Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 16, 1967
NUMBER 40, PAGE 6c-7

A Perfect Man (II.)

Colly Coldwell

When last we addressed ourselves to the question of man's ability to become "a perfect man," we encountered several Biblical passages teaching us that no man (whether Christian or alien) can live in sinless perfect. The Bible is very clear on that point even to saying that the man who says that he has no sin is a liar and makes a liar of God (1 John 1:8-10).

These passages, however, left us without an explanation of the statement of the Lord, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

It is true that there are times in the Bible when the word "perfect" (teleios) carries with it the idea of complete and utter flawlessness. For example, James spoke of the Gospel of Christ calling it "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). We are given to understand by this that there is no error in the Gospel, that it is fully capable of making men free, and that it cannot possibly be improved upon.

But when the Bible speaks of individuals using the adjective "perfect", it has something other than "flawlessness" in mind. This is made evident in several passages which affirm that fallible men were "perfect" in God's sight. When Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord", the Holy Spirit said he was "perfect in his generations" (Gen. 6:8,9). Yet Noah sinned in drinking too much of his wine and in so doing gave place to sin by his son. "Perfect?" Yes, but not flawless. When Solomon grew old and allowed his wives to turn his heart to the gods of the nations around Israel, the Holy Spirit said, "His heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, and was the heart of David his father" (1 Kings 11:4). Was David "perfect"? Yes, but not flawless, for he committed two very grave sins, fornication and murder (2 Samuel 11,12).

What then does God mean when He requires us to be "perfect." We can do no better than to let those skilled in the original language define the word for us and then examine their definition in the light of those Biblical statements touching on this theme.

In dictionaries (lexicons) of the Greek language edited by Thayer, Arndt & Gingrich, Souter, and other scholars whose works compare with Webster's dictionaries of our language we find the word "perfect" explained in these words: "brought to its end," "wanting nothing necessary to completeness," "full-grown, " "adult, mature," "fully developed, ""of high excellence and efficiency."

Now when Christ told the disciples to be perfect, he meant that they should be fully developed in spirituality. He had been discussing their love for their fellow-men. They were not to curse and hate their enemies but like God they were to love all men. If they bless those that curse them as does God, they will be complete in moral excellence to that degree just as is God. The message of Jesus on the Mount in Galilee was in its entirety directed to the leading of His disciples into purity, holiness, and spirituality. He never expected them to be able to live without sin and did He. But he did expect them to come to an attitude of heart which would guard from deliberate sin and which would cause them to be ever alert to avoid yielding to temptation by depending on the Lord for spiritual strength. Solomon addressed all the congregation of Israel and with a loud voice said, "Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day" (1 Kings 8:61).

There are two working forces which must be ever-present if this kind of maturity is to be found. We must appropriate the power of God. The writer of Hebrews said, "Now the God of peace... make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ" (Hebrews 13:20,21). If we are to be perfect, God must make us so! But we must also appropriate the power of our own strength as men created in the image of God. We must determine that we will control ourselves to the best of our ability to live as God directs. It was this that Solomon had in mind when he said that the "heart" must be perfect. Some clues are given to the course of action a man with a perfect heart must follow. He must "keep his word" (1 John 2:5). He must "put on charity" (Col. 3: 14). He must "offend not in word" (James 3:2). These things, keeping God's law, walking in love, and speaking those things suitable for the child of God, sum up the life which is perfect in His sight.

Now the fact that God does not expect sinless perfection, does not give license for the Christian to deliberately relax his efforts to keep from sin. Some will undoubtedly read and take delight that this preacher agrees with them that they need not work so hard at their Christianity. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that. We must keep under our bodies and bring them into subjection: lest that we who have obeyed the Gospel and preached it to others might be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). Nothing could be worse than for us who know Christ to abandon Him thinking God will overlook our sins (cf. 2 Peter 2).

But this fact does provide some degree of security to the faithful, and it grants a peace of mind unequaled by any other fact on earth. The true child of God who tries to do right, who studies God's word, who prays for God's strength, and who continues faithfully following the life mapped out for him by Christ, is a man who should "fear no evil." He is a man who can sleep at night in the knowledge that God is caring for him. He is a man who does not have to think in his quieter moments that some day he will be doomed to an endless eternity in a painful hell. Sometimes we who preach God's word destroy faith rather than building it by making Christians feel that there is no possible way for them to live up to the standards of Christ. We fuss and fume, we are hard when we don't need to be so hard, we condemn the people, even those who try to please God, and we drive them away. Now I am not saying we should be soft, but I am saying we should compliment when praise is due, we should speak words of encouragement often, we should show the brethren that we love them and want more than anything else their salvation. If we are in a place where we can speak no praise, no words of encouragement, no expressions of love, we should either get out of the pulpit altogether (for we are not of the right attitude to serve in the position we occupy) or we should shake the dust off our feet (for the people have no desire at all to do right). One of these two alternatives is inevitable!

The entreaty of Christ appealing to us to be "perfect men" offers two great blessings. It offers incentive and a goal to all men to be like unto God. And it offers comfort to Christians affirming that it is possible to be considered by God as one worthy of His blessings. The great Teacher of all goodness and righteousness has mapped out the way to a higher and more nobler service in His kingdom. Our goal can be attained if we turn our hearts to God, trust in His mercy revealed in His word, and strive to obey His every command.

-1004 Lillian St. , Hobart, Ind.