There are only five times that Jesus used the words perfect or perfection. Is being perfect an impossible goal? Let’s see if we can gain some insight into what we should learn from Jesus Christ about perfection or being perfect.
I've heard a number of comments about the theme of this year's General Conference of Elders meeting. As you heard or most of you have heard, Mr. Kilough's sermon on the Sabbath, "Going on to Perfection" is the preachers dream in terms of the topic because there are all kinds of directions you can go. When you talk about going on to perfection there are so many different aspects, so much to say about it, so many ways to approach it that it lends itself to lots of different ways or many, many ways of looking at it. I suppose there may be some who didn't make it, didn't get to hear that particular message. He spoke about going on to perfection from the prospective of ego and ignorance and I thought it was very powerfully and inspiring done. A number of people as I said that I've talked to, talked about that particular theme and have thought about it and commented on it. I've been thinking about it myself a bit.
When we think about going on to perfection as one of the major tenants of Christianity, you know in Hebrew chapter six, the first couple verses talks about let's go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance and faith and baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection and so forth. We talk about that as one of those basic tenants of Christianity.
As I was thinking about it this week, I thought well I'm a little curious how often the word perfection or the word perfect is used in the bible. So I did a quick search, this was using the King James translation and perfect showed up ninety-nine times, perfection shows up another eleven; thirty-nine of those, almost forty or close to, not quite half a little less than half or 40% are in the New Testament; Hebrews has the greatest concentration. I know there are a few usages that are not specifically related to spiritual perfection which is obviously the intent of that theme of going on to perfection; we're talking about spiritual perfection, there a few that aren't related to that but that still leaves an awful lot of ground, an awful lot of area to cover.
We're nearing the Feast of Pentecost. It's next weekend and perfection or spiritual maturity has it's obvious direct link and ties to God's Holy Spirit and allowing God's Spirit to work in us So I thought it was a timely thing to discuss, a timely thing to continue to talk about even after the GCE is over this year, to talk about perfection and going on to perfection. Now with around one hundred passages, you can't do justice to them all unless all we did was just thumb through and read them and I don't think that's useful for a sermon so I don't intend to do that today.
I was looking for ways to narrow this down a little bit and I thought, well why don't I narrow this down to one person's perspective, one person's usage of the terms perfect or perfection. I thought, that's a good way to narrow the topic a little bit. Who do I pick? Well I decided I would go right to the top and pick Jesus Christ. It's a good place to go right?
Jesus Christ used the word perfect and perfection. Now some you say wait a minute, the whole bible is inspired by Him; after all He's the word of God, right? So, o.k. I guess so. We'll have to use all of them but let me narrow it a little more than that, let's go back if I can keep narrowing. I want to look at the usages that Jesus Christ, how He used perfect and perfection while He was here in the flesh. Now that cuts it down quite a bit. In fact I only have five passages that I want to look at today because there are only five times that Jesus used the words perfect or perfection. You know there's a lot we could say about this but as I say, I'd like to narrow it a little bit today in a discussion of perfection. I'd like to do it from the prospective of what Jesus Christ said about perfection or being perfect.
You know every word has its dictionary definition and sometimes we get into difficulties with language because sometimes we're thinking dictionary definition which is a denotation and there's also a connotation, the way we use it in every day language where particular words have various emotional or other components to them, more than just the dictionary definition. Anyone who studied language or studied communication realizes there's a big difference between denotation and connotation; how its used in every day language and in the context in which its used can color, or can give it a little bit different meaning and to give you an example I looked up something in Wikipedia as an example of connotation. I appreciated Mr. Trotter's sermonette because it fits in very well with this illustration. Wikipedia says here's an example: a stubborn person can be described as either being strong-willed or pig headed. Now the denotation of both of those is pretty much the same but you chuckled because there's a pretty wide variance of connotation between those isn't there? When you talk about somebody who is being strong willed there connotes in some way and can connote admiration of a person's will; you know they're going to stick, especially if it's true, the right thing as we heard in the sermonette. Now as we heard in the sermonette even that can be used in the wrong way so I'm going to use my will no matter what, impose my will no matter what. But sometimes we think of a strong will in more of a positive way where pig headed connotes frustration when dealing with someone. They're pig headed, they're stubborn, they won't change; they won't listen to another point of view. So there's a big difference in the way we use language in every day life and it's not about political correctness; it's about understanding the subjective; it's about understanding the contextual use of a particular term and sometimes the emotional associations that are made with words.
So what I'd like to do today is go through those five passages with you that Jesus Christ used when He used the terms perfect or perfection while He was here in the flesh and see if we can gain some insight into what we should learn from Jesus Christ about perfection or being perfect. Let's begin in Matthew chapter 5. Now some of you immediately probably thought of this one if you thought I wonder where Christ used perfect or being perfect or perfection and yet the first one is found here in Matthew chapter 5, it's in the Sermon on the Mount; a message that was given early in the ministry of Jesus Christ and it really sort of just sets the foundation, sets the stage for His later ministry, sets the stage for Christianity; sort of a Magna Charta as some have described it for Christianity. These are underlined concepts, underlined principles, underlined teachings, basic spiritual teachings that are fundamental to Christianity. The exact statement by Jesus Christ is the last verse of this chapter as man has divided the chapters, it says:
Matthew:5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Now if you're reading the King James rather than the New King James as I just read from the King James says:
Be you therefore perfect or be ye therefore perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
Some of the New Testament from 16 translations points out that several translations used the progressive tense of that word; instead of "thee" they used the word "become". You shall become, or become you perfect like your Father in heaven is perfect or grow into perfection. So regardless of whether you look at it as a direct command you must be this way or you are to grow into this, regardless of which way we view it as, it's setting the bar pretty high isn't it? We're supposed to be like our Father in heaven; that's an awfully high bar for us to have to try to reach and to try to meet. Now if you look up the word perfect in Lexicon you'll find that it is the Greek word telios and it has a rather wide range of meanings. Telios can mean complete, finished, having reached its end, mature, grown up, being unspotted from the world, not lacking any moral quality, having no defect whatsoever, being truly genuine, being a grown person or being an adult. So there's a pretty wide range that Lexicon talks about, this Greek word as having those nuances of meaning and that's probably why the New King James translates this word one of three ways in all of the places in the King James. It either translates it a full age or man meaning again a mature person or as being perfect.
Now when Jesus Christ said: "Be you therefore perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect" which of those new nuances do you think He had in mind? When He said perfect, this Greek word telios is the way it's recorded in the Greek for us, which did He have in mind? Well if He had in mind it simply means fully grown that takes a little pressure off us doesn't it? Because as human beings we're going to grow no matter what, right? We are going to age. Well obviously baring some kind of tragic accident, we'll eventually get to the point of full grown whether we have an ounce of spiritual character or moral fiber or Godly approach in life or not. We're simply going to mature; we're simply going to age regardless whether we have any character or godliness in us. In fact there are a lot of "grown men" in the U.S. prison system. My dad was fond of quoting; I guess it was a German saying, he would say it in German. I'll just simply give an English translation. It is we grow too soon old and too late smart. We grow old, it's something that happens but growing smart, the emotional maturity doesn't always come with the physical maturity. So if this is all Christ was saying become of old age like your Father in heaven then all the pressure is off us, we don't have to worry about any moral growth do we? Well I think we understand, we can pitch that one out, it's not what He's talking about, it clearly can't be that.
On the other hand if Jesus Christ meant by this statement (be perfect) that we should have no defect whatsoever; absolutely perfect where there is no defect in us at all. Now that's pretty much way over the top too isn't it? How can we in the flesh, when we realize that as human beings, all of the apostles or most of the apostles made statements about as physical human beings we stumble, we all make mistakes, we need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we go through that every year that we need Him to cover our sins. If that's the quest, that we're supposed to have no defects whatsoever, it's kind of like a Don Quixote quest isn't it? We're never going to attain that at least in the flesh. Now hopefully we'll get closer to that but never achieve it in the flesh. But we're sort of left with these meanings of the range of being unspotted from the world or not lacking any moral quality or being spiritually mature. It seems to me that these are the ones more so that He is talking about, that these would be in the range of what Jesus Christ had in mind when He made this statement to be perfect like your Father in heaven is perfect.
Now I'm spending a little more time on this and I will spend more time on this one because this is the first time He's using it in His ministry. I believe this sort of sets the stage for the rest of His use of the word perfect or perfection so I'm spending a bit more time on this. Let me ask you; let me ask you to consider another question. Notice this verse includes the word therefore, whether it begins or whether you translate it as the New King James does with the word therefore as the first word of the verse or whether you translate it as the King James says, be you therefore or therefore be you, regardless where you put the therefore, the therefore is in there and if you heard me speak for any number of months or weeks or years, you know I'm big on the therefores right? To me that's a very important word; therefore, what do you mean therefore? Well therefore means because I told you something else, here is the conclusion; this is sort of the capstone that sums up what I've been discussing. Because of that, here's what you need to do: take this very seriously because of what I've already said. So here's my question for you. How far back do we have to go to find a reason for the therefore? What is the therefore tied to? How far back in the chapter do we have to go? I don't know if you can quickly look at the context and see if you can come up with an answer for that. If you don't immediately have an answer, well let me let you in on a little secret; scholars can't agree. I wonder how far you go. People who sit and study these statements and try to analyze every nuance of the statement, try to figure out exactly how far back you go, they even disagree. Some of them say, well it's obvious that it follows this last segment, there are quite a few of these, in here they call them antisepsis statements where you have heard such and such but I say so and so. You've heard this thing, I'm telling you the other, there's more to it than what you've heard. If we go back to the very last of those, it starts in verse 43 and some say, well this must be what this is the conclusion for.
Matthew:5:43 " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
Verse 44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
Verse 45: that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
Here the focus is on love; loving, not just your friends, not just those who are part of your group, not just those who are your close buddies, not just those of your family (that you have to love, right? You should love), not just those; don't just love your friends but everybody, even love your enemies. Now again I don't know about you but that's kind of where it kind of God crosses over the easy line into the almost impossible. How do you love your enemies? How do you love somebody who spitefully is using you? That's pretty tough from the human perspective and the kind of love that He's talking about is the unselfish Godly kind of love. In the Greek here that is the agapao or again Srong's number 25, the verb form of the noun agape and it means that unselfish, outgoing godly type of love. It's not the kind of love that has a component of what's in it for me, whether you talk about the other kinds philio which is brotherly or friendship love or if it's the eros, the sexual love even within marriage, there is a certain amount of sort of what's in it for me kind of or can be a part of those kinds of love. Well this is my family, this is my group, this is my church, this is my whatever so if I'm nice to them then they treat me well, things go well because I treat them nicely.
There can be an element; I'm not saying that's a motive all the time but there can be a certain element of what's in it for me kind of love. The godly love, agape or agapao love is not that kind, not looking for any kind of benefit, it is simply saying I will love this person because they too are made in the image of God, they too have a potential to be in the family of God. Jesus tells us we have to go far beyond the kind of love that we humans normally have because that's the way God our Father in heaven views mankind. After all as He says in the next verse: "He makes the sum to rise on the evil and the good." Now if you were in charge of the world, wouldn't you have some way to keep the sun and the rain from not falling on the good, I mean on the evil. All the good people I'm going to give them sunshine, I'm going to give them rain in due season, I'm going to give them all nice things and I'm not going to let any rain fall on those evil people and pretty soon they'll straighten up, right? God doesn't deal that way. He lets evil people enjoy sunsets and sunrises, let's them enjoy the rain as well. Now how can God have that perspective on people? Well again, God has the view that He can deal with them in His own time to bring them to the choice of whether they want to accept being a part of His family or not. To do this God's way we have to wish and hope and pray the best for someone even if they're our enemy or treating us like enemies, even if they're spitefully using us. That's a pretty big challenge, I don't know about you, again I can't get inside of your head, I just know personally when somebody is mean or ugly or cruel to me I tend to bristle a little bit, it makes it a little hard for me to think kindly about that person and to express love to them. Now depending how severe it is, you know it can be rather tough to pray for a person like that. I've had to force myself to do that a number of times over the years because I realize that's what God tells me to do. You know I've found, this is again my personal experience, I've found that when I do that, after I pray for them for a while I find my attitude softening and I begin to find myself feeling some compassion for them and begin to think about things from their perspective and I can begin to feel more compassion and actually pray for them, not just about them. There is a difference but pray for them.
Now again I realize there are some situations where if somebody is abusive, you may say I still have to avoid them because if they're not changing or that kind of thing, that's not what I'm talking about but Christ said we can't even shun them totally because if we only greet those who are our friends or family we are not better than those scoundrel tax collectors. I apologize to any IRS people. I will say this, IRS people and tax collectors in the New Testament are a little bit different, they're a little bit different people. Tax collectors in the Roman world were independent contractors, basically is the way to say it; they had to turn in a certain amount of taxes and if they could grab or steal or coheres more, great, they got to keep it, where in our country we have laws about tax law and IRS agents are there to try to enforce the laws. Sometimes those laws are a little hard to interpret aren't they? I'm going to cut the tax talk, we're done with that. Anyway, unless we do more than carnal people, we're no better than them so He said we have to be willing to greet everybody, we've got to have that love and that concern for everybody; now again, that's a pretty high statement or high line of thought. Now some are saying o.k. this is what that means, be perfect by being able to show this love, that's one line of thought.
Another line of thought says now wait a minute, there's not just one of those antisepsis statements in this chapter, there are six of them. If you want to go back to the beginning of them, they start in verse 21.
Matthew:5:21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder,' ad whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment."
Verse 22: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."
That begins right after the statement in verse 20 that says:
Verse 20: "Your righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. If your righteousness is not better than the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
How could your righteousness be any better than the scribes and Pharisees? These were the people who were meticulous about following God's law. Every jot and title they wanted to make sure they followed. Christ was saying you have to do better than that, if that's all you do you're not going to make it in God's kingdom and as we know He's beginning to show then through the rest of these six comparisons that the Pharisees may have been keeping the outward signs, they may have been keeping the letter of the law but what was going inside them? One place He called them whitened sepulchers. Outside you look great, you look white, you look wonderful but inside it's all the evil that's going on in your mind and your heart that makes it all of no value. You're not going to enter the Kingdom of God if that's the way you are and each of these sections has these antisepsis, each of them starts out, but you have heard, but I say unto you.
The first one He says don't just avoid murder but avoid hatred which is the spirit of murder. From the Pharisees perspective you can hate all you want, just don't actually murder somebody. Christ said no, that's not enough. No, you don't murder them and you can't say to throw away the observance of the law but you don't murder them because you don't ever get to the point of hating them. The next one He talks about adultery; don't just avoid adultery but avoid lusting after a woman, looking at her to lust after her, if you lust after her you've already committed adultery in your heart, you've already sinned. So go beyond just the physical, avoiding the physical act. He talks about divorce next and just don't give your divorced wife a freedom paper, don't just give her a bill of divorcement, freedom to marry again; don't divorce her at all. Work on your marriage, try to make it work. The next one He talks about, oaths. Don't just fulfill your oaths, don't even swear. There's no reason to swear just let your yes be yes and your no be no. The fifth one He talks about an eye for eye principle in the Old Testament. He says don't insist on that and only don't just not insist or don't just insist on an eye for eye, go beyond that, go beyond what's legally required of you. Be willing to give even when you're wronged and then this last one here; don't love your friends and hate your enemies, love everyone. Again these attitudes aren't possible without the help of God's spirit. That's another line of thinking. I would suggest you go back even further. Back in verse 2 it says:
Matthew:5:2 He opened His mouth and taught them saying:
Verse 3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
We have what we call the beatitudes. Are those not the attitudes of God? Are those not indicative of what a perfect father, our perfect Father in heaven is like? How He thinks, how He functions? I would suggest to you that the whole chapter is summarized by verse 48. Becoming perfect means applying all of this. Now again I spent quite a bit of time on Matthew:5:48 but I think it sets the tone for the rest of what Jesus Christ had to say about perfection. All of these attitudes are not possible in humans without the help of the Holy Sprit that's why ancient Israel never could live up to their covenant with God. As a whole they didn't have God's Spirit working with them to help them and when Pentecost, obviously one of the big points of Pentecost is that God does give His Holy Spirit to us in the New Testament. We have to have the mind of God, the mind of Christ built in us through the Holy Spirit, as pictured by Pentecost in order to be perfect, in order to be spiritually mature, in order to be lacking no moral quality and being unspotted from the world.
So how do we stack up with Matthew chapter 5? How do we stack up in terms of perfection? How do I stack up? More importantly to you, how do you stack up? You can all look and say yah, how do you stack up fellow? You're right; I need to ask myself, how do I stack up? But you have to ask yourself that same question too. How do you stack up? How do we all stack up with this? The answer depends upon how much we allow God's Spirit to lead us. If God's given us His Spirit, that Spirit is there and it is trying to direct us. How well do we listen, how well do we say: Your will and not mine? I can't tie in with Mr. Trotter's sermonette. How well do we let that Spirit lead us?
That's a critical foundation I think for Christ's other statements. We can move a little faster through the rest of them. Let's go to the next one. The next time we find Jesus speaking on this topic in the book order of the gospels; they are not necessarily in chronological order but if we go in the order of the gospel accounts will be over in Matthew chapter 19. Turn to Matthew 19 with me. You'll remember the story when I introduce it; there's a rich young man who came to Jesus, asked Him what he needed to do in order to have eternal life. Jesus Christ's answer was to keep the commandments and he said which ones? Jesus began to list some of the ten commandments and the young man said well look I grew up as a Jew, I grew up as a part of God's people, I've been doing that since my youth, I've been keeping those commandments, what else do I need to do? Again maybe sort of the Pharisees view, what do I have to do, give me things to do, don't talk about my frame of mind, don't think about what's going on up here and in my heart, just give me things to do and if I do enough good stuff, then I can make it into the kingdom of God. We'll pick it up at that point of Jesus Christ's answer to this young man who was looking for more stuff to do to be given eternal life.
Matthew:19:21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect (there's that same word telios) go sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow Me."
Verse 22: But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.
Now this statement leads some people to think that we all ought to be ascetics, we ought to be ascetics and have no personal property, shouldn't have cars, shouldn't have a house, shouldn't have a big screen television, we should all be ascetic. But don't take it from that prospective and obviously we know that's not the case because in the New Testament the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the early New Testament church points out they were under no compulsion to give up their personal property. The problem there was they lied about what the personal property was worth. They sold it, came to the apostles and said here's what we got for it when they had actually held some of it back and Peter said it was yours to do whatever you wanted to do with it, you could have sold it, you could have kept it, you could have given part of it, why are you lying? Now the issue was the lying, obviously looking for the applause or the approbation, the praise from other members. So it's not a problem for us to have personal property but on the surface in one level it's very obvious this man had a problem with coveting; it's fundamentally selfishness isn't it? If you're coveting things, you want things for yourself; he didn't want to give up his wealth, his great possessions, he was in love with his money and his possessions and he didn't want to give them up to follow Christ. The young man was looking for action to do, but this wasn't the one he wanted, he was looking for another law to keep and Jesus got right to the heart and the attitude. It's an issue of attitude, an issue of heart that's what is more important. In one level in this passage Jesus is saying becoming perfect for this man meant a change of heart; to love God more than his possessions.
There's another aspect of the word perfect here. I was reading through Expositors on this passage and I thought they had an interesting comment on this word. I'd like to share this statement from them, it says: What the word perfection suggests here is what it commonly means in the Old Testament, undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience. This young man could not face that. He was willing to discipline himself to observe all the outward stipulations and even perform some extra works but because of his wealth he had a divided heart. His money was competing with God and what Jesus everywhere demands is the condition of eternal life is absolute radical discipleship. This entails the surrender of self. There wasn't just the surrender of his goods, there wasn't just sell all your goods and give to the poor and you'll have treasure in heaven, it was also do that and come follow Me. Some believe He was offering him a chance to be one of the disciples. Come and follow Me, put Me first in your life if you want to achieve eternal life. So what does this passage mean to me or you? What is there in my life, what is there in your life, to make it more personal that you won't give up? What is it that you say o.k. God, you can deal with all these things? You can tell me how to do this but not this little thing over here, don't touch that, I'm not willing to give that one up. For this man it was his wealth, that was the area he was not willing to give over to God, he wasn't willing to give up that part of himself. If we want to go on to perfection we must be willing to give it up to follow Christ.
I'd like to turn next to Luke 6, this is the third statement Luke records some of the very same material that Matthew does in the Sermon on the Mount and there's an argument among scholars whether this is actually another message, a similar message or the Sermon on the Mount. It looks so similar I would think it's probably Luke's condensed version of the Sermon on the Mount but it's a very similar message none-the-less. If not it begins with the beatitudes in verse 20 of Luke chapter 6. Let's get down toward the middle of this, let's pick it up in verse 39.
Luke:6:39 And He spoke a parable to them: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?
Verse 40: A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher."
Now I have to admit this word is a little different. If you look it up in a Lexicon you'll see this is a different word, it's not telios, it is a totally different word than the other four uses that Jesus has of the word perfect or perfection. This one means to complete thoroughly, to totally finish something, to complete something. So if you're perfectly trained you will have completed your training process, your training period is what He's really talking about, not quite so much the moral issue that He talked about in the other places of being morally perfect or being lacking no moral quality. Here it's used of a follower who's totally equipped or prepared by his teacher and He simply says look if a teacher is flawed, you're not going to be greater than your teacher and you too are going to be flawed. Some believe that this is specifically talking about the Pharisees. You know the Pharisees are going to lead you in the wrong direction because they don't have the heart of God. They just have the outward appearance of things but the hearts not right so they can't lead you to where you need to be. If you follow me Jesus Christ is saying, you will be able to go where you need to be, however you're not going to be greater than Me and I think we understand that. We'll never be greater than Jesus Christ but if we are thoroughly, perfectly, completely trained then we will be like Him. How much like Him are we? How much have we reached the perfection of Jesus Christ and God the Father?
Let's move on to the fourth passage; this one's also in Luke, a couple of chapters later, Luke chapter 8. Again you'll remember the parable when I mention it to you; it's the parable of the sower. Jesus Christ gave the parable of the sower and the disciples said what does that mean? It's the story about sowing but what does it mean? We know it has to have deeper meaning than just teaching us about gardening or planting crops. What do you mean by that? Jesus said well to you it's been given to know the mysteries, you understand but the rest of these people don't. I speak in parables as He said in another place so people won't understand. Even the disciples didn't understand, they said tell us what you mean by this and so Jesus began to explain the parable. In the explanation of the parable He comes to the part about the ones that the seeds fell among the thorns, that's the part I want to read.
Luke:8:14 And the ones that fell among thorns are those who when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life and bring no fruit to maturity.
The King James says: Bear no fruit to perfection or bring no fruit to perfection.
Some people hear the truth but the cares and the pressures of this life get in and choke it out before any fruit can begin to form or before it can come to perfection.
Cathy and I enjoy having a garden and we've had a garden for many years. We enjoy tomatoes, squash, beans, a lot of things but we've had a hard time since we've moved here with squash. The first couple years, I think the first year I had some squash and the next year didn't make too well and then the next year and I was about to give up on squash and then I went to see the soil man, Mr. Scott Hammer. One time I was talking to him about my squash and said: "I don't know what happens, they bloom, they grow, the squash plants grow, they bloom, they begin to put on a little squash, they get a couple inches long and the blooms start to fall off and I go out a couple days later and the end starts to rot. Then before long the whole thing just falls off the vine." He says: "You've got end rot." I say: "Well tell me something, I just told you the end rots." I thought he was being cute with me and then later when I looked it up I realized he wasn't, he was telling me that's called blossom end rot, that's what they call it and it's quite common in tomatoes and squash and other vegetables as well. He told me that often that squash is an indication of a lack of calcium. He said put some of this stuff around your plants, I think it was dolomite, there's a lot of calcium in that so I went out and bought some dolomite, I actually bought it from the soil man, put dolomite around my squash plants and a couple weeks later I had lots of full grown squash. Amazing, all it takes is getting the soil right and they'll grow to perfection, they'll grow to maturity. So we've been able to grow squash ever since.
Now spiritual fruit is much more important than the physical fruit. Now I can go to the store and buy squash, right? I still like the home made or home grown I should say; better than the store bought. But the physical is much less important than the spiritual. The spiritual reality of not having spiritual fruit is a spiritual disaster. It has much more lasting consequences than any physical fruit and we know Jesus told us to grow, to produce; to bear fruit. The very sad fact is that we can let physical things sabotage our spiritual harvest so that that fruit that may even begin to grow enough. We get God's Spirit, we begin to let a little bit of fruit begin to grow, make it a couple inches long (spiritually speaking, figuratively speaking) but then do we let in rot, bloom and rot set in or do we continue to nurture that fruit where it will grow to completion, to maturity, to perfection or do we let physical things sabotage that which withers on the vine? There are all kinds of physical things that we could let choke it out; riches, cares of this life, pleasures of this life. It could be another person, it could be a guy, a girl, it could be money, could be a job, could be a car, it could be almost anything that we allow to be a hindrance to our spiritual growth. Anything that we put ahead of God that distracts us from following Christ with all our heart, all our soul, all our might can cause us to not bring forth fruit to perfection or to maturity.
So we come to the last statement now if you would turn to John 17 with me. The very last statement in the gospel accounts that Jesus made about perfection is found in Jesus' prayer after His final Passover in the flesh. John is the only gospel writer to record it and it's in chapter 17. Jesus had spoken to the disciples; He had introduced the New Testament, a new covenant, Passover symbols, the foot washing, the bread, the wine. He had talked to the disciples about a number of things that night before He was betrayed. They went out toward the Mount of Olives, had some more discussion and eventually Jesus Christ prayed to His Father and this is the last recorded prayer we have of Jesus Christ that evening before He was betrayed and the statement that He made about perfection is down in verse 23 but I want to start a few verses earlier than that. Look up back to verse 20 and we'll begin there.
John:17:20 "I do not pray for these alone but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
Now I want to stop at that point. Obviously He's speaking about the disciples, He was praying about the disciples. You go back and read the context; I'm not taking the time to give us the whole context. But you read the context and it's obvious His first concern was immediately about the disciples. Jesus knew they were going to betray Him, He knew they were going to deny Him; maybe use a better word to say one betrayed Him, the others fled, they forsook Him. You'll remember the statement Peter said, even if everybody leaves You, I won't leave You, I'll go to the grave with You if I have to, I'll fight to the death to keep You from being betrayed or being turned over and Jesus looked at him and said: "You're going to betray Me three times tonight before the rooster crows, you're going to betray Me three times." He knew they were all going to falter but He also knew that they would be strengthened. He knew that they would stick with it and that the day of Pentecost would come and God's Spirit would be given to the church as a whole on the day of Pentecost and they would be changed men. They would proclaim His gospel message and that other people would believe, not just in that century but in the centuries since and all centuries from now on as long as there are human beings, that more people would be converted and come to understand the truth of God. So He said:
Verse 21: that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
One of the things that Jesus Christ said would be a proof that He was sent by God would be if His followers had that kind of unity; the unity that Jesus Christ and God the Father had. Now again I read a number of things today where I keep saying Jesus Christ is putting the bar way up here isn't He? Putting the bar way up there for us to have that kind of unity but He said this will be a proof that You sent Me.
Verse 22: And the glory which You gave Me (the prestige or honor that You've given Me) I have given them that they may be one just as We are one.
Verse 23: I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me."
Being made perfect in one, they made perfect in unity as We are unified is what Jesus Christ prayed to the Father for.
A good portion of this final prayer of Jesus Christ focused on unity. You can go back and see that He began speaking about this all the way back in verse 10 and 11. There it is in verse 11: "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are." I want them to be unified that we His followers whether in the first century or any century since then or any century to come, that we would be as unified as God the Father and Jesus Christ are unified, that that is the level of perfection He's looking for.
You know the more people who are called as I said, He knew the faltering of the disciples would be temporary, He knew that they would recover, receive the Holy Spirit, that they would begin to preach the gospel, that more people would be added to the church, more would be added, more would be added, more would be added and the more people you add, guess what? You get more opinions, don't you? The more people you add to the body of Christ, the more personalities you get, the more different experiences you get and the more different opinions you have, more diversity. Yet Jesus is praying here that His followers would be one like He and the Father are one, He's calling for perfect unity, PERFECT UNITY! How in the world do we achieve that as physical human beings?
I don't believe that it's necessary, that all of us have to have exactly the same opinion on everything to be able to have unity but I do believe that it ties in very well with Mr. Trotter's sermonette again, yet I do believe that we have to be willing to submit our will to the will of others to be able to be unified. It's a tough thing for any of us to do isn't it? It's a very tough thing for us to be able to submit our will to the will of others. If my opinion is not accepted, what kind of attitude will I display? Will I fight and claw and talk until I get my way or will I submit? Of course all of us see things from our perspective which we think is right, after all it's my perspective so it has to be the right one, right? Then you come along and you have a different perspective and yours has to be right because you see your perspective. So how do we deal with that? How do we learn to have perfect unity? I don't know that I have any easy answers for you brother other than we need a whole lot more of God's Holy Spirit and we need a lot more of being willing to submit ourselves to others, being willing to submit our will to that of others. I would suggest to you that this aspect of perfection, the last one that Jesus spoke about in the flesh is the hardest, the hardest of all to reach that kind of unity, perfect unity as the Father and the Son are one that we too would be one.
So there you have it, there's Jesus on perfection; pretty tough bars for us to hurdle in my opinion. Maybe you think it's simple, I don't. I think it's extremely hard for us to be able to achieve these five passages, record His perspective, His comments on this topic. In Matthew:5:48 to give you a quick recap He says we have to change our attitudes, not just our actions; that our righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, it can't just be about doing this and not doing that. It has to do with what's inside us. It has to be our heart, our mind; we have to be keeping the spirit of God's law, not just the letter. We keep the letter, yes but we have to keep the spirit of the law too. We have to learn to express godly love because that's a big part of it. It concludes that section of Matthew:5:48 with that. In Matthew 19 He reminds us we can't put anything ahead of God if we want to reach spiritual perfection. In Luke 6 He sort of changes a little bit and talks about being a perfect student or fully perfected or fully trained, perfectly trained disciple. He reminds us we'll never be greater than the master even when we're truly trained in this physical life. In Luke 8 in the parable of the sower He reminds us again not to let anything interfere with the growth of spiritual fruit; that it has to grow to maturity or it's worthless and we become like the seed that's cast among the thorns and it begins to grow a little bit and then kind of withers; it doesn't produce anything fruitful, anything spiritually beneficial. Then finally in John 17, verse 23 we're told we have to be made perfect in unity to be like God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. As I said I believe that's the hardest of all, that we can learn to work with one another, care for one another; love one another to that level and that degree.
It's a high calling that God has given us. The rewards are incredible to be able to be a part of His family, the quest is worth it. The question is will we do it? Will we put these into practice in our own personal lives? We'll need God's Spirit, we'll have to have God's Spirit to be able to do it; without it we can't attain it, there's no way we can attain it without the help of God's Spirit. But will I, will you yield to God's Spirit in you life to allow you, to allow me to put these into practice in my life? I hope we will, I hope we will all be led into this kind of unity and this kind of perfection by God's Spirit.