At least eighteen times in the New Testament the concept “perfect and complete” is repeated. Perfect and complete means “to bring to an end, to complete, to perfect.” It refers to the goal of Christ’s followers: spiritual maturity of godliness in mind and character.
Were the Scriptures given to tease us with the idea of spiritual maturity, as so many people infer?
Is it a standard God implies that we can never attain?
Why would He repeat the phrase so many times to us if it were intended only for those in heaven?
How can the standard be impossible to attain if He never states specifically that we cannot attain it? But He, in fact, states specifically that those who believe and receive can and have attained it in and through Christ.
Do we understand that resurrection power is absolutely necessary for living in the perfection and completeness of spiritual maturity of godliness in mind and character?
It is sad, but so often I have heard, “Paul said in Philippians he never could” attain it, “so we can’t” either, as if there is nothing more to it than that.
Hey– I have a radical idea! Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in the Amplified, but let’s look at the wide-angle concept he presents to us instead of focusing with a microscope on two half sentences (3:12a, 13a).
10 [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]
11 That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body].
12 Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own.
13 I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.
In summary, in verses 10-11 Paul states his purpose. Then in verses 11-14 he puts the purpose in context and clarifies how he will attain it.
Paul’s’ purposes were two-fold:
1) knowing Christ intimately and in that His resurrection power (v. 10) and
2) sharing in His sufferings (v. 10) and in that attaining to the resurrection (v.11, 12).
1) knowing Christ with knowing His resurrection power and
2) suffering with spiritual transformation.
His plan to win the prize of knowing Christ and His resurrection power is as follows:
1) to forget the past and
2) to strain ahead toward the goal
Putting Paul’s purposes in perspective, let’s remember the big picture. Paul did not time-wise live a full life dying of old age. Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded (2 Tim. 4:6) around 64 A.D. which would have made him around 62 years old. In order to fulfill God’s purposes for His glory, his life was cut short in comparison to John’s who died of old age in his nineties. As a result of Paul’s execution, he did not experience all that he would have had he been allowed to live on in his pursuits.
Paul’s goal was to “press on toward the goal of Christ” (v. 14). And he did, until he was beheaded.
Had he lived on, he would have continued to press on, would have suffered more, would have been transformed in spirit more and thus would have known Christ more intimately, like John did. Not that he would have wanted to live on here if God had fulfilled His purposes for Paul; he wouldn’t have according to Philippians 1:22-23 where he shares his internal conflict of fanciful versus practical desires. But that’s a separate issue.
Notice in verse 12 the word, “now,” and in verse 13, “yet.” In two similar sentences describing Paul’s current circumstance, he uses “now” and then “yet” placing in juxtaposition his present state versus his intended future state. “Now” refers to the state he figured at the time of writing the letter. Contrarily, “yet” refers to what he was seeking and with every intention of attaining. These different words in similar sentences support the idea of the journey process and bring the overall intention of this passage to light. Like two beacons directing him on his way, these two words twinkle as if to say “I haven’t reached my goal thus far, but -by God- I’ll never stop straining for it with all my might because it belongs to me.”
Evidence of Paul’s full potential we can see gleaming in verse 12. He states that he was pressing on toward “that for which Christ has laid hold of me and made me His own.” “That for which” is the love and power of God in Christ in all His glory. Here we see that knowing and living in the resurrection power of the love of Christ was Paul’s purpose for living.
In verse 12 the words, “His own,” refer to Christ’s love and resurrection power which seized Paul. These words are echoed at the end of the sentence in the words, “my own,” referring to Paul’s reciprocity in purposing to seize the power of Christ. In unison with the “now” and yet” beacons, the words “His own” and “my own” light up as well reinforcing his relentless goal of seizing Christ’s resurrection power.
In seeking his goal, Paul states in verse 14 that he forgets what lies behind and strains for what lies ahead. Living with a history of killing Christians, forgetting the past would be a crucial factor in moving forward for him. Besides the thorn (2 Cor. 12:7) he struggled with, perhaps his own history of mass murder was his reason for purposing so to forget the past. His history as a Pharisee certainly would lend no grace to that sin.
A parallel concept to forgetting and straining Paul presents in Hebrews 12:1-2 where he releases (forgets) every single thing that hinders him from finishing the race and focuses (strains) exclusively on Christ. Forgetting and straining is the exact formula for attaining his goal. Thus, he had mastered the formula, but was not afforded the time to apply it fully to attain his goal. Knowing his tenacity, Paul would have never relented at pursuing his goal. That was not his character.
1) Paul’s character in pursuing Christ was like a freight train on high-speed with no brake pedal, and
1) his primary goal was to press on toward the love and resurrection power of God in Christ and
2) that exact power is what raises us morally and spiritually from the dead,
we can reasonably figure that, had he been afforded twenty or thirty more years, he eventually would have attained what he sought: “the spiritual and moral resurrection lifting him out from among the dead [even while in the body]” (v.11).
We can also safely conclude that the dirty rumor of Paul “claiming he could never lay hold of the resurrecting love and power of Christ” is untrue, according to the text. Obviously, God had divine purposes in granting these disciples their particular longevity. But let’s not take their words out of context and apply them to our detriment and Christ’s disgrace.
Are we spiritually mature?
Do we know the power outflowing from Christ’s resurrection?
Do we know the power it exerts over believers?
Have we perceived the wonders of His person?
Paul sought Christ’s power wholeheartedly and many believers seek it wholeheartedly today.
Paul would have found it and many believers have today.
It is the absolute will of God for all who believe.
Why in the world would we make up excuses and “wait until we get to heaven?”
Christ’s resurrection power is the only thing worth seeking down here because it overcomes everything.
And by the way, it’s our inheritance.
Could our view of the power of Christ be covered by a cloud of unbelief?
What is hanging there between us and Him?
In the springtime when my youngest daughter was in first and second grade, on occasions when I was unable to meet her school bus outside as it pulled up at the front of our house, I would find her sobbing at the back door. She was terrified of this one large domineering bumble bee who hovered relentlessly directly in front of the front yard gate like a Ninja soldier ready to fight anyone who challenged him. When she tried to sneak in, he would quickly move over to block her. After many failed attempts to enter, my daughter was forced to make her way around to the back door to get inside.
“Show me this bee,” I said, after a long hug.
“There!” she said out in the front yard, pointing at him in anger, “He’s mean.”
“Ohhh, this little guy?” I asked her. “He’s just doing his job.”
“What?” she asked.
“He’s a guard. Different bees have different jobs. His job is to guard this area,” I explained. “Their nest is probably nearby.” She listened carefully.
“Watch,” I said. I walked confidently to the gate facing the Ninja and waved my hand for him to move out of my way. As I proceeded in to his territory, he moved to the side, I passed through the gate, and he moved back to his assigned location. Well, my daughter instantly thought I was Wonder Woman. You should have seen the look on her face.
“Did you know that you can do same thing?” I asked her.
“Not me. He’s too scary,” she said.
“Listen. This is my yard and my house,” I explained, holding out my arms, “so I act like it’s mine. The bee knows that I know that this is my land so he obeyed me. But if I had acted like this was his land and he was the boss around here, he would not have moved out-of-the-way.” She listened. “One day you will show him that he’s not your boss.”
She’s in fifth grade this year and I think she’s almost ready to show him. We’ll see.
If there is any courage in us — no matter the amount — we can grow it. When we do, we can reach the point where our courage challenges and overcomes the idol of unbelief hanging there intimidating us like a hovering Ninja bumble bee.
We all have our own set of challenges. And within every challenge we have the opportunity to learn and grow and climb beyond the cloud of unbelief. There are always new lessons to learn and new ways in which we can grow. Growth potential, however, does not nullify spiritual maturity; it simply reinforces it as the two are not mutually exclusive. When we learn and grow relentlessly like Paul did, we can know Christ and His resurrection power daily living on the Rock, or in the cleft of it, in whatever circumstances may come our way (Phil. 4:11).
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you.
And he will [himself] go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn back the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient and incredulous and unpersuadable to the wisdom of the upright [which is the knowledge and holy love of the will of God]–in order to make ready for the Lord a people [perfectly] prepared [in spirit, adjusted and disposed and placed in the right moral state].
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more [certain], now that we are reconciled, that we shall be saved (daily delivered from sin’s dominion) through His [ resurrection] life.
That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it];
2 Corinthians 12:9
But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brethren, farewell (rejoice)! Be strengthened (perfected, completed, made what you ought to be); be encouraged and consoled and comforted; be of the same [agreeable] mind one with another; live in peace, and [then] the God of love [Who is the Source of affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence toward men] and the Author and Promoter of peace will be with you.
Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it].
[That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the [full and accurate] knowledge of the Son of God, that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood (the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ’s own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him.
Him we preach and proclaim, warning and admonishing everyone and instructing everyone in all wisdom ( comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God), that we may present every person mature (full-grown, fully initiated, complete, and perfect) in Christ (the Anointed One).
And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness [which binds everything together completely in ideal harmony].
2 Timothy 1:7
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.
THEREFORE LET us go on and get past the elementary stage in the teachings and doctrine of Christ (the Messiah), advancing steadily toward the completeness and perfection that belong to spiritual maturity. Let us not again be laying the foundation of repentance and abandonment of dead works (dead formalism) and of the faith [by which you turned] to God,
For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.
Strengthen (complete, perfect) and make you what you ought to be and equip you with everything good that you may carry out His will; [while He Himself] works in you and accomplishes that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ (the Messiah); to Whom be the glory forever and ever (to the ages of the ages). Amen (so be it).
1 John 2:5
But he who keeps (treasures) His Word [who bears in mind His precepts, who observes His message in its entirety], truly in him has the love of and for God been perfected (completed, reached maturity). By this we may perceive (know, recognize, and be sure) that we are in Him:
1 John 3:5-6
You know that He appeared in visible form and became Man to take away [upon Himself] sins, and in Him there is no sin [essentially and forever].
No one who abides in Him [who lives and remains in communion with and in obedience to Him–deliberately, knowingly, and habitually] commits (practices) sin. No one who [habitually] sins has either seen or known Him [recognized, perceived, or understood Him, or has had an experiential acquaintance with Him].
1 John 4:17
In this [union and communion with Him] love is brought to completion and attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him], because as He is, so are we in this world.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love’s complete perfection].
2 Timothy 4:6
For I am already about to be sacrificed [my life is about to be poured out as a drink offering]; the time of my [spirit’s] release [from the body] is at hand and I will soon go free.
For God has done what the Law could not do, [its power] being weakened by the flesh [ the entire nature of man without the Holy Spirit]. Sending His own Son in the guise of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh [ subdued, overcame, deprived it of its power over all who accept that sacrifice],
1 Corinthians 1:30
But it is from Him that you have your life in Christ Jesus, Whom God made our Wisdom from God, [revealed to us a knowledge of the divine plan of salvation previously hidden, manifesting itself as] our Righteousness [thus making us upright and putting us in right standing with God], and our Consecration [making us pure and holy], and our Redemption [providing our ransom from eternal penalty for sin].
For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.
1 Corinthians 15:55
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:56
Now sin is the sting of death, and sin exercises its power [upon the soul] through [the abuse of] the Law.
1 Corinthians 13:10
But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).
But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.