The Soul's Perfection
Philippians 3:15
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing you be otherwise minded…

The word "perfect" does not express the idea of moral completeness so much as that of physical maturity. It means "full grown," as in contrast to "babes." And the perfect here are exhorted to cultivate the sense of not having "already attained," and to be constantly reaching forth to unattained heights, so that a sense of imperfection and a continual effort after higher life are parts of Paul's perfect man. And it is to be further noted that "perfect" people may be otherwise minded, and so stand in need of the hope that God would by degrees show them their divergence from His pattern.

I. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHOM WITHOUT EXAGGERATION THE JUDGMENT OF TRUTH CALLS PERFECT. In the language of the New Testament men are "saints" who had many sins, and "perfect" who had many imperfections.

1. The main thing about a character is not the degree to which it has attained completeness in its ideal, but what that ideal is. The distance a man has walked is of less consequence than the direction in which his face is turned. Men are to be ranged according to their aims rather than their achievements. The visionary who attempts something high and accomplishes little is often a nobler man than he who aims at marks on the low levels and hits them.

2. So there is a class of aims so absolutely corresponding to man's nature and relations, that to take them for one's own and to approximate to them in some measure may fairly be called the perfection of human nature. The literal force of the word "having reached the end" gives pertinence to that question. And there need be, in that ease, no doubt about the answer, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." He who lives for God is doing what he was made and meant to do, and however imperfect, he is more nearly perfect than the fairest character against which the damning accusation may be brought, "The God in whose hand thy breath is...thou hast not glorified." People ask sneeringly about David, "Is this the man after God's own heart." Yes; not because religion has a different morality from that of the world (except in being higher), nor because saints make up for adultery and murder by singing psalms, but because the main set of the life was towards God.

3. Such men have in them the germ of a life which has no natural end but absolute completeness. The small seed may grow very slowly here and be only a poor bit of green, but it has Divine germinant virtue within, and waits but being carried to its own clime to flourish.

II. TWO OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PERFECTION. "Thus minded" carries us back to the preceding clauses, Think as I do of yourselves, and do as I do.

1. "Not as though I were already perfect," etc., shows us that true Christian perfection has in it a constant consciousness of imperfection. In all fields of effort, as faculty grows consciousness of insufficiency grows with it. The more we know the more we know our ignorance. Only people who never have or will do anything, or else raw apprentices, with the mercifully granted self-confidence which gets beaten out soon enough, think that they can do everything. So in Christian life. Conscience becomes more sensitive as we get nearer right; the worse a man is the less he hears it. One little stain will be conspicuous on a brightly polished blade, but if it be all dirty a dozen more or fewer will make little difference.

2. A constant striving after further advance. How vigorously this temper is put in the context. So yearning forward and setting all the current of his being, both faculty and desire, to the yet unreached mark, the Christian man is to live.

3. This buoyant energy of hope and effort is to be the result of the consciousness of imperfection. This, however, paralyses many. Men lament their evil and slow progress and remain the same year after year. How different this from the grand wholesome completeness of Paul's view here which embraces both elements.

III. THE COEXISTENCE OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS WITH THEIR OPPOSITES. "If in anything ye be otherwise minded" refers not to difference of opinion among themselves, but a divergence of character from the pattern set before them. If in any sense ye are unconscious of your imperfections, or are nonprogressive, God will show you what you are. Plainly he supposes that a good man may pass for a time under the dominion of impulses and theories of another kind from those which rule his life.

1. He does not expect the complete and uninterrupted dominion of these higher powers. The higher life is planted, but its germination is a work of time. The conditions of our life are in conflict. Interruptions from external circumstances, struggles of flesh with spirit, are the lot even of the most advanced.

2. Such an admission does not make such interruptions less blameworthy. That piece of sharp practice, that burst of bad temper — could we have helped it or not?

3. The feelings with which we should regard sin and contradictions in ourselves and others should be so far altered by such thoughts, that we should be slow to pronounce that a man cannot be a Christian because he has done so and so. A single act, if it be in contradiction to a man's main tendency, is not necessarily an incompatibility.

IV. The crowning hope that lies in these words is the certainty of a GRADUAL BUT COMPLETE ATTAINMENT of all the Christian's aspirations after God and goodness.

1. The ground of that confidence lies in no natural tendency in us or effort of ours, but solely, in God. Paul is certain that "God will reveal," etc., because He is God. He has learned that God is not in the habit of leaving off His work before He has done.

2. By the discipline of daily life, merciful chastisements, His Word, the secret influences of His Spirit, etc. He will reveal to the lowly soul all that is wanting in its knowledge, and communicate to it all that is lacking in character.

3. So for us, then, the true temper is confidence in His power and will, an earnest waiting upon Him, a brave forward yearning hope, blended with a lowly consciousness of imperfection. Presumption should be as far from us as despair.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you.

The Imitation of Paul
Top of Page
Top of Page