2 Corinthians 13:9-11
“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. …. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:9,11)
Paul prays for the perfection of the Christians in Corinth and tells them to aim for it! Before going on, brainstorm for a moment. What might result from a person seeking to live with unrealistic expectations?
For many, however, the danger is discouragement in not being able to achieve or maintain what they expect. Many become so discouraged they drop out altogether. Unrealistic expectations lead to self-deception through rationalization, especially by redefining sin or a particular sin so we no longer acknowledge the attitude or act as sin or hypocrisy from knowing we fall short but professing otherwise. Unrealistic expectations can also lead to discouragement from expecting perfection and failing to achieve it.
Expectations that are too low and too high exist in a strange combination of the two. This odd hybrid can’t be found in any church’s formal teaching, but it is common in Christian practice. People say, “I’m not half as sinful as most people” and think that’s good enough (see 2 Cor. 10:12). Another variety of the same syndrome is the Christian who prays, “forgive us of our many sins,” but doesn’t pause to think of any specific wrong he needs to right. Both may be jealous of another person or critical in spirit, but quite satisfied with their own level of achievement. Their expectations are too low by biblical standards, but their evaluation of themselves is way too high! They, too, qualify as misguided in expectations; and they, too, may be self-deceived or hypocritical.
We’ve looked at some of the results of holding unrealistic expectations about our potential for life. Before pressing on to “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12), we need to accept the biblical limitations on our expectations. In this life we’ll never be absolutely perfect as God is, without sin, though when we see Jesus we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). On the other hand, we must never settle for anything short of his promised triumphant life in the Spirit. Before examining that theme, let’s pause and give thanks that the false expectations are false!
We might ask, “Can we be perfect even as God is perfect?” Never for a moment do I love as Christ loved. I never— and never shall in this life—have his level of courage, of purity, of contentment, of faith. Yet that’s my goal. I intend to move in that direction. But notice, I said that I don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘today I’m going to get irritated 4 times, lust six times, covet my friend’s new house, worry for 10 minutes, and grouse about certain things that keep bugging me.’ I don’t intend to do those things; I don’t choose to do them. And when I find myself thinking that way, when my falling short of Christlikeness rises to the conscious level, I immediately cry for help and by God’s grace quit.
That deliberate kind of sin that calls for total success—the new believer doesn’t cut down his bank robberies from 10 to 2 a year, he doesn’t try to seduce fewer women than he used to, she doesn’t quit cheating on state income tax while still fudging a little on the feds, quarrel only with those colleagues who’re totally unreasonable, talk about people hurtfully only when it’s true. They just quit! And hallelujah! the new “me” with the new inside Partner has that capability.