Chapter 16 Perfection in Two Aspects

Philippians 3:12-16

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, 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. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing, (vv. 12-16)

Very early in the history of the church men arose who confounded certain spiritual experiences, real or fancied, with the teaching of the Lord Himself and His apostles in regard to the first resurrection. We know of two by name, Hymenseus and Philetus, of whom Paul wrote to Timothy that they had erred concerning the truth, “saying that the resurrection is past already,” and by this overthrew the faith of some. Nothing is more detrimental to Christian testimony than making high claims which cannot be substantiated by experience—as some who take the ground of sinlessness, or of the eradication of an evil nature, because their teachers instructed them that this is their privilege as Christians. If after-experience proves that it is impossible to maintain this practically, there is grave danger that they will become utterly disheartened, and possibly renounce the faith entirely, unless preserved by divine grace.

The apostle, therefore, is careful to make it clear that he did not claim to have reached a state of resurrection perfectness while here upon earth. He uses a word, in this instance, which means completeness, that to which nothing can be added. This state, he declares, he had not already attained. But he had it in view, for he knew that, at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, he would be made like Himself, and thus forever free from all tendency to sin. Meantime, he could but follow after, seeking earnestly to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus had laid hold of him, and in a devoted life to exemplify the power of Christ’s resurrection in which he shared. Verses 13-14 might, perhaps, better be rendered as follows: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing, 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 calling of God on high in Christ Jesus.” What he says is that there is only one thing he professes to have apprehended, or laid hold of, namely, that the path of blessing is found in forgetting the things that are past, and seeking to lay hold, practically, of his portion in Christ from day to day while ever keeping the goal in view. To do this is to “follow holiness, apart from which no man shall see the Lord.” It is a great mistake to teach that this verse means that unless one attains to certain experiences in holy living he will be forever debarred from a sight of the Lord. It impresses the fact upon us, rather, that he who will see the Lord is one who follows that which characterized his Master here—an inward and outward separation from all that is contrary to the mind of God.

The calling of God on high is that heavenly calling which is characteristic of the present dispensation of grace. Christ is no longer on earth. His world kingdom has not yet been set up. But believers are linked with Him as the glorified Man at God’s right hand, and they are called to represent Him in this scene. The prize is the reward conferred by His own hand at the end of the race, and toward this Paul was pressing on, counting as dross and refuse all that would hinder his progress.

To his fellow believers he says, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Are we then to understand that there is real or implied contradiction here to what has gone before? He has told us that he was not perfect. Here he speaks as though he were and links others with him in this perfection. The fact is a somewhat different word is here used from that of verse 12. It implies perfection in growth—in development. An apple in June may be a perfect apple, so far, but it will have much greater completeness, or perfection in that sense, in August or September. And so with the believer.

The perfection of verse 15 is that of full growth, answering somewhat, if not altogether, to the “fathers” of 1 John 2. Such have eschewed the world and its follies. Christ has become to them the one Object before the soul. To live for Him and seek His glory is the only thing that counts in their estimation. And yet such saints are still compassed with infirmity. They are likely to err in judgment. They may make grave mistakes and come to wrong conclusions—influenced as we are by early education, by environment, by mental capacity—and may even be misled as to doctrinal questions. Nevertheless, theirs is the mind of Christ, and they may be comforted by the added words of the apostle that, “If in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

Where there is a willingness to be taught of God, the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit can be depended upon to open up His Word and guide into all truth. But he would be a bold man indeed, who would dare to say, “I understand all truth, all mysteries are clear to me. I have a perfect apprehension of the divine revelation.” Only the boldest egotism could lead anyone to take such ground. How patient, therefore, we need to be with one another. How ready to confess that we know but in part and to recognize the fact that we are ever in need of further instruction. “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” There are truths and principles so plainly put in God’s Word that any Spirit-taught believer may readily see them.

Where these truths are learned, it is our responsibility to walk in them—walk together in them, as far as possible, counting on God to reveal to us whatever may be lacking, as we patiently and prayerfully learn from Him through His Word. A wider recognition of these things would lead to more kindly consideration of one another and tend to make us helpers of each other’s faith, rather than judges of a brother’s doubtful thoughts.