The perfect man

No, this hasn’t turned into a dating site.

What I’m referring to in this post is the matter of excellence of character; the quality of a person who is complete, mature in all respects, in thought and behavior living as God intended for mankind to live.

Have you ever marveled about how the apostle Paul could make such a statement as this?

Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Philippians 4:9

By this, we can see first that Paul was such a perfect man, in that anything you learned, received, heard or saw in him, you could safely and completely emulate. He even pronounces the blessing, “And the God of peace shall be with you”, if you are careful to do as he did. Indeed, perfection was the goal of his ministry:

Whom (Christ) we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

Colossians 1:28

There are numerous examples of Paul’s emphasis upon himself as a standard of the perfect man. Twice to the Corinthians he instructed that they should be followers of him (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1), and in addition to the above, once more to the Philippians in the seventeenth verse, third chapter (in which he also credits Timothy as being a worthy exemplar, cf. Philippians 1:1; 2:19, 20).

How could he make this claim?

Because Christ was in him.

Paul’s specific mission in life, what he was born for, was to reveal the Son of God within him (Galatians 1:15, 16). This was through preaching, insomuch that he said to the Corinthians, “…ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:3).

But surely he believed this same excellence could be attained by those who followed him as he followed Christ, else he would not have instructed them to do so.

Going farther back in time, there is much testimony in the scriptures about the “perfect man”. Job was such a man, and the scripture wastes no time declaring it:

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

Job 1:1

Just as in the Greek, the Hebrew word for “perfect” indicates completion, wholeness. Job was lacking nothing. It’s silly, but I have to mention that this does not mean Job was able to perfect himself before God, and be righteous without needing righteousness as a gift from God. He himself wondered, “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2). Righteousness has always been a gift given by faith in the LORD.

No, Job was a man of impeccable character, and that is what it means when it says he was “perfect” and “upright”. He feared God (believing in, reverencing him), which led him to a departing from evil.

There also was a man before Job who had a spotless testimony; and while it is not recorded that he was a “perfect man” in those exact words, it is of course true. His name was Enoch. What’s written of him is short, almost too short to notice when reading through Genesis quickly; yet, it is incredibly profound:

18 And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch:

19 And Jared lived after he begat Enoch eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:

20 And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died.

21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:

22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:

23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:

24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

Genesis 4:18-24

Twice it is mentioned that Enoch “walked with God”, beginning after the birth of his son, Methuselah. Since names in Hebrew have great meaning, it should be no surprise that we see his character reflected in his name. “Enoch” comes from a word that means “dedicated” or “trained”. It’s the same word translated as “train up” in Proverbs 22:6, the instruction to a father regarding how he is to raise his child.

Now, while others were living 800 or 900 years, Enoch got a mere 365, after which God saw fit to simply lift him up out of the earth, and he never had to experience death. What a reward! I have marveled and marveled at this in my years as a believer–that God would so value the faith of one of his children, that he would take him up to be with himself apart from the conventional method. Recall that the same was done with Elijah, and also, before their physical deaths, to the apostles Paul and John.

Clearly this testimony of Enoch was meant to be profound, and it was later expounded by the author of the Hebrews epistle in a beautiful way. It is about as brief as the mention of him in Genesis, yet it is equally mesmerizing:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

Hebrews 11:5

Firstly, never forget the chapter in which this is mentioned–the eleventh, the “faith chapter”–lest you forget that pleasing God is impossible without faith, or get distracted from faith being the primary thing we all need toward God.

We see that to say he “walked with God” is the same as saying he “pleased God”. And taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by recalling the example of Enoch, the author goes on to give sound counsel:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

Essentially, he’s saying, “If you want to please God, the God who graciously took his servant Enoch up and spared him from death, you must have what Enoch had: faith. Without that, it is impossible to please God. Why? Because anyone who comes to God must believe that he is God, and also that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”

When I have had nothing else to hold onto, I have firmly taken hold of this verse in Hebrews. It is special to me personally for that very reason, because by it I have learned that, even if I lack everything, my heart can still seek God in faith and be rewarded. I may not be where I wish to be; I may not be thinking how I wish to think, or doing as I wish I could, but if I seek God, he will supply whatever I’m lacking–he will reward.

It is awe-inspiring to me that our God, rather than demanding some jumping through of hoops, rite of passage and any other means of approach or service, instead invites anyone to prove him: to believe he is God and find reward after refusing to cease seeking him. It’s as Paul says,

That they (all nations) should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

Acts 17:27

So without a doubt, Enoch was another perfect man. The Psalmist says,

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

Psalms 37:37

Enoch certainly got his peace at the end of his 365 years.

Now, men back then apparently did not have scriptures by which they could learn about God. Most likely God spoke directly with them as he did with Noah, Abraham and countless others.

In one such audible utterance of God toward Abraham, we read,

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

Genesis 17:1

Just as with Enoch, God wanted Abraham to be perfect, to walk before him as a complete man. And what do we remember most about Abraham? For what is he most known?

Faith.

The strength of Abraham’s faith is well-documented in the fourth chapter of Romans, and if Paul wished to teach faith, Abraham was ever his example. So, putting this command of God to “be thou perfect” together with Abraham’s great faith, we can see that to be perfect is, first and foremost, to be a man of complete faith. Growing in faith is growing unto perfection. For in believing God more and more, we depend upon him for more and more–we saturate ourselves not with self-confidence, but with confidence in who he is, what he can do and what his teachings and promises are.

He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.

Proverbs 28:26

Today, and not to the exclusion of a heart that is pure in its seeking of God, we have scriptures written down whereby we can learn of him. I say that the pure heart is important because to call upon the Lord without that is to never gain knowledge, no matter how many scriptures one reads. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).

And what about those scriptures we have?

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Timothy 3:16, 17

If you can receive it, everything written in the scriptures is sufficient equipment to make a man perfect. No external source is needed; not a single one. Because the words written in the scriptures are breathed out from the God who breathed life into mankind. And note that the man of God who is perfect is fully equipped to do every good work. If there’s good to be done in any and every situation, the perfect man is fit for it because he has breathed in the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction of God contained in the scriptures.

Now, Paul made distinction in those assembled to hear his letters. He said that, “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect” (1 Corinthians 2:6) and, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded” (Philippians 3:15). The author of Hebrews touches also on the subject of wisdom being for the perfect man, saying,

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:13, 14

Children cannot be teachers of righteousness, for they do not fully understand it. Yet the perfect man, having experience and training, is able to discern good and evil. He has learned righteousness and is able to walk uprightly and “eschew evil” like Job.

Another quality of the perfect man is his ability to control his tongue.

James made this astonishing statement:

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

James 3:2

There are a number of Proverbs regarding the man who keeps his mouth shut and refrains from speaking rather than blabbing foolishly. One of them states that, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:28). And another says, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Proverbs 29:11). And to note one more, “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 29:20).

James’ point is that the source of a man’s words, his mouth, has more potential than any other part of his body to either bring about good, or otherwise to cause great harm. It has been a constant source of amazement to me that, according to James–rather, according to God–a man who has control of his words is the perfect man I’m discussing here in this post. He can control his entire body.

James speaks at length about the “tongue”, the source of man’s utterance. He goes on to say,

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

James 3:6

A few words from Paul aptly complement this teaching about words, particularly in reference to the tongue being in itself “a world of iniquity”.

16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.

17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;

18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.

21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

2 Timothy 2:16-21

This is a passage packed with so much valuable information.

First, it’s noteworthy that his words here very much echo those written to Timothy (referenced earlier) regarding the ability of the scriptures to “throughly furnish” us to every good work. How are we so furnished? By words of doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction–instruction like Paul’s above.

Two notable heretics, Hymenaeus and Philetus, were falsely claiming the resurrection was past already. That may be why Paul said to the Philippians concerning the resurrection, “Not as though I had already attained” (Philippians 3:12). Though their motive for claiming this is never stated, I’ve heard it speculated that the false teaching was propagated because with the resurrection being past, Christ’s kingdom would be established on the earth and that would mean subjection to Roman rule would not be right and rebellion against the Roman government could be encouraged.

Whatever their reason, it is clear that they did not make the error by accident, but on purpose. Their words are said to be, to offer a couple of synonyms to “profane” and “vain babblings”: base and fruitless. Previously Hymenaeus had teamed up with Alexander to spread heresy and Paul had relinquished him to Satan so that he could learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20).

Now take special notice of verse 16: this empty talk, base and fruitless, is said to inevitably increase into other realms of ungodliness. Though the words spoken were without substance, empty, they would gain matter, despicably materializing in the form of greater ungodliness. Ungodliness is simply irreverence toward God that results in thoughts and actions contrary to him. This validates James’ teaching regarding our speech and it does it in spades. For it is evinced by Paul that what may begin only as talk, readily takes over the whole body. Just as a little fire turns into a roaring inferno (James 3:5), so does this empty talk create a feeding ground for the growth of ungodliness, like that of gangrene.

There are two things set in the stone of the foundation of God: 1) That the Lord knows those who are his, and 2) That everyone who names Christ should depart from iniquity (like that of the “world of iniquity” from James above).

Though Hymenaeus and Philetus had overthrown the faith of some, nevertheless the Lord knew those who were his. Their faith may have been overturned, but God remained faithful concerning those who were his; he knows his own. And accordingly, everyone should depart from iniquity, like (but not limited to) the unrighteousness of those two perpetrators of lies. You see, it is of course not only lies about the resurrection we should shun, but all lies. For every lie is against the truth, and Christ is the truth (John 14:6). To lie against the truth is to defy who God is, and it easily opens up more doors to irreverence toward God; for one of the core things of God’s very being is treated carelessly. And it should not be thought that Hymenaeus and Philetus were innocent “babes”, though they were evidently “unskilful in the word of righteousness”; but they were imperfect men, devoid of good character, and whose words increased to greater ungodliness.

Finally, Paul speaks allegorically, saying, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20, 21).

Let me say before proceeding further that although there are many passages with similar wording, such as where the body of Christ is called the “house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), and where we are told to bestow more abundant honor on what we think are less honorable parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12:23), it is more important to keep this immediate context in mind and not to assimilate passages of similar wording. Oftentimes in study, similar wording can become a snare while we seek to reconcile apparent congruities that really have little to do with each other. Immediate context in a letter should always take precedence over remote context. For instance, take a close look at 2 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 12. In 1 Corinthians 12, it is only supposed that some members are less honorable, whereas in 2 Timothy 2 it is very concrete that some vessels are to dishonor. To connect those two passage, then, would be to err, evidenced by the fact that it would make both passages confusing. And reader, believe me: I know how that feels so I hope this principle of study helps you receive clarity as well.

Continuing on, the word translated as “honour” refers literally to something of value or great price, like gold and silver. By contrast, wood and earth have very little value. With a little work and no money, common materials like wood and clay can be formed into vessels. But gold and silver in great quantity is much more difficult to come by, and therefore commands a greater price. Thus in the pursuit of excellence, the man of God is to purge himself from “these” (referring to the dishonorable vessels). It is clear that the man himself is not the “great house” in the allegory by the fact that he, having purged himself, is called a “vessel unto honour”. Rather, he is in a house full of people, some of whom are dishonorable vessels and some of whom are honorable vessels. And if he is to cleanse himself of the dishonorable, he will be one of those honorable gold or silver vessels, “sanctified” or set apart. And being set apart, he is (as the Greek reads), “easily used” by the Master of the house and prepared for every good work.

In a royal house, the preference of the Master of the house is to use the vessels of highest value, just as anyone prefers the lustrous beauty of precious metals to more common materials.

Frequently people, and specifically their bodies, are spoken of as vessels simply because a vessel is a container for some other thing. It is an instrument to be used for a particular purpose.

So we see now that the perfect man also is advised about the company he keeps.

In Proverbs we read,

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Proverbs 13:20

And perhaps one of the most comprehensive statements concerning how a man should live uprightly is in the opening of the book of Psalms:

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalms 1:1-3

Walking not in the counsel of the ungodly, standing not in the way of sinners, sitting not in the seat of the scornful. This is a comprehensive look at the everyday activities: walking, standing and sitting. In addition, David speaks of not only the kind of man to mark and avoid, but what such a person occupies himself with.

The ungoldy (irreverent toward God, like Hymenaeus and Philetus above) seeks to give counsel on how you should walk/live: avoid it and him!

The sinner (one who is about the business of unrighteousness) you will meet in the road of life and he will be practicing his sin on his path: leave off standing in his road and find another one!

The scornful (one who with contempt treats others as worthless) will invite you to have a seat in his house. Don’t bother!

The person who avoids such company is the same type who delights in the law of the Lord, insomuch that he meditates on it day and night. Through studying the law he has found out there are ungodly, sinners and scorners, and he knows anyone who is contrary to the Lord’s instruction is not good company and should be avoided.

What is his reward?

He is likened to the tree that has the most desirable location a tree can have: next to and whose root is embedded in an endless supply of moving water. That tree always brings forth fruit in season and its leaf never withers, even with the changing seasons. It is a tree that prospers in everything it does, drawing from a boundless source of life-giving water. So also is the man. Remarkable!

Paul writes along these lines in 2 Corinthians 6 and 7:

14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1

The idea of being “yoked” has to do with association. Two oxen of different natures yoked together will create an altogether unprofitable environment. No work will get done. They will not influence each other well.

Although I would not say the two passages are saying the exact same things, note the similarity in the wording between Paul’s exhortations here to the Corinthians, and his words to Timothy previously discussed in his allegory of the great house.

In 2 Timothy, he says, “If a man therefore purge himself from these” and in 2 Corinthians, he says, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit…”

In 2 Timothy, he says that the man who purges himself is “sanctified” and in 2 Corinthians we are told to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” in the context of coming out from among those in whom God does not dwell.

In other words, perfect holiness exists in being purged from influences not of God, in order to be consecrated wholly to God. Simply put, disassociation from ill company is part of consecration to God.

If we are “called saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2), that is, named God’s most holy things, then we should act in that honor and it should be the farthest thing from our minds to walk in dishonor to the designation he has given us.

Finally, on the subject of company (there are more references that you can study), we have the example of the fornicating Corinthian who was allowed to continue in the midst of all, when they should have “rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2). They were proud in their sins of the sexual nature. So he said,

6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth:

9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

1 Corinthians 5:6-13

His point is: you are “unleavened”, uncorrupted. Christ was sacrificed for you to rid you of that corruption (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27). So get rid of the old leaven of badness and depravity, lest it permeate throughout (i.e. influence) everyone. And this applies to anyone who is called “brother” but engages in these things. He is to be put out from the company and left to God’s judgment “without”. Those outside the assemblies were not in Paul’s purview, but in God’s, and he had already given them authority when gathered together, to yield up this man from their midst and into Satan’s control specifically for the cause of destroying his flesh that a good result would come about (i.e. it was not a hopeless event).

Destruction of the flesh can do wonderful things for a man. It kept Paul from pride (2 Corinthians 12:7), it was intended to keep Hymanaeus and Alexander from blaspheming (1 Timothy 1:20) and Peter said,

1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;

2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

1 Peter 4:1, 2

And that was precisely the aim of Paul in delivering up this unnamed Corinthian. And in 2 Corinthians 7 we read that it worked according to plan.

8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

He wanted them to be sorry, but not sorry according to the world’s standard of sorrow, which is hopeless and profitless–a sorrow with no benefit and that leads to more sin. On the contrary, godly sorrow actually does good! Paul and his fellow-laborers weren’t harming them at all by making them sorry; it was not loss, but gain. Because, though it hurt for a time, it yielded much fruit.

And just as the man’s flesh was to be destroyed so “that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5), we see Paul explaining this particular salvation here. It’s not a salvation from hell or God’s vengeance, but a salvation, a deliverance that would not be regretted, in the form of a clean slate concerning the evil done. Their behavior regarding that matter did a 180 as they began to despise the things they had done and became zealous for the contrary. They were experiencing the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Had this intervention not happened, the deed(s) would have been carried to the judgment seat of Christ and the man would have to receive for the thing he’d done (2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:25). But with the matter being cleared ahead of time, he was “saved” from that in the day of the Lord Jesus (yet to come), and there was a glorious deliverance for the Corinthians.

It is often seen as negative to be a “perfectionist.” That may be true with fussing over trivial matters. But we should be very interested in perfection in the matters of highest importance: chiefly, godliness. To offer some perspective, Paul contrasted physical exercise that profited only a little, with exercising to godliness that profits both in this life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Exercising toward godliness, setting your sights on the perfect man, Christ, and aiming to grow up into him in all things (Ephesians 4:15) will yield eternally profitable results.

I will leave off with this allegory of a race given to us by the man who knew how to run it:

24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by an means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

This life is about running to win, just as a multitude runs a race and only one finishes first. But in this allegory, it’s not about putting yourself first above others as of a carnal competition (God forbid!), but of the victory going to the one who is self-controlled–who brings his body into subjection and makes it serve the purposes for which it was created.

Who cares for these things? Is it important for you as a believer to, like Christ, be about your Father’s business (Luke 2:49)? There are many out there who do care. If you’re not one of them, please seek the Lord diligently and find those who are walking in wisdom and learn from them, using the scriptures in this post as your guide. There is much to learn and that can be a heavy burden to bear; but life in this world is brief and it is well worth investing all in the business of God rather than in the business of this world.

May you be heavenly minded for your earthly good.

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