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When Perfection Comes

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

 

When I was in United States Marine Corp boot camp, we had a recon platoon sergeant, our head drill instructor who was a perfectionist.  He demanded perfection from all us green recruits.  He required precision drill: the whole platoon of about 50 men marching, with our wood stock M-14 rifles as one man in movements – precisely to command and cadence.  Over and over we drilled.  Again and again.  I hated drill.  On the rifle range our sergeant demanded we all qualify as “expert shots” with bull’s-eye accuracy on dog targets.  50 yards for rapid-fire, then at 200 and 500 yards away.  A perfect score was 300 points, and every single round in the bulls-eye!  Our final P-F-T or physical fitness test for a perfect score meant a minimum of (20) complete chin-ups, 100 set-ups in 3 minutes and running 3 miles in less than 18 minutes, for a perfect score.

Top platoon honors or 1st place meant the highest overall score, anything else was failure.  Certainly, by rigorous U S Marine Corp standards and we all fell short.  In this life imperfection rules.  The closest we can come to perfection in this life, is when we apply for a greatly desired loan, or when we fill out a job application for a job we really want.

But “when perfection comes” all believers will enjoy, indulge in a new order of life.  Well what, and when will this perfection come to pass?  In our study passage we have been given some insights.  In First Corinthians 13:8-12 we have a rather difficult passage to interpret, to fully understand.  Our focus will be “perfection” as it is revealed in First Corinthians 13.

Consider our current situation, in this life, now, regarding especially our spiritual matters: continuing in First Corinthians 13:9 “for we know in part; and we prophesy in part.”  So, our knowledge now is partial, incomplete, imperfect, there-fore our prophesy or proclaiming it is also limited, partial imperfection.

A friend of Job put it this way.in Job 11:7 “can you fathom the mysteries of God?  Can you probe the limit of the Almighty?  Of course, the answer is No!  Absolutely not!

The context, the thrust, of this passage has to do with the spiritual gifts, especially knowledge and prophesying verses love.  Put in a nutshell is: as important as the gift of spiritual knowledge is, it is not exhaustive.  It’s limited and to prophesy, however crucial, is not now complete.  It’s limited.  These are now but finite gifts in our imperfect times, but love is more important and proper attitude with all spiritual gifts.

Here and now, we can only know, only proclaim partially, imperfectly, only in bits and pieces, not the whole.  Of course, we are, and will always be creatures, never know, nor communicate as the Creator.  Yet an obvious, radical transformation is coming, whereby our limitations now in place will be lifted.

From First Corinthians 13:10 “but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”  One day imperfect gifts such as knowledge, and proclaiming that knowledge, will give way to perfection towards which all gifts point.  That is, knowledge will become comprehensively complete and proclaiming this knowledge will be perfect in its ability and accuracy.  This ushers in the time when they all cease, upon completeness, when perfection comes the gifts of knowledge and prophesying will no longer be needed, will have served their purposes and pass away as revealed clearly in First Corinthians 13:8.  Yet the Godly virtue of love never ceases, never passes away yet also having been perfected, completed in all believers.

But exactly what and when is this “perfection?”  The original Greek word for “perfection” can mean “end, fulfillment, or completeness.”  In the context, the contrast is between the partial and the complete.  Many interpretations abound.  The traditional understanding is “when perfection comes” refers to completion of the New Testament.  Then we have the complete revelation from God to man in the Bible.

Yet this interpretation, the completion of the scriptures, does not satisfy some of Paul’s inspired illustrations regarding when perfection comes.  Namely: continuing from First Corinthians 13:12 “then we shall see face to face” that hasn’t been completed yet for the Lord’s church to see the face of Jesus our Lord.  Nor does it satisfy in this same verse “then I shall know fully…”  even with the completion of the scriptures, no one on earth knows them fully yet.

Also in the fuller context and upon completion of the scriptures in AD 90 to AD 100 – the gifts of knowledge and prophesy did not cease yet, as in Revelation 11:3 “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  This is still yet future, long after the completion of scriptures.

Another popular interpretation is “when perfection comes” refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Within the scope of the church, when God’s purposes for her are consummated, has merits.  True, when the Lord come in the air for His church according to First Corinthians 15:51ff” …we will all be changed. Raised imperishable. With immortality.”  That is His church will be glorified – made perfect.  Also, true, when Jesus Christ appears according to First John 3:2’…we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

However, there is a problem apart from the glorified church regarding “when perfection comes” during and at the end of the millennial age there will be people born who are still in their natural bodies, who still sin, who will need the gifts of knowledge and prophesying regarding Jesus Christ and the gospel.  These gifts will not have ceased yet.  In fact, there will even be a great rebellion against Jesus Christ according to Revelation 20:7ff: so seemingly at least apart from the church, not all is perfect yet, not all is complete yet.  So possibly “when perfection comes” actually refers to the new heavens and the new earth – that final perfect eternal state.

This completely eternally, perfect state is summed up aptly with Revelation 21:27” Nothing impure will ever enter it nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  Finally, the imperfect disappears.  Finally, all childish ways are completed.  Finally, all God’s people: pre-Israel, Israel, the church, tribulation saints, and millennial saints, all shall see him face to face.  Then all God’s people shall know fully, even as we are fully known by God.  And love will never fail but continue on into eternity.  And all spiritual gifts will cease, no longer needed, because love will prevail perfectly toward God and one another.

So finally, and ultimately with our glorified eyes we will see God in the new leavens, new earth and new Jerusalem.  In Revelation 22:3-4” …no longer will there be any curse.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him- they will see his face!”  The Godhead!

Now Christians are saved from penalty of sin.  Now Christians being sanctified from the power of sin.  But “when perfection comes” for the Lord’s church we will be separated perfectly from the presence of sin.  And so, it will be in the perfect state for all believers.  My platoon sergeant pursued military perfection, he demanded we become: “Mean, lean, green machines” We all fell short, imperfect, incomplete.

Yet, God states we must be perfect to go to heaven, to see God.  This is only possible, one way, in Christ Jesus, thru faith in the perfect man/God, in Jesus Christ.

 

David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4