When Paul encouraged the brethren to “press towards the goal” what did he have in mind? Quite often this inspired phrase is used to motivate us to press towards the goal of our heavenly reward. Certainly that is part of what Paul intended to convey with this statement. However, as we explore the context it becomes evident that the goal Paul is encouraging us to reach is that of spiritual perfection (Philippians 3:12a). Inevitably, when one is striving for spiritual perfection then he is also striving for that heavenly reward.
When we think of the perfect man we think of Jesus Christ. However, there is a kind of perfection that we can, and must, obtain. Our Lord encouraged us to be “…perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus is not saying that we will be able to obtain the kind of sinless perfection that He held. However, our Lord is referring to a perfection which demands complete and spiritual maturity. Paul explains in verse fifteen of Philippians chapter three that this is also his meaning of perfection.
We can reach the level of spiritual completeness that God demands by continuing to strive to obtain the perfection of Jesus. Peter wrote “For to this were you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps” (I Peter 2:21). We will never reach the perfection of Christ, but we still must strive to obtain that goal. If we are striving toward that goal then we will reach the level of perfection (completeness) that God expects of us. For example, an artist strives to paint the perfect picture, and though he will never obtain his goal he becomes a master craftsman in the struggle to reach perfection.
Some Christians will never reach the spiritual maturity God requires because they view their Christianity as a hobby not a profession. Paul speaks of this category of Christians in I Corinthians 3:1-3, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” The great apostle describes lazy and ignorant Christians who are causing strife and grief because they are not willing to strive toward the goal of spiritual completeness.
What are some keys to aid us in reaching the level of perfection of which Christ spoke and Paul struggled to reach? The Christian who desires to be spiritually complete must be willing to put his past behind him, strive to be blameless, seek after wisdom, acquire patience, control the tongue, and work toward complete obedience.
If we are to strive for perfection we must first be willing to put our past behind us. Paul mentions this point as a primary element in achieving everything that Christ would have us to accomplish. He wrote, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Many Christians do not succeed because they simply cannot leave their past alone. There are some children of God who still hang on to the sinful pleasures of their former life. This category of Christians is represented by the thorny soil in Christ’s parable of the sower (Mark 4:7,18-19). For a time these saints grow and spiritually prosper, but are eventually overcome by their desire for worldly pleasures.
There are others who cannot forgive themselves when they stumble and sin. It is truly sad when a child of God falls away because they are unable to imagine that God can forgive them of any transgression. This category of people limit the power of the grace of God. If Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners, received mercy from God, why is it impossible for us to think that we also might obtain the same level of forgiveness? The inspired apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1: 9). In other words, if we are willing to forgive ourselves, and ask God for mercy, He will give it. The only sin that will not be forgiven is a spirit of unrelenting stubborn rebellion.
There are also those who boast about their sinful past as if it was something of which to be proud. It is understood that one who experiences the harmful effects of certain sins can use that knowledge to help others who are struggling under similar circumstances. However, some Christians seem to take great pleasure in revealing their past failings. No child of God should ever be caught boasting about past sin. Those things must be put behind if he has any hope of striving toward the state of perfection that God desires of him.
A spiritually complete man must be blameless. Paul encouraged the Philippian brethren to be “…blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15). What does it mean to be blameless? Does it mean one has to be sinless? It means that a charge of wrong doing cannot be justly made against one. The example of such a one can be a preserving element in a wicked a perverse society. Our goal should be to be found among those who are declared blameless at the second coming of Christ (II Peter 3:14). Only the blameless will hear him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
The perfect man is also a wise man. He displays his wisdom by being swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath (Psalm 101:2). The wise man has the ability to discern right from wrong, and make sound judgments. Therefore, the one who seeks after wisdom must turn to the greatest storehouse of wisdom-the Bible. Someone once said, “the bended knee and the open book is the secret of obtaining precious wisdom.”
The man who has achieved this level of wisdom and understanding will be truly happy. The inspired writer of Proverbs wrote, “Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gets understanding” (Proverbs 3:13).
The complete man is also a patient man. James wrote, “But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4). To obtain the patient state of which James spoke the child of God must be willing to bear hardships and persecutions without complaint. The knowledge that patience brings great rewards in this life and in the life to come will assist us in enduring adversity without murmuring.
Patience brings glory, honour and immortality (Romans 2:7). Just as a farmer waits for the rewards of his harvest we need to learn to patiently wait for the great harvest of souls (James 5:7). The perfect man patiently labours today knowing that the Lord may come tomorrow.
The complete Christian is also one who is able to control his tongue. The first step to controlling the entire body is learning to control the tongue (James 3:2). However, before one can hope to tame the tongue he must first learn to manage the thoughts of his heart. Jesus said, “Brood of vipers. How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We will never win the battle with the tongue until we cleanse our hearts. This is accomplished through study and prayer.
Sometimes the best way to control the tongue is learning to say nothing at all (James 1:19). The more we hear the less we speak. The less we speak the more we hear. Remember, for good or evil there is no mightier tool on earth than the tongue (Proverbs 10:19).
The perfect man will also strive to obtain the goal of complete obedience. (Ephesians 4:11-24). The great apostle John wrote, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him” (I John 2:5). The perfect man has a mature and absolute love for God. He obeys every command without hesitation. There was once a sign that hung in a machine shop which read, “Don’t argue with the boss.” Perhaps these words should be written on the front inside cover of the Bible of every Christian. Before we turn to the first page of Scripture we need to prepare our hearts to receive His instruction without question. A perfect man never argues with the almighty Father. By contrast the imperfect man has a shallow and immature love for God. He obeys the commands of God which please him. He only observes those commands that do not necessitate sacrifice or suffering.
One will never reach spiritual completeness unless he learns to love. The charge of Paul recorded in Colossians 3:14 is “…above all things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Love is the glue that allows the spiritually complete man to maintain that state. If a Christian truly loves God, the word of God, and his fellow man, then he will have no trouble reaching his goal.
Jesus said we must strive toward perfection (Matthew 5:48). This was the goal Paul laboured all his life to achieve and maintain. As you may have noticed the key to reaching spiritual completion is self control. The result will be a man who is blameless, obedient, wise, patient, in control of his tongue and loves his God, Scripture and his fellow man. He is also a man who views his Christianity as a profession not a hobby. It may be that we will never be able to achieve a state of sinless perfection, but in the process of striving to become sinlessly perfect we become masters over our evil desires.