Be Ye Perfect

“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” —Philippians 3:15

THE Apostle Paul was a wonderful example of faithfulness to all those who are endeavoring to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. In the third chapter of Philippians, he reveals to us in a most definitive way the Christian principles that governed his life. In verse seventeen he admonishes us to “agree together, my friends, to follow my example. You have us as a model; watch those whose way of life conforms to it.” (NEB) Not that Paul was setting himself above the Lord, for his desire was that we follow him as he followed the Lord.—I Cor. 11:1

In opening his lesson, the apostle sounds a warning concerning the evil influences that were rampant at that time, one of which was the concision. The Judaizers laid much stress on circumcision, which to them was a symbolic yielding to certain features of the Law they felt were necessary in order for Christians to be acceptable to the Lord. But their conformance to this ancient rite was only an outward symbol, simply a matter of the flesh. The apostle, however, states that circumcision is an illustration of a spiritual condition. He states that first we, the footstep followers of Jesus, are the true circumcision because we have cast away the flesh and have no confidence in it. The true circumcision are the covenant people of God, the spiritual seed of Abraham, “And circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”—Rom. 2:29

The apostle then in verses four through seven tells us what it means to cast away the things of the flesh. From the standpoint of those of the concision he had many more things of the flesh to glory about than they. He had been circumcised on the eighth day, according to the Law and the custom. He could trace his genealogy to Jacob and Abraham. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, which was descended from Rachel, the wife of Jacob’s choice. The tribe of Benjamin was faithful in its worship of God at the Temple, which was not true of most of the other tribes. Both of his parents were Hebrews; so that he was neither born nor educated a Hellenist Jew, who might be supposed to be less exact in the Law. As a Pharisee, he had been particularly strict in the ceremonies and traditions of the elders. His persecution of the church proved his zeal for the Law. His whole conduct was so conformable to the letter of the Law, that, in respect to that kind of righteousness, no one could lay anything to his charge.

But all of those things which the Jews held so dear, and which he once thought most advantageous to him, he had learned to account as of no value and as loss for Christ. He was fully persuaded that if he depended on them, they would prevent his salvation by the grace of the Gospel. He therefore willingly renounced them all. This included, in addition to his credentials as a Jew, all things—his worldly possessions, his will, and his earthly ambitions and desires. (Phil. 3:8) He subverted them all as a necessary prerequisite to the privilege of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.

What did the Apostle Paul mean by the expression “the knowledge of Christ Jesus”? The Scriptures tell us that Jesus reflected the mind and purpose of the Heavenly Father in every respect. Jesus himself said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. … The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me [by the Holy Spirit] he doeth the works.” (John 14:9,10) So to have a knowledge of Jesus is to have a knowledge of God. Jesus revealed the character and love of God by the manner of his life and through his words he disclosed God’s wonderful plan of redemption, which in itself is a demonstration of the Heavenly Father’s justice, love, wisdom, and power.

The apostle, in his letter to the Ephesians, states the matter so beautifully: “Unto me … is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship [partnership] of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose [a plan of the ages, Diaglott] which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:8-11) This knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus and the prospect of sharing with Jesus these unspeakable riches was the motivating force that brought Paul to surrender his identity as an individual and accept the will of God as his will. This in fact was a prerequisite of God’s acceptance of him and his subsequent begettal of the Holy Spirit which was an earnest of his inheritance.—Eph. 1:9-14

This arrangement was a blessed privilege to the Apostle Paul, for he knew that he could never be acceptable to God through his own righteousness, by obedience to the terms of the Law. (Phil. 3:9) But by believing in Jesus, by having faith in his shed blood, the ransom price, and the application of its merit to himself by faith, he was given a standing with God. How wonderful that a righteous standing before the Heavenly Father could be attained to by grace rather than attempting to gain it through the works of the Law. See Romans 7:19-25; 8:1-4.

The apostle recognized that this gracious arrangement for his justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit was for a purpose. He explains in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” The thought of knowing him carries with It more than the concept of mere factual knowledge. The thought seems to be that of a heart appreciation, or a mental discernment that would enable Paul to have a true fellowship or partnership in all that motivated Jesus. For he realized that if he could capture those sentiments and have them written in his own heart, he would receive the glorious resurrection the Lord himself had experienced. Surely one of those sentiments Paul desired to emulate was a boundless love for and appreciation of the Heavenly Father, a love that was so strong that it would generate an absolute attitude of selflessness and an unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s will, even under difficult and trying circumstances.

The apostle realized what the will of the Heavenly Father was for Jesus and would also be for him as he endeavored to walk in the footsteps of our Lord. Paul also realized, of course, that one of the reasons for the Lord’s first advent was to provide the ransom price for Adam. No one could share this with Jesus. His death on the cross provided the necessary corresponding price to release Adam and all of his progeny from the sentence of death. His death on the cross was the great offering for sin; nothing more was required to provide the means of eradicating all sin forever. The apostle expressed this thought so eloquently in Hebrews 10:12, “This man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

When Jesus yielded his perfect human life on Calvary’s cross he would have gone out of existence except for the provision arranged by the Heavenly Father to beget him to the divine nature at the time of his baptism in the river Jordan. (Matt. 3:16,17) However, in order for him to be resurrected and born to the highest of all orders of life it was necessary that Jesus be tried and tested in all ways. This required that he lay his life down in a very special way, that is, by spending his strength and vitality in the service of the Heavenly Father, the Gospel and those whom God had called. The apostle explains, “Though he [Jesus] were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:8,9) Jesus was always obedient to the Heavenly Father and so we reason that the meaning of the text is more on the order of proving his obedience. Phillips’ translates this text, “He had to prove the meaning of obedience through all that he suffered,” and then states that the experiences he endured made him perfect. The word perfect is teleieoo in the Greek, and means ‘perfected in character.’ The thought seems to be that Jesus demonstrated his loyalty and faithfulness under the difficult circumstances permitted by his Heavenly Father. These experiences proved that Jesus was willing, without murmuring, to yield himself as a sacrifice, the just for the unjust, and to endure the ridicule and reviling of an unbelieving world in a way that met God’s approval. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus, “When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”—I Pet. 2:23; Heb. 12:3

It was this aspect of the Lord’s suffering that the apostle desired to share, for he realized that the servant was not above his Master; that if it was required of Jesus to suffer and prove his faithfulness and loyalty, how much more would this testing be required of his followers. (Matt. 10:24,25) Further, he realized that it was by these experiences that he was to be made perfect, that is, perfected in character. This thought had a different meaning for Paul than for Jesus. Jesus was already perfect in mind and it was necessary only to prove and test him, but for the apostle to be perfect would require a process of development. Paul himself described this process, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”—Rom. 12:2

Paul realized that there was only one way this transformation of mind could be finally and fully accomplished and that was by the experiences the Lord permitted him to have. It was necessary that he too learn obedience by the things which he was to suffer. In answer to Ananias’ protest the Lord said concerning Paul, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”—Acts 9:15,16

The expression ‘for my names sake’ is comprehensive. It includes everything connected with the divine plan, of which Jesus, the Messiah, is the center. It includes suffering for the truth’s sake, because the truth is vitally connected with the name of Jesus. It includes the brethren because they have named the name of Christ, and they are under his name as members of his body. It includes all the work of the Millennial kingdom because he is the head of it all and his name, his honor, is associated with it all. The apostle willingly yielded himself to the Lord’s arrangements for him. He expressed his real heart attitude in Colossians 1:24: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.”

It was not as though Paul was saying that Christ’s sacrifice was not efficacious for the remission of all sins, but rather that this was his recognition of the Lord’s arrangement for him and for all the footstep followers of Jesus. (II Cor. 1:5,6; Phil. 1:29,30; II Thess. 1:3-5) How did the apostle suffer for the body of Christ? In II Corinthians 11:24-28 he enumerates some of the experiences he suffered for the Lord’s name’s sake, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

Paul was not simply passive in suffering ridicule and derision and physical abuse, as apparently the brethren in Corinth were doing (II Cor. 11:20,21, NEB) but he actively spent himself, his strength, his vitality, and in addition was submissive in all the experiences the Lord permitted him to have. Who can read of these experiences and not recognize the sincerity and determination of Paul when he says, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”?—Phil. 3:11

By desiring to be made conformable unto Christ’s death (vs. 10) Paul meant to emulate the real baptism Christ experienced. In the symbol of water baptism, when the candidate is lowered backward into the water, it pictures the complete death of the candidate’s will, aims, earthly ambitions—in short, the death of the “old man.” (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) As the candidate is raised up out of the water, it pictures being raised to newness of life, with only the will of God being manifest in the spirit of the candidate’s mind. It was Paul’s desire to so completely yield himself to this concept that his life would be consumed as was the life of Jesus in doing the Heavenly Father’s will. The real baptism of Jesus and the baptism to which Paul aspired is described by the apostle in Romans 6:3-5, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were [are] baptized into Jesus Christ were [are] baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Paul realized that having a partnership in the suffering of Christ would make him conformable unto his death.

The apostle then continues in verse twelve of our theme text, “It is not to be thought that I have already achieved all this. I have not yet reached perfection, but I press on, hoping to take hold of that for which Christ once took hold of me.” (NEB) Paul recognized that he had not as yet been perfected, that the process of transformation had not as yet been completed. But he fully realized the reason that he had been called—that he might, if faithful, be a partaker of the first resurrection and be elevated to glory, honor, and immortality. With his eyes only on this goal, he was determined to complete the work that was started in him, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 3:13,14

And so the great Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (vs. 15) To make the apostle’s exhortation completely understandable, we must take note that the word ‘perfect’ in this text is not the same word rendered perfect as in verse twelve. The Greek word translated perfect in this instance is taleios and means, in its essence, to be mature, particularly in judgment. It is the same word used by our Lord when he addressed the rich young ruler, saying, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou host, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:21) Here Jesus was saying to the young man that if he followed the instructions given, he would be showing maturity of mind and judgment, for the spiritual rewards of following Jesus were far superior to the temporal things that he now possessed.

So the apostle in our lesson is simply saying to all of us that if we have this maturity of mind and judgment, if we appreciate our calling, if we appreciate the hope that is set before us of glory, honor, and immortality, if we truly desire to be associated with Jesus in the kingdom in order to bring the blessings of life to the world, then let us be like-minded with him—that if by any means we might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Our Lord, in speaking to the sons of Zebedee, when they had asked for the privilege of sitting one on the right hand and one on the left in the kingdom, replied, “Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They answered and said unto him that they were able; then Jesus said, “Ye shall Indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given them for whom it is prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40) This symbolic cup referred to here by Jesus was all the experiences that the Heavenly Father permitted to come to him and which he knew would be permitted to come to his true disciples as the result of determining to do the Heavenly Father’s will. For he knew that his Father’s will was that all who followed him would be called upon to lay their lives down as a living sacrifice, to suffer as he had suffered, in serving the truth, the brethren, and the kingdom interests. This, of course, is in essence what Paul was inviting us to do, that is, to drink the cup that the Father has poured for all of us.

The apostle recognized that some will not be advanced to the point where they are willing to take such a positive stand as he had taken. In that case, he states that if the heart is right, God will enlighten their minds to the point where they will be motivated to follow Paul as he followed Christ. He then expresses concern that none be discouraged and lose ground in their development, because they are not fully like-minded with him, but that they should hold to the gains they have made, while, at the same time, they should look toward the same goal, constantly endeavoring to attain to it. If we will but do this, we will all have true fellowship together as we strive toward perfection of our spiritual mind and will.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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