December 2, 2016

Perfection and Perspective

It takes a long while to learn what having an “eternal perspective” means, never mind actually having it. Today’s devotional reading is about “Christian perfection” which seems difficult to grasp, but as I read the fragment of the verse in its context, the Lord began uniting those two concepts in my mind. Paul writes . . .

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8–14)

What is the prize of the upward call? If I read just this verse or even the one before it, I would not be too sure what Paul is talking about. I’ve interpreted the ‘prize’ is to be with Jesus and perhaps have had other ideas, but reading this passage, and even the verses not included above, it seems that the prize is being with Jesus in heaven after being resurrected from the dead.

My Bible tells me that “attain” in verse 11 can also mean “arrive” and Paul says he isn’t there yet. Of course he isn’t. When he wrote this, he was still on earth; he had not yet arrived in heaven.

He also says that he isn’t “already perfect” either, but presses on to make this his own because Christ Jesus made him His own. What does it mean to be “perfect” which is the goal or prize for which Paul strived? He says “those who are mature” (verse 15) should think this way, so it isn’t maturity. From this context, it seems the prize is being resurrected and with Jesus; that is perfection, and he isn’t there yet, but that is his goal.

I’m thinking about my goals. I want to finish well, but finish what? A project? Some lifelong ambition? If that is my target, then my mind and energy is wrapped up in that goal. But if my goal is eternal life with Jesus (a sure thing, by the way) then my mind and energies will be focused on something entirely different than any earthly target or ambition. It will be set on and straining forward to what lies ahead, to what is guaranteed to lie ahead. There are no guarantees for anything else, but this one is based on the promises of God.

Chambers considers the meaning of perfection as a goal for this life, a oneness with God which certainly extends into eternity, but says, “Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God which shows itself amid the irrelevancies of human life.” Then he adds that we are called to live in perfect relation to God so that our lives produce a longing after God in others, not make me a specimen in His show-room but “getting me to the place where He can use me.”

This makes me sigh. If being “perfect” is equated with usefulness, how can that be measured? Do I compare my “perfection” against evangelists like Billy Graham, or authors with hundreds of books, or professors who teach in seminaries, and so on. Is this what Chambers intended? I don’t think so.

Being at one with God is not measured in what others can see and count. It is having my mind and heart so in tune with God that His will is my will. I’m willing to be on the front lines or in a prayer closet, whatever He desires. Oneness with Him is about attitude, about camaraderie. It is about being together with Him on what He is doing, but also how He is thinking. It is described as Paul said in another passage:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4)

These verses are similar to those from Philippians in that I am to put away earthly thoughts and press on, with my mind on eternal matters. Reading both passages is a hint — is Christian perfection about having an eternal perspective? Perhaps. I know for certain that the more I think about things above, the closer that prize seems — the one I will receive when I walk from this life into that one.

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