruction and leadership of those in authority over us. The legitimacy of authorities comes in their service to other people and to their working for the betterment and improvement of the institutions or society at large that they serve in their offices. And we serve others, as we have been given the opportunity to do so, and as others serve us, we are to be improved through the service, not for our own selfish individual benefit, but so that we may better fit together as a larger body. Our growth and development is to lead to greater love and greater unity among us. May it be as God has promised us.
We have, at least briefly, examined the sort of perfection that our heavenly Father has promised to accomplish in our lives, a perfection that fits and joins us together with our fellow brethren as part of larger harmonious body. Clearly, we lack such unity in our own families, in our relationships with our brethren here in our own congregations here, and in our relationships with our fellow brethren who are a part of the larger body of Christ. We all fall short of this ideal, myself perhaps more than most. Yet God has promised to accomplish this perfection, this fitting and joining of odd and disparate elements into a harmonious, loving, and unified whole, even if it is not an easy process for any of us. To the extent that we may be discouraged by the immensity of the task and its immense difficulty, let us be encouraged by the fact that God is faithful to His promises, and that the task of growing to a perfect man or woman is not required by a stern and unfriendly perfectionist, but rather by the God of grace, who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, and He will not abandon us in the meantime.
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