by David G. Woolley
Editor's Note: The Top of the Morning staff is pleased to publish this David G. Woolley post demonstrating the powerful clarifying nature of the Book of Mormon as a companion text to the Bible. As prophesied by Ezekiel, the two scriptures go hand in hand.
It seems that way, sometimes. Take the idea of perfection. Isn’t that our mission in life? Aren’t we supposed to be seeking it?
Perfection is an odd term. Its completely foreign to the teachings of Christ, yet there it is in the English translation of the New Testament, Matthew 5:48. In the Hebrew text the term perfect actually means complete or mature. It comes from the Hebrew word Tam or Tamim. When Christ admonished the Jews to be perfect he was likely asking them to be complete. But without the clarifying passages of the Book of Mormon account of Christ's ministry, the translators of the Bible can be forgiven for their imperfect translation.
In the Old World, instead of using himself as the example of perfection, Christ used His Father. Christ was without blemish. Sinless. Flawless. In Hebrew He is the Messiah. In Greek He is known as the Christ. In English he is the Anointed One. Anointed and set apart to become the savior of mankind. That was the major focus in Christ's mission on earth. Providing salvation for us. So why didn’t He use Himself as the living, breathing incarnation of perfection? In the English sense of the word He was perfect. In the Hebrew text He was incomplete.
When Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount he was the only flawless man to ever walk the earth. He'd received a mortal body of flesh. He'd suffered temptation at the hands of Satan and won in perfect form. He'd healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and raised the dead. Despite all he’d accomplished his mission was unfinished. The pain and anguish of an impending atonement loomed. There was a resurrection to work out. An ascension to make. There were other sheep not of the Jerusalem fold he had yet to gather. His mission was far from over. Instead of presenting Himself as an incomplete example, He used His Father as the perfectly complete illustration, telling the Jews to, "Be ye therefore [complete] even as your father which is in heaven is [complete] (Matthew 5:48).
The term perfect is succinct. It’s to the point. The only problem is that we understand the idea in absolute terms. To English speakers the word means without flaw. Without error. No nicks. No scratches. No bumps. No imperfections. Brand new. Never used. Showroom quality. Leather seats. Fully functional GPS. All the extras hand crafted to perfection.
How impossible is that?
The whole idea of perfection denies the necessity of the atonement. What need have we of a Savior if we are without flaw? Without nicks? Without scrapes, bumps or imperfections? What good is a plan for our salvation if we've got the newest model, the leather seats, and the fully functional GPS? With all that, can't we find our own way?
And then, as if the concept of perfection couldn't get anymore blurred, we get it all mixed up with the idea of acquiring the talents of others. Talents are like manna from heaven. Nourishing. Sustaining. Filling. You can also harvest too much of a good thing. Talents were never intended to be harvested. They're a gift. Given to us to bless others. The talents we lack are not a measure of our imperfection. They're an invitation for others to serve us.
The Lord was pretty clear on the matter (D&C 46:11-33). Talents have little or possibly nothing to do with the perfection (completeness) Christ preached in the Sermon on the Mount. We were never intended to possess every talent. We are expected to bless one another with the ones we have. To some it is given to be good sacrament meeting speakers. To others it is given to believe on their words. Both wonderful talents. But in this competitive, I-want-what-you-have-world, believing on their words isn't nearly as enviable as, say, the honors of a golden toungue.
The imperfect translation of the concept of Biblical perfection is clarified in the Book of Mormon. No wonder its subtitle is Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In 3 Nephi 27:27, instead of using His Father as the example of perfection (completion), Christ counsels us to be, “Even as I am."
When Christ spoke those words the crucifixion was nearly a year old. The corresponding destruction that took place in the New World happened in the first month of the Nephite year (3 Nephi 8: 5). Christ didn't appear to the Nephites until the end of that same year when many were gathered at the temple in Bountiful discussing the events of destruction and the three days of darkness that had taken place months before (3 Nephi 10: 18-19).
During the intervening period between the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount and His appearance to the Nephites, Christ completed His mission. He completed the atonement. He completed the resurrection. He completed the ascension to His father. He likely completed other parts of His mission including visiting other sheep not of the Jerusalem fold. He’d completed all that the Father had asked of Him and he could, as he did in the sermon on the mount, encourage his hearers to be complete, "Even as I am" 3 Nephi 27:27
Christ's admonition to perfection isn't related to talents, skills, clean homes, organized households, nice cars, education, social rank, fine jewelry, great art, done laundry, good looks, thriving business, or nice things. It’s an admonition to find out the will of God for your specific purpose on earth, to read your patriarchal blessing, and to complete your mission during this earthly probation.
Like the 19 year old young men and the 21 year old young women who serve as missionaries, there are standards of worthiness that will increase capacity, invite the spirit and infuse talents with heaven-sent magnification. Being complete in the Lord includes obedience, repentance and forgiveness. Add to any mission operation the saving ordinances of the gospel and the potential for successfull completion triples. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, comes complete with the most highly sophisticated robotics ever created. A mortal body. With all the sickness, pain and joys of life that come with a divinely engineered tabernacle. IMF never had a gadget as elegant or eternal.
If you take as your mission the achievement of impossible goals, the completion of impossible tasks, or the overcoming of impossible fears, life may become just that. Impossible. Mission accomplished never included the acquiring of talents, personalities, and accomplishments of other admirable saints. Well done thou good and faithful servant has as its rejoinder: Be ye therefore complete. That's your mission.
And it’s not impossible.
Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website.