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These words are a soothing balm to those who would not for anything lay claim to perfection, and rather pride themselves in their humility and absence of profession, feeling, of course, that they would not be justified in claiming more than the apostle Paul. They say, “If Paul did not claim perfection, surely we ought not. If he was not perfect, then we are not.”
Here is another place where the context must determine the meaning of the text. Let us throw aside all prejudice and get at Paul’s true thought. When we read about perfection in the Word, we should inquire what kind of perfection is meant. We find different kinds mentioned, such as absolute, referring to God only; angelic, pertaining to angels; Edenic, that state of Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall; resurrection, relating to our glorified state after the resurrection; and Christian perfection, pertaining to perfect love. Now, the question is, which kind did Paul have reference to when he said he had not yet attained to it? Let the context explain. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” 5:11. here we have it — resurrection perfection. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.”
Of course, he had not arrived at that state of perfection, because he was not yet dead and resurrected. Perhaps the question arises, Why should he be anxious about the resurrection, when all will be resurrected? King James’ translation does not give the apostle’s full meaning. The Revised Version more clearly sets it forth: “If by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” The true thought is, he wanted to attain to the resurrection out from among the dead. The apostle John writes in Revelation 20:4-6: “And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection.”
It is the holy ones who thus will be resurrected, and those who are not will remain dead a thousand years more. Thus, Paul was very desirous of being among the first to be brought forth from the grave. This is a strong argument for holiness instead of against it.
Paul was so intent on finishing his life thus that he was forgetting other things behind, and reaching forth to things before; and, like the racer in the games, he Was pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Oh, that all would be as anxious to live holy lives as Paul, and thus expect a place in the first resurrection!
A further proof that Paul means the resurrection is found in Luke 13:32, where Jesus says, “And the third day I shall be perfected,” meaning doubtless His resurrection. The same word precisely that Paul uses.
Instead of Paul inferring or teaching against Christian perfection, he suddenly bursts out with the declaration in a verse or two following, that he was perfect, meaning, of course, Christian perfection. Hear him: “Let us therefore as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Philippians 3:15.
There can be no mistake that in this verse Paul believes we -may be perfect in some sense, not in the absolute. Not that we can be infallible. lie immediately guards this point by adding in the same verse, “And if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”
And we find this to be true. In our earlier experience of perfect love we made many blunders and mistakes, but the gentle Spirit kept revealing them to us and made the way more and more plain as we continued to walk with God. Thus, some things which we did then through ignorance without feeling any guilt, we could not do now without condemnation, because of additional light. And no doubt we do things today which later on God will reveal to us to cease or we shall be condemned.
Surely there is a sense in which we may be perfect, or such admonition would not occur so many times in the Word. Notice the following texts: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect.” 2 Corinthians 13:11. “And this also we wish even your perfection.” 2 Corinthians 13:9. “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” 1 Corinthians 2:6. “That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 1:28. “That ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12. “That we might see your face and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” 1 Thessalonians 3:10. “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:17. “Make you perfect in every good work to do His will.” Hebrews 13:21. “That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:4. “1f any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” James 3:2. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” 1 John 4:17. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” Hebrews 6:1. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.
What does all this perfection -mean? It means simply this: We are to be perfect in our spheres as Christians, as God is perfect in His sphere. We are to fill our niche down here as He directs us. And in filling it we must have, through the grace of God, perfect love, perfect submission, perfect loyalty, perfect peace, and a perfect heart cleansing. Thank God for the possibility of Christian perfection.
How astonishing it is that people want everything perfect that pertains to this world, but are so willing to take salvation at such discounts! A lady goes into a millinery store, calls for a hat, and at once rejects anything that has a blemish on it. We call for a pair of shoes, and if there is something lacking we call for another pair. A farmer goes into a nursery and proposes to buy -some young apple trees. If he detects woolly aphis or any other insect about the roots he will not take them. And who blames him? People want things right. They are not satisfied with anything short of it. God proposes to give us a perfect heart. Shall we repudiate His gift? Shall we ask for it to be discounted? Is it possible to obtain such a blessing as a perfect heart? “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9.
We speak of other things that are perfect, and there is no fuss made about it at all. We find household articles branded “Perfection,” and we think it is all right. Even tobacco will carry that name stamped upon it. If perchance Christians use it to designate God’s article of salvation, immediately there is a hue and cry made, and they seem to think it almost blasphemy.
We pluck that lovely rose and say, “That is a perfect rose.” We see that noble steed passing swiftly by and exclaim, “That is the acme of perfection!” We think nothing of it. If God is able to make a perfect horse or flower, is He not also able and willing to make a perfect Christian? “O, consistency, thou art a jewel!”