BE YE THEREFORE PERFECT

Pastor James J. Barker

Text: MATTHEW 5:48




INTRODUCTION:


  1. Last week my text was I Peter 1:15,16. Today’s text is similar, though perhaps even more difficult to grasp. God has put before us impossibly high demands, but even though they are unattainable by the flesh, God has not lowered His standards.
  2. Over 100 years ago, the great Baptist preacher, A.J. Gordon wrote a book called The Ministry of the Spirit. In this little book, he wrote these words: "If the conception is that of a state of sinless perfection into which the believer has been suddenly lifted and of a deliverance from a sinful nature which has been suddenly eradicated, we must consider this doctrine as dangerously untrue. But we do consider it possible that one may experience a great crisis in his spiritual life, in which there is such a total self-surrender to God and such an infilling of the Holy Spirit, that he is freed from the bondage of sinful appetites and habits, and enabled to have constant victory over self, instead of suffering constant defeat. In saying this, what more do we affirm than is taught in that scripture: ‘Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh’ (Gal.5:16).
  3. "Divine truth as revealed in Scripture seems often to lie between two extremes. It is emphatically so in regard to this question. What a paradox it is that side by side in the Epistle of John we should have the strongest affirmation of the Christian’s sinfulness: ‘If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’; and the strongest affirmation of his sinlessness: ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God’ (I John 1:8; 3:9). Now heresy means a dividing or choosing, and almost all of the gravest errors have arisen from adopting some extreme statement of Scripture to the rejection of the other extreme. If we regard the doctrine of sinless perfection as a heresy, we regard contentment with sinful imperfection as a greater heresy. And we gravely fear that many Christians make the apostle’s words, ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves,’ the unconscious justification for a low standard of Christian living. It were almost better for one to overstate the possibilities of sanctification in his eager grasp after holiness, than to understate them in his complacent satisfaction with a traditional unholiness. Certainly it is not an edifying spectacle to see a Christian worldling throwing stones at a Christian perfectionist" (pp. 120-122).

 

I. THE HOLY MAN IS STRIVING FOR PERFECTION (MATT.5:48)

    1. Before diving deep into our study, let us look at the context. To properly study the Bible – and for a preacher to properly expound the Bible – we must check out the context, then give the proper interpretation, and then make a suitable application – (C, I, A).
    2. We see the word "therefore," tying Matt.5:48 in with the verse that precede it. Therefore, to properly understand what our Lord means by "perfect," we need to read the rest of the chapter.
    3. Scofield’s notes are helpful: "The word implies full development, growth into maturity of godliness, not sinless perfection. See Eph. 4:12,13. In this passage the Father’s kindness, not His sinlessness, is the point in question. Cf. Luke 6:35,36" (p. 1001).
    4. Going now beyond the immediate context, we see that the Bible teaches that certain men were perfect in the sight of God. Let’s look at several of these perfect saints, starting with Job (Job 1:1).
    5. This perfection involved both Christian experience and Christian character. If you have a problem describing an O.T. saint as a "Christian," than just say: This perfection involved both godly experience and godly character."
    6. Job’s perfection was not an absolute perfection, just as our holiness can never be an absolute holiness. Only God is absolutely perfect and absolutely holy. As a perfect man, Job recognized this (cf. Job 42:5,6).
    7. The perfection of the saints is a relative perfection consisting of an attitude of the heart. Noah walked with God – his heart was right with God – therefore, "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations" (Gen.6:9). The Scofield margin here says "upright or sincere." God knows our hearts, whether we are sincere or not.
    8. Enoch also "walked with God" (Gen.5:22,24). He heart was perfect with God and the Bible says "God took him" (Gen.5:24).
    9. God says that "the heart of Asa was perfect all his days" (II Chron.15:17). Notice that God does not say that the life of Asa was perfect all his days. In fact, he failed in several respects. He failed to remove all of the idols from the high places (II Chron.15:17a); he was angry with Hanani the prophet, who rebuked him for his lack of trust in God against Baasha, the king of Israel (II Chron.16:7-10).
    10. He even put God’s prophet, Hanani, in prison. And he oppressed some of the people he suspected of being disloyal when they indicated their sympathy with Hanani. This backsliding was judged by God and next we read that Asa "was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians" (II Chron.16:12).

 

II. CHRISTIAN PERFECTION IS PERFECTION OF LOVE

  1. Going back to our text, remember I said that the context of Matt.5:48 determines its meaning. In this case, the emphasis is on love (Matt.5:43-47).
  2. This is one of the great themes of the Bible – Christian perfection is perfection of love (cf. I John 4:17,18).
  3. Our Lord told the rich, young ruler: "If thou wilt be perfect.." (Matt.19:21), and then, three chapters later, He defined this perfect love for us (Matt.22:37-40). Do you love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? This is a commandment from God, and therefore must be seriously considered.
  4. Our churches would be revolutionized if all the members took this seriously! We would see offerings increase tenfold, thousands of new churches started, thousands of new missionaries on the field, etc.
  5. But, alas – most Christians do not take these Scriptures literally – even those who claim to be fundamentalists.

 

III. PERFECTION IS NOT AN ATTAINMENT BUT A GOAL.

    1. The author of Hebrews says, "let us go on unto perfection" (Heb.6:1).
    2. A.J. Gordon said: "I would rather aim at perfection and fall short of it, than aim at imperfection and fully attain it."
    3. Earlier I read the statement from A.J. Gordon that "divine truth as revealed in Scripture seems often to lie between two extremes." He then went on to quote I John 1:8 and 3:9, calling this a paradox.
    4. There are many such paradoxes in the Bible (cf. Phil.3:12-15). First, Paul admits that he is not perfect (vs. 12), then he professes to be perfect (vs. 15). This is not a contradiction – it is Paul’s way of teaching (cf. Rom.7:15). His statements are deliberate, and of course, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
    5. Paul is giving us both sides to the doctrine of perfection. There is no such thing as sinless perfection or human perfection in the commonly accepted sense of the word. Therefore, Paul disclaims perfection (vs. 12).
    6. However, there is a perfection of maturity of Christian experience, a maturity of relationship to God which he claims for himself and others (vs. 15).

CONCLUSION:

  1. Let me wrap this up by saying that perfection is not a condition but a direction; not a state but a movement; and not an attainment but a goal.
  2. Christian perfection is not the perfection of the final state, but the perfection of the possible state.
  3. Christian perfection as a possession is that perfection of heart toward God, seen only by God.
  4. Christian perfection is maturity of Christian experience.
  5. Finally, Christian perfection is a paradoxical perfection – it is a perfection which is pressing on to perfection.

I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound, "Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."



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