Is the complainer in your life a perfectionist? If so, he, most likely, possesses a propensity to learn. Consequently, we can teach him how excellence, not perfection, is God’s design.
Teaching excellence rather than perfection to the complainer means that we communicate how God intends us to manage our expectations. Proverbs, meaning generally true, most of the time, teaches us how to do so.
Excellence features two components: authenticity and wisdom. The complainer is a frustrated perfectionist, but he is willing to learn. While his high expectations can be beneficial at times, the complainer has a blind spot to the fact that everyone and everything except God will fall short. Whereas perfectionism implies flawlessness, excellence recognizes (1) authenticity: the truth about one’s strengths and shortcomings, and (2) wisdom: the intersection of God’s righteousness with street smarts — shrewdly doing the best with what we have.
Authenticity implies that someone is genuine, or true. We often refer to an authentic person as, “the real thing.” The truth is that no one can say that he is perfect, or without sin (Proverbs 20:9). Authenticity demands that we confess our sin to God and others and discover His restorative mercy (Proverbs 28:13).
Teaching wisdom is a fountain of life, turning a complainer from the snares of death (Proverbs 13:14). Solomon said that wisdom is like honey, sweet to one’s soul providing eternal hope for one’s future: “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:13-14).
In response to the complaining Pharisees, Jesus taught excellence (authenticity and wisdom) versus perfection through a parable about the old being unable to contain the new. The old, perfectionist, religious system could not hold captive the new, authentic expression of Christ’s kingdom in one’s heart (Luke 5:35-39).
Someone might say, “Hey, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called his disciples to be perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfect means complete. We are to be complete in our love for all, including difficult people (Matthew 5:43-48). This completion occurs only when we surrender our hearts to the authenticity and wisdom of Christ.
Comfort, encourage, rephrase any absolute statement in the form of a question, and then direct the complainer to excellence — authenticity and wisdom — over perfection. Help the complainer recognize the truth about the situation and wisely readjust his expectations which are thwarted on his audience. Give him a safe place to accurately express his personal strengths and shortcomings and offer wisdom for him to do the best with what he has. Do this by modeling excellence over perfection yourself. Humbly communicate authenticity (your strengths and shortcomings) and wisdom (shrewdly doing the best with what you have), rather than an embellished image of flawlessness.
We must be careful not to complain ourselves (Philippians 2:14). Follow Jesus’ example for listening and leading the complainer: (1) comfort, (2) encourage, (3) rephrase absolute statements in the form of a question, and (4) teach excellence (authenticity and wisdom), rather than perfection. He implemented the wisdom that we glean from Proverbs. It’s no wonder that Paul referred to Christ as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).