I’m Not Perfect, But… Hebrews 2:1-10
There is a story of a lady who must have been desperate and decided to write a letter to Dear Abby. Her letter reads: Dear Abby, I am 44 and would like to meet a man my age with no bad habits. She signed her name, “Rose.” Abby replies: “Dear Rose: So would I.” There’s a lot of truth to Abby’s answer. “So would I” – meaning that perfect people are not easy to come by. Perfection eludes us. Even the simple thing that Rose asked for: having no bad habits, eludes us.
When I first announced the title of this message, “I’m Not Perfect”, some of you were thinking, “Yes, we’ve noticed, we’ve noticed.” Well, thanks a heap! Don’t you know by now that when I say something bad about myself, you are supposed to shower me with compliments and praise? The correct reply to the statement, “I’m not perfect” should have been, “Oh, but you’re awfully close.” When I announced, “I’m not perfect,” couldn’t you have said, “Well, other than being a little overweight, I don’t see anything wrong?”
But, of course, you were right. You were absolutely on target. I’m not perfect as we normally use the word. I’m not flawless, I’m not totally wise, I’m not omniscient. And in case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t even have movie star looks. You guessed it, I am not perfect.
There you go again. Who’s thinking that? Somebody in the back row, “We’ve noticed.”
But that is the common experience of all people. We all know that we are not perfect. We all know that we have flaws. Even the most egotistical of us know that we are not up to par all the time, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. We know that. The issue is what we do with that realization. The issue is what comes after we acknowledge that we are not perfect. I’m not perfect, but … what? I’m not perfect, but … how would you finish that sentence?
Did you know that the Bible never expects us to be perfect in the sense of being flawless? The Bible is utterly realistic. Nowhere does it suggest that we can get through life without making mistakes. Nowhere does it teach that by some fluke somebody might get by with all his t’s crossed and his i’s dotted and her teeth straight and her hair in place. That’s not going to happen. The Bible doesn’t even suggest that it can. In fact, it runs in exactly the opposite direction. The Bible says, let’s see, is this it? A few have sinned and come short? Is that right? Or was that several have sinned? Quite a lot have sinned? Nearly everybody has sinned? No, you are quite right. All have sinned. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All, without exception. There is no perfection of that kind.
But while the Bible never suggests that we can be flawless, it does tell us we can become perfect in another sense of the word. It does tell us we can become mature. Perfection means becoming what God designed us to be. Becoming all that we can be under God. The Bible even tells us that we can be made into something glorious and wonderful.
Before we get to that, however, I want to think with you about what you and I do when we make the statement, “I’m not perfect, but …” How would we finish that sentence? What things do we tack on that are clues to what we expect? “I’m not perfect, but …what?
I have tried a couple of answers. I guess I still try them at times. But these answers are fatally flawed. Here are two ways I have finished the sentence:
“I’m not perfect, but I’m just the same as everyone else.” That’s one option. And, “I’m not perfect, but I am working on it. I am trying.” That’s another possibility.
I am going to bear witness today that neither one of these works! Both are fatally flawed.
First, many of us will say, “I’m not perfect, but … I’m just the same as everyone else. None of us is sinless, you said so yourself, none of us can get it right all the time, so what’s the big deal? No, I’m not perfect, I’m just average. I’m like everybody else. Mr. Ordinary Guy. I just do the best I can.”
But remember that when the Bible speaks of perfection, it means fulfilling God’s purposes. It means being mature, grown up, developed. Perfection means doing what God designed us to do, not what somebody else is or does, but what you and I individually are designed to be.
So when I say, “I’m not any different from anyone else, so I’m not even going to worry about it,” then what I am doing is setting sail on a sea of sameness. I am assuming that everybody is designed for the same thing. And I fall into the trap of good-enough-ness. There’s a word I just made up. Good-enough-ness. When we say, “I’m not perfect, but nobody else is, so why should I worry about it?” we are settling for good enough. But good enough is not good enough. When we say, “I’m not perfect, but nobody else is either,” we are drifting toward disastrous denial. It’s denial because we are not looking at what God called us to be, you and me, ourselves. We’re settling for good enough. And I tell you, good enough is not good enough!
Other people are not the measure of our maturity. How well somebody else is doing is completely irrelevant. The standard of my maturity is how far I have come toward what God has called me to do. The standard of your maturity is how far you have moved along the path to which God has summoned you. What God has called each of us to be, that’s the standard by which we are measured. Your perfection is not in cloning Bob. And aren’t you glad? It would be hard to deal with two perfect people around here, now wouldn’t it?
The writer of Hebrews warns us in very straightforward language about drifting into the disaster of denial:
We must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. … how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
For us to assume that we do not need to find out what God wants each of us to do would be disastrous neglect. For us to think that just because others around us are also failed and flawed, we don’t have any work to do, that would be a drift toward disaster. For us to adopt anybody else’s standard of behavior – whether co-workers or classmates or homies on the street or whoever it is – for us to adopt anybody else’s pattern of life, just because everybody is more or less a mess and so what’s the difference – that is to drift into denial and neglect the prize that God has placed in front of us. God wants to bring each of us to glory. To glory, maturity and perfection. God wants to use us to do exactly what each of us was designed to do.
What’s wrong with it when we say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m just the same as everybody else”? What’s wrong it that, no you are not. No, you are not just the same as everybody else. Every person in this room is unique, special, designed by God to be a part of His redemptive purpose. No one else can do what you have been called to do. It is only when you see that, only when you know your own specialness, that perfection will be in sight.
“I’m not perfect, but I’m no different from anyone else.” Get rid of that thought. Throw it away. Or else how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
There’s another way to end the sentence. There’s another way to fill it in. Anybody ever said something like this? “I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it. I’m trying?” That’s another possibility. I know I have said that. I’ll bet you have too. I see a lot of self-sufficient, hard-working people out here, so I’ll wager a week’s worth of watermelons that you have said, “I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.” I’m trying to do better. I’m making a list and checking it twice. I really want to do better. Haven’t you said that kind of thing? I have. I say it about three times a day, “I haven’t finished my list of things to do, but I’m working on it.” “I’m not perfect, but I’ll just try harder. I’ll just put my nose to the grindstone, my shoulder to the wheel, my feet on the ground, and my hands on the plow; I am determined to get it right!”
Now what’s wrong with that? What’s the issue? Aside from the fact that it is anatomically impossible to have nose, shoulder, feet, and hands in all those places at the same time, what is wrong with trying harder to be complete? What’s wrong with burning the midnight oil, setting the alarm clock super-early, working harder and faster and longer, if it’s about doing the right thing? And especially if it’s about doing God’s will?
Oh, but the problem is we’re making it all about ourselves. We’re making it all a matter of our own accomplishments. Some of us think that if we just do a little more, work a little harder, push ourselves a little faster, we’ll become what we ought to become. But then it’s all about us and none of it is about God. Then it’s all what I’ve done and nothing about what God has done.
Do I have news for you! You are not going to make it. You are not going to achieve God’s intention for you just by pressing on all by yourself. What you are going to get is a bad case of frustration. What you are going to receive is a terminal case of anxiety.
What does the writer of Hebrews teach us? Listen carefully:
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory …
Ah, did you catch it? It is God who brings us to glory. We do not make ourselves glorious. It is God who brings us to glory. It is God who works in us to accomplish His will. You arrive at perfection not by working harder and longer, not by trying to be goody-goody or by spouting pious palaver. You arrive at maturity simply by being open to the Spirit of God. You arrive at maturity not by your own prodigious efforts, but just by being utterly available to the Spirit who wants to work in us and bring us to glory.
Everything else is sheer frustration. If we try to do what we think is right just by sheer grit and effort, our frustration will evolve into spiritual smugness, into serious depression, or just into the fight-and-flee mentality. I’ve seen it too many times and I’ve felt it. When I have a day in which I cannot get it all done, I cannot visit the people I set out to see, I cannot write the message or prepare the lesson I set out to write, I go home and grumble about the deacons, complain about the committees, and mentally compose a letter of resignation. I’m glad you don’t know how many times I’ve quit this work! You might have accepted the resignation if you had known! Because when I try to do it all on my own, and think that I can get to perfection just by rolling up my sleeves, I am asking for trouble. It is God who brings us to glory, and not we ourselves. Just as the Psalmist put it so many years ago, “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture; it is He that has made us and not we ourselves.”
If you can find me a sheep who made himself, I’ll back off of this, but otherwise throw away, “I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.” Get rid of that! Unless you want to dissolve in frustration, throw it away! Unless you want to wallow in depression, junk it! It is not true. You will not be all that God wants you to be just by putting in more human effort!
So where does that leave us? We are called to completeness, and not good-enough-ness, but we can’t do it by working harder and harder. Where does that leave us?
With lyrical prose, with profound passion, and with an eye that sees into the depths of things, the writer of Hebrews declares:
As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to [ourselves] but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Oh, what mystery, but what wonder is in this! Oh, what incredible news, good news! That in the word made flesh, in Jesus Christ, all of our incompleteness is gathered up, all of our immaturity is collected, all of our struggling is captured. In Him, suffering and dying, a world of possibility opens up for you and for me! In the pain of His suffering, He becomes the pioneer of our salvation, He forges the way for us, He does the heavy-duty work. And all that remains is for us to trust Him, love Him, obey Him. It is in Him that we find the power to become what we want to become. It is in Him that we are able to do what we know we must do. It is in Him who, perfect as He was, knowing no sin and following the Father’s will completely, yet made to suffer all the consequences of sin, it is in Him that our completeness will happen. Our perfection will come. In Him. Through Him. By Him. And only Him. He has tasted death, for us. He is the pioneer of our salvation; and when we see this, everything changes. Everything.
There is a man in Dallas, a prominent businessman, who has in his home a mahogany display case where visitors can see an old, stained, dirty floor mop. It’s certainly not an object of beauty. Why does this man have an old messy mop on prominent display in his home?
Years ago, as a young man, he was an orderly in a hospital. He got all the grungy jobs that no one else wanted, and he was feeling bitter about it. On this particular day he was especially out of sorts because his supervisors had added an extra shift, and he was working overtime, feeling tired, unappreciated, just generally miserable.
On that day he became aware of a hustle and bustle around, but that was nothing new. These large metropolitan hospitals face crises all the time. He didn’t like it much when someone grabbed him and said, “Bring your mop and come on to the operating room. There’s a lot of blood and we need you to mop it up.” Why should he, after all? It wasn’t supposed to be his shift, and the OR was not his assignment. But they took him by the arm, pushed him in the direction of the mop, and yelled, “Get to the OR and mop, stat”.
He went, grumbling and unhappy all the way. But what he saw in that operating room, and what he felt as he mopped blood and sweat and tears, changed his life. It changed his life, says this orderly now turned businessman, because he saw there suffering and blood and death, and in the presence of that suffering he wanted to respond. He wanted to do his part. He wanted to mop as he had never mopped before. In the presence of that suffering, he was empowered to do what must be done. The grumbling was gone. The resentment trickled away. The old way of self-pity was dead. And a new way was being born. The date, you see, was the 22nd of November, 1963, and the bleeding patient was the President of the United States. When this man saw the undeserved suffering of his leader, it changed his life.
We do not yet see how our lives are going to work out,
but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
We do not yet see how we are going to do all that we really ought to do, but we do see Jesus, spread out on that Cross, taking the consequences of our sin. And it changes us. It makes us new.
We do not yet see how the ugliness of our lives is ever going to become what we would like to see, but we do see Jesus, beautiful savior, Lord of the nations, pioneer of our salvation.
We do see Jesus, all that we could ever want and hope to be.
We do see Jesus, in agony crying out, “Father, forgive”. We do see Jesus, tasting death for every one, shrieking to the very heavens, “My God, why have you forsaken?”. We do see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor, made perfect through sufferings. We do see Jesus, gathering us up into His heart and making us become children of God.
I don’t have a mop to show you. But I can show you a cross. I can point to a relic of the battle for your soul and mine.
And on that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see the very dying form of one who suffered there for me; and in my smitten heart with tears, two wonders I confess – the wonders of his glorious love and my unworthiness.
No, I’m not perfect, but … I have a savior who is. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?