Perfect, and yet to be Perfected.
'Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected, but I press on. . . . One thing I do, I press on toward the goal. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. Brethren, be ye imitators together of me.'—Phil. iii. 12-17.
rTIHE mark of the perfect, as set before us in -*- Paul and all who are thus minded, is the passionate desire to be yet made perfect. This looks like a paradox. And yet what we see in our Master proves the truth of what we say: the consciousness of being perfect is in entire harmony with the readiness to sacrifice life itself for the sake of being yet made perfect. It was thus with Christ. It was thus with Paul. It will be thus with us, as we open our hearts fully and give God's words room and time to do their work. Many think that the more imperfect one is the more he will feel his need of perfection. All experience, in every department of life, teaches us the very opposite. It is those who are nearest perfection who most know their need of being yet perfected, and are most ready to make any sacrifice to attain to it. To count everything loss for perfection in practice, is the surest proof that perfection in principle has possession of the heart. The more honestly and earnestly the believer claims that he seeks God with a perfect heart, the more ready will he be with Paul to say: Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected.
And wherein was it now that Paul longed to be made perfect? Eead the wonderful passage with care, and without prejudice or preconceived ideas, and I think you will see that he gives here no indication of its being sin or sinful imperfection from which he was seeking to be perfectly free. Whatever his writings teach elsewhere, the thought is not in his mind here. The perfected disciple is as his Master. Paul is speaking here of his life and lifework, and feels that that is not perfected until he has reached the goal and obtained the prize. To this he is pressing on. He that runs in a race may, as far as he has gone, have done everything perfectly; all may pronounce his course perfect as far as it has gone. Still it has to be perfected. The contrast is not with failure or shortcoming, but with what is as yet unfinished, and waiting for its full end. And so Paul uses expressions which all tell us how what he already had of Christ was but a part. He did know Christ, he had gained Christ, he was found in Him, he had apprehended in wonderful measure that for which Christ had apprehended him. And yet of all these things— of knowing Christ, of gaining Him, of being found in Him, of apprehending that for which he was apprehended—he speaks as of what he was striving after with all his might: 'If by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead;' 'I press on to the goal, unto the prize.' It is of all this he says: 'Not that I am already made perfect. Let as many as are perfect be thus minded.'
Paul had known Christ for many years, but he knew there were in Him riches and treasures greater than he had known yet, and nothing could satisfy him but the full and final and eternal possession of what the resurrection would bring him. For this he counted all things but loss; for this he forgot the things that were behind; for this he pressed on to the goal, unto the prize. He teaches us the spirit of true perfection. A man who knows he is perfect with God; a man who knows he must yet be perfected; a man who knows that he has counted all things loss to attain this final perfection; such is the perfect man.
Christian, learn here the price of perfection, as well as the mark of the perfect ones. The Master gave His life to be made perfect for ever. Paul did the same. It is a solemn thing to profess the pursuit of perfection. The price of pearl of great price is high: all things must be counted loss. I have urged you to put down your names in the class-list of the perfect; to ask the Master to put it down and give you the blessed witness of the Spirit to a perfect heart. I urge you now, if, like Paul, you claim to be perfect, single and whole-hearted in your surrender to God, to live the life of the perfect, with all things loss for Jesus as its watchword and its strength, and its one desire to possess Him wholly, to be possessed of Him, and to be made perfect even as He was.
O our Father! be pleased to open the eyes of Thy children, that they may see what the perfection of heart is Thou dost now ask of them, and what the perfection in Christ Thou wouldst have them seek at any cost.