1. Onto Perfection...
a. The NT command to be perfect
b. The OT command to be perfect
2. The five targets of Philippians 2:14-16
c. Without blemish
d. Lights in the world
e. Holding fast the word of life
3. The two hindrances to perfection
In recent years, the Church has opted for the doctrines of acceptability before God on the basis of Christ's work on the cross. As believers are all too aware, they make mistakes, let God down and even, at times, disobey His commands before being convicted by the Holy Spirit for repentance. It has been extremely important, therefore, to assure believers that acceptance is on the basis of Christ's work alone and not on self-effort.
However, when dwelt upon to the extent that it becomes unbalanced, it inbreeds a mentality that accepts second-best for God, second-best for our lives. It tends toward an understanding of victorious christian living as being futile or unattainable - a nice idea but one not worth aiming for. After all, where is the point of striving to be perfect if we'll never get there this side of the grave and if God accepts us as we are now?
Unfortunately, this position is untenable from a scriptural point of view!!
The Bible exhorts us to press on to and strive for perfection, mistakes being momentary blips in a life of faith, disobedience being a frightening and appalling concept that is to be ruthlessly avoided at all costs (for example, Mtw 5:30). Though we are called to bear with one another's failings, we are not called to tolerate our own (Rom 15:1)!
Therefore, perfection must be our aim, our desire, our objective.
Anything else is to lessen the work of Jesus who died to provide all things necessary for us to
be re-created in His image and likeness.
1. On to perfection...
a. The NT command to be perfect
teleios (Strongs Gk number 5046), used in the passages cited below, means 'complete' or 'whole' from the Gk word telos meaning 'the point aimed at as a limit' and, therefore, the end or completion of a matter. The word does not inevitably carry with it a sense of sinlessness, but the idea of achieving the purpose to which something has been called.
However, especially in the first two of the NT passages cited below, the word cannot be taken to mean anything other than the perfection of God.
We are, then, to have nothing of what Christ isn't and everything of what Christ is. And, if that be the case, perfection must be our aim even though, this side of the grave, we know that we will never achieve it.
As Ezekiel was told at the beginning of his prophetic ministry '...the house of Israel will not listen to you...' (Ezek 3:7). He still pressed on to proclaim God's words even though he knew that he would seemingly achieve nothing.
'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (spoken in the context of the love that we have for others being 'perfect', that we might love our enemies not just our friends. But the saying must extend to all areas of our lives - as God is, so are we called to be - that is, perfect).
Whether we translate the Gk word as 'perfect', 'complete' or 'mature', the meaning is the same - that the standard we are to live up to is the standard that God lives up to!
If we lessen the force of the word here, we lessen the concept of God's perfection and the perfection that we are called to achieve.
The five gifts are given to build up the Church '...until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature (perfect) manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’
Mature manhood is further qualified by the next phrase 'the measure...of the fulness of Christ' which can only indicate that perfection is our aim. See Col 2:9 which uses the same Gk word is translated 'fulness' and reads '...in [Christ] the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily' meaning that the sum total of God resides in Him, not just an 'acceptable' level. The perfect expression of deity dwells in Jesus and we are called to that measure of perfection.
Again, should we translate the word as 'complete’, 'mature' (as the RSV) or 'perfect', the point is still the same for we are comparing our level of attainment to the standard of the perfection of God.
'Not that I...am already perfect (Strongs Gk number 5048 - which is derived from teleios)...Let those of us who are mature (perfect) be thus minded...'
That is, the perfect (in the Lord) are those who put past achievements behind them and press on with determination toward the goal of receiving the resurrection from the dead.
The perfect are those who press on to be perfect!
See Col 1:28 where Paul proclaims that he works toward presenting all men (believers as well as the unsaved) as perfect in Christ. Although we can be considered perfect now on the basis of Christ's work, even the perfect strive onwards to be perfect - to be considered perfect is different to being perfect in much the same way as to be considered righteous is different to being righteous (living out the perfection of rightstanding with God).
We can be at the same time both considered perfect because of Jesus' work and also seeking to be perfect as a present reality.
b. The OT command to be perfect
In the Scriptures quoted, the word under consideration is tamiym (Strongs Heb number 8549).
Gen 17:1 (Individual perfection) - God says to Abraham 'I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be perfect'. The Heb word properly means 'perfect' or 'complete' rather than the RSV's interpretation of 'blameless'. The same word is used in Lev 22:21 of the state of the sacrifices that were offered to God - that is to say that 'blameless’ is not an adequate description of these sacrifices but 'perfect' is. God's command to Abraham, then, is to be perfect in His eyes.
Deut 18:13 (Corporate perfection) - The same Hebrew word occurs here where Moses exhorts the Israelites 'You shall be perfect before the Lord your God'.
The RSV again translates it as 'blameless’ (The context refers to the removal of abominable occultish practises from the community of God's people).
Both individually and corporately, then, the OT commands believers to be 'perfect'.
Although we would vehemently oppose such doctrine that teaches that there is the possibility of attaining a state of 'sinless perfection', we would, nevertheless, stress the need for believers to have that attitude in themselves that desires to be perfect in every area of their lives in order to bring glory to the Father by being like Christ in all things.
2. The five targets of Phil 2:14-16
Perfection means purity. A singleness of purpose to be like God in all aspects of our lives, whether internal attitudes or external actions.
Perfection and purity are the characteristics of each of the five targets that Paul writes about in Philippians 2:15-16.
Let us, therefore, set our eyes firmly on the target and define the mark to shoot at, before going on in the next section to consider the two hindrances to perfection as outlined in v.14.
No wrong action
amemptos (Strongs Gk number 273)
Vines - 'free from all valid charge'
Martin - 'living a life at which no finger of criticism may be pointed'
Whereas 'justified' means that, having been tried according to [God's] Law, the verdict upon your life is 'not guilty', 'blameless' means that no-one can find anything in your life by which to ever bring you into a court of Law - there is no charge to answer. It is impossible to validate an accusation against you.
Everything is in keeping with what is righteous, there is total purity and individual freedom from guilt.
akeraios (Strongs Gk number 185)
Vines - It means '...lit. unmixed, with absence of foreign mixture...The Greeks used it of wine unmixed with water, of unalloyed metal'
Martin - 'It is employed in first century literature of wine which is undiluted or metals which contain no weakening alloy'
The Law was plain in its command against mixing unlike substances:
Deut 22:9-11 - 'You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed...You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together. You shall not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together’
The NT is equally as plain in its teaching on the subject:
II Cor 6:14-7:1 - '...let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God'
In our lives, then, there needs to be a purity before God that is uncontaminated and unmixed with the ways of the world.
As in the case of the vineyard, there needs to be a singleness of purpose as to which fruit we are seeking to grow in our lives (whether of the flesh or of the spirit). With the ploughing, there needs to be a commitment not to mix the clean (ox) and the unclean (ass). And, with the clothing, there needs to be the decision not to mix the basis of the righteousness that we are clothed in (linen was worn by the priesthood in their daily duties, Ex 39:27-29. Linen is the way of faith which is acceptable to God).
In short, the purity of God needs to pervade every area of our lives and dominate our conduct in all situations.
c. Without blemish
No areas of self-will
amemos (Strongs Gk number 299)
Kittels - 'It is a cultic term in the LXX, denoting the physical perfection of the priest or offering. But it may also be used of the absolute blamelessness of God (II Sam 22:31)'
Each of the four animal sacrifices offered to God had to be without blemish (Lev 1:3 - burnt offering, 3:1 - peace offering, 4:3 - sin offering, 5:15 - guilt offering). To offer anything that had a defect was an abomination to God (Deut 17:1).
The believer is also called to offer his entire life as a sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1), not in the OT way of physical death upon a brazen altar, but by dying to our own way of living in order to live according to the way that God reveals to us.
This life of sacrifice needs to be without blemish, without any imperfection in our service to Him. The offering of our life needs to be pure in every respect, acceptable to God for whom we have died to our own will.
NB - Pp Deut 32:5 - '...they are no longer His children because of their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation' Paul turns the quote around to be a positive declaration to the Philippians. He exhorts them to be the children of God without blemish that the Israelites failed to attain.
d. Lights in the World
When earth's inhabitants look heavenward, they see a dark night sky illuminated by myriads of twinkling stars. Similarly, when heaven's inhabitants look earthward, they see a dark world that is inhabited by visible luminaries, each radiating God's presence into their surroundings.
Stars are either visible or not. Rarely do they switch on and off like fairy lights - their light continues to shine throughout the night, from season to season. Likewise, the importance of a believer's purity - we cannot be individuals who flash on and off, one time doing good and reflecting His likeness into the world, another time acting evil, using the world's ways to promote selfish desires.
The constant light of God's presence through us can only be sustained by purity.
e. Holding fast the word of life
In the face of mounting opposition and persecution that comes as a result of purity (II Tim 3:12), the believer needs to have full assurance in the Gospel and to be determined to proclaim the truth come what may.
When standing before the Sanhedrin (the highest and most powerful Jewish court), Peter and John proclaimed their commitment to bear the word of salvation despite the threats of the council (Acts 4:19-20) and, at a later date, they once again refused to deny Jesus (Acts 5:29).
If we are going to proclaim the gospel, we must be prepared to suffer because of it. Let us make up our own minds now and purify our motives. If we think that the gospel is a means of earthly gain then we will soon run screaming from its doctrine when tribulation comes.
We are called to grasp the truth with both hands and cling onto it no matter what.
3. The two hindrances to perfection
All the above five characteristics of a pure and perfect life are results of doing '...all things without grumbling or questioning' (Phil 2:14).
These two words are indicative of the children of Israel's journeying through the wilderness which culminated in their refusal to enter into the land that God had promised to give to them.
gongustes - Strongs Gk number 1112
John 7:12, Acts 6:1, I Peter 4:9.
Kittels - The root that the word comes from means ‘to grumble because of disappointed hopes...The idea is that a supposedly legitimate claim is not met. What is denoted is a strong personal attitude'
The root is used of Israel in the LXX in, for example, Ex 15:24, 16:2, 16:7-8.
If we expect situations to be different than they are, the danger is that we will grumble about it because our expectation has gone unfulfilled.
Murmuring and complaining are affronts to the faith that God is able to use all situations for His and His people's blessing and advantage - it expects God to arrange situations according to our perception of Him.
Definition - A complaint when an expectation is not fulfilled.
The children of Israel's expectation of the way things should have been was often disappointed (eg - Ex 5:19-21 - they didn't expect the Egyptians to refuse to let them go and to increase their burden. Ex 15:23-24 - they didn't expect the waters of Marah to be bitter. Ex 16:2-3 - they didn't expect to have to go without the delights of Egyptian food - and the delights of Egyptian bad breath).
Finally, on the edge of the promised land, when the realisation of all that they'd come out of Egypt to receive lay before them, they failed to go in and take possession through a false expectation of what was already there.
Num 14:1-3 - they hadn't expected there to be a strong force already occupying the land, they had been hoping that the inhabitants would have been both few and weak. But their expectation was extremely short-sighted - if it was a good land, the strongest of mankind would want to possess it. Only if it was a barren wilderness would there have been few and weak inhabitants!
dialogismos - Strongs Gk number 1261
Mtw 5:19, Mk 7:21, Lk 5:22, 6:8, 9:46, 9:47, 24:38, Rom 1:21, 14:1, I Cor 3:20, I Tim 2:8, James 2:4.
Vines - '...inward reasoning...'
Questioning is the result of a thought process that often assesses outward circumstances to arrive at conclusions, but even an outward phenomenon (words or actions) is the result and outcome of the process that has been going on within.
Hence Jesus speaks of the source of evil actions as being within a man (Mtw 15:19, Mk 7:21). Only the Scripture references in bold type above are instances where something external seems to be intended, whereas the others refer to that which is internal.
On the one hand, logic and reasoning are very necessary tools for God's workman, but, on the other, they can draw a believer into a life before God that is based upon an assessment of seen circumstances rather than a reliance upon the invisible revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Logic and reasoning are certain stumbling blocks to faith in the word of God and they lead to faith in a personal assessment of our circumstances that is devoid of revelation.
Definition - A thought process that often assesses outward circumstances.
When the Israelites contemplated their circumstances, they came to the conclusions that conflicted with the known word of God [for example, in Ex 4:29-31, God had said that He was going to deliver them from bondage. But a change of circumstances that they did not want (Ex 5:10-14) made them think that God's word was not to be trusted (Ex 5:21)].
Again, the Israelites' questioning culminated on that day when they stood on the edge of the promised land. God had said repeatedly to them that He was giving Canaan as an eternal possession (see Lev 25:2 and Num 13:2). But when they found out the dangers that faced them, they thought through the implications and refused to act upon the word of God (Num 14:3). They came to the conclusion that they were doomed to die unless they returned to Egypt, instead of trusting in the all-sufficiency of God's power.
Both grumbling and questioning resulted ultimately in an entire generation of God's people not being able to enter into the reality of the promises that the Lord had prepared for them.
Notice Phil 2:13 - God's workings both to will and to work for His own good pleasure was frustrated in the life of His people because of their attitude in these two areas.
Perfection and purity means 'no E numbers' - 'no additives' - that prevent us from becoming the likeness of Christ in every aspect of our lives.
NB - Common References listed under the ‘References’ page of ‘The Cross’ series of teachings are not duplicated here.
Martin - Philippians, Ralph P Martin, IVP/Tyndale New Testament Commentaries