Philippians 3: “Running Toward Perfection”

Perfect

I can guarantee, simply based on the title of this reflection, that not many people will be eager to keep reading. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “running, it’s because you’re talking about running.” Ah, no. For some reason, as I have come to find out, the word “perfect” is quite the deterrent for people, especially Christian people. Many times when we hear the word perfect, especially associated with our faith, we tend to get a little antsy and want to change the subject. Changing the subject is one thing, but completely ignoring the word wont serve us any better.

Here’s the kicker: whether or not I like to talk about being perfect there’s two things here at work. On the one hand we can’t ignore God’s desire for us to be perfect, especially when we read Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 5:48 (NLT) But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. The other thing at work is the fact I’m a pastor in a Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. This means, we put a high value on striving towards living a life of holiness. John Wesley himself would come under fire for his passion and desire to live according to what he read in scripture, just like the words found in Philippians 3.

Before we jump in I want to share one important misnomer: we don’t teach or strive to live in perfection in the sense of elitism, but instead to honor and please Jesus. We also don’t teach perfection in believing that it’s the only way to experience salvation. Instead, we teach perfection because it’s what God calls us too, not man.

Teleios

Philippians 3 is an important chapter for Wesleyan’s because we find Paul making multiple references to being both “perfect” and “mature.” What is important to understand is that both words are derived from the same Greek word “teleios.”

(v. 15)Let those of us then who are (spiritually) mature (teleios)…” But in verse 12, Paul isn’t speaking of maturity as much as he’s speaking of “perfection.” (v. 12) 12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection (teleioō). Confused? Sure! It would be confusing to here Paul say, I don’t consider myself perfect, yet in the same breath counts himself in a group he describes as perfect.

You have to know that understanding verse 15 as “mature” is not wrong. In fact, like we’ve discovered “teleios” has many different meanings, with mature being one of them. However, it’s important to note that Paul isn’t confused on his word choice, but rather is trying to help us understand the progression of both maturity and perfection in our lives. Paul’s use of “mature,” and our understanding of “mature” are two completely different things. The difference in understanding “maturity” shouldn’t be measured by the clay, instead the difference should be determined by the potter.

Runners Run

I’m not a runner. I despise running. In fact, I look like Harrison Ford when I run; it’s just painful to watch. But if, and that’s a big if, I were a runner, I would need train in order to finish a marathon. Marathon runners don’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to run a marathon.” They have to train, and train, and train, and everyday they train is another day of perfecting their body to complete a marathon.

So it is in our relationship with Christ. Salvation isn’t the finish line, but just the start. Our spiritual marathon is a daily pursuit to perfect our spiritual lives. Paul focuses on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

15 Let all who are spiritually mature (teleios: mature, perfect, lacking nothing) agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Happy running!