PERFECTION: COMPARATIVE vs. ABSOLUTE

BY:  JOHN R. GAVAZZONI 

2015

 

Pointing out first, that the Greek word often translated as "perfect" in many translations of the New Testament, also conveys the idea of "mature," with the implication, at least, of "complete," I think the time is ripe for a reconstructed paradigm within which we can come a bit closer to understanding scripture's presentation, and call to, perfection. (It should be noted up front, that a form of perfectionism arose in the post-apostolic church which was almost immediately looked upon with great suspicion by those most-grounded in the truth of the gospel, and then considered to be nothing less than a heresy, since it promoted a perfectibility based upon a man's willful discipline of availing himself of "the means of grace.")

 

I owe my own decision to address this subject again to the stimulating thoughts of my dear friend, Jonathan Mitchell's very recent treatise on the manifestation of the sons of God. The two subjects at the very least, overlap considerably. I'm proposing in this writing that a reconstructed paradigm within which to revisit the subject of Christian perfection - which by extension includes human perfection in toto - be a reconstruction within which the distinction is made between that perfection or maturity which is comparative, and that which is absolute.

 

I maintain that if a believer is to enjoy any constancy of the experience of goodness, ease, and well-being (thanks again to brother Jonathan for that insight into what the gospel essentially promises experientially) while he is "pressing on the upward way" as the hymn puts it, he must recognize the difference between the ultimate goal of absolute perfection, and that comparative perfection among the saints, on the way to the ultimate goal.

 

Clearly there has always been within the community of the faith of Christ, different levels of maturity. There have always been "babes in Christ," for instance, able only to digest "the milk of the Word," from whom little maturity was expected at least for a reasonable time, while in the same communion of the saints - as in any family - there were the COMPARITIVELY, but not ABSOLUTELY, mature ones, whose maturity was essentially a matter of being well-rooted in the grace of God.

 

I will be very forthright regarding, and even insistent upon, the truth that absolute perfection can only be the possession of the entirety of the body of Christ, which perfection, when God brings it to pass, will be shared by each member. This is the perfection taught by Paul in Ephesians: "...till we all attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." Paul's understanding of absolute perfection was that of "the One New Man," or "One New Humanity." As each of us individually yearns after that final, perfectly satisfying, state of maturity, we must keep in mind that no member of the body can be absolutely mature except as a member of a completely maturated New Humanity, whose life is Christ.

 

This New Man; this New Humanity, will be that body of Christ composed of the whole body of humanity, of which the present believing community is first-fruit representative. The existential community of the faith of Christ at any given moment in time short of the "telos" (goal), is not, and cannot be, the final product of saving grace. Listen fellow pilgrim, we will all be saved absolutely, made whole absolutely, all together or not at all.

 

There is a wonderful dynamic of interdependence at work in this maturing of humanity by, from, and as, the glorified Humanity of Jesus. The less mature are, of course, dependent, within the fellowship of the saints, upon the greater flowering of Christ within, and out from, the souls of the more mature. I'm specifying the souls, since it is through the dimension of the soul that the Spirit of Christ comes forth in unique edification. The richness of Christ flows from the believer's spirit where Christ in His absolute perfection has taken up abode.

 

It is Christ fully "perfected by those things which He has suffered," who sits at the right hand of God on our behalf, who indwells the spirit of all believers, but soulically, that absolute perfection is granted, measure upon measure, to and in, our soul-dimension-that is, as Hebrews points out, "if God permits," - and as we are able to bear such blessed, but necessarily, aggressive, and confrontational, intrusion into our soul-life.

 

But interdependent dependence goes both ways. Much of the growth in maturity owes to the imperative that the more mature care for the less mature. Whatever is the measure of a lack of maturity among the comparatively more mature, easily shows up when they are faced with having - as an analogy - to have to change the diapers of the babies, constantly keep an eye on them as they stagger about taking their first steps, seemingly determined to fall exactly right where their little heads will meet the sharp edge of a coffee table, and fight among themselves as to what toy belongs to whom.

 

As I've noted in a previous article, it was becoming the parents of three daughters that demanded of Jan and me that we draw in greater measure from the enabling grace of God. Having kids provides opportunity for the arousal of both our flesh and spirit, and be sure, young parents out there, you will at times exhaust, as the song says, your hoarded (soul) resources and despair of ever being able to raise your children "in the fear and admonition of the Lord." Only then, will you realize that "HIS love hath no limit; HIS grace has no measure; His power hath no boundary known unto men. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again."

 

There is also the matter of the trans-connecting of the members of the mystical body of Christ across the great divide of this earthly life and the life beyond. There is a mutual interdependence on the part of us fighting the good fight of faith on this side, and those who make up that encompassing "great cloud of witnesses" "who, without us, cannot be made perfect." Implied in that statement, is that we also who are alive and remain, cannot be made perfect without those who are on "the other side." I'm sure that as John the Baptist "ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah," they both were enriched by their unique jointure within the body of Christ.

 

One our daughters was, at one time, an avid sailor, with her own catamaran. There was the time when, still lacking in experience, she was venturing all alone into the ocean beyond one of the harbors near our home in Southern California where she often sailed, when suddenly she realized that she was being dragged out into the ocean with frightening speed by a combination of wind and currents, and she began to panic at not knowing how to reverse her direction back into the harbor. At that moment, she recognized the silent voice of her grandfather, my dad, instructing her how to manipulate the sail to turn around, and it worked perfectly. Her "guardian angel" was not one of the supposed species of spirit beings that we think of as "angels," but was none other than her "Pop."

 

I have become convinced that it was probably Grandpa Lombardi - a man, no one would want to mess with during his time on this earth - who came to my aid when I found myself on a sidewalk in Washington, DC, while attending a Youth for Christ Convention, faced with a guy who was determined to knock my head off my shoulders. As John the Baptist ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah, I threw just one jab in the spirit and power of Pasquale Lombardi at my assailant which left him dazed on his back on the sidewalk with wide-eyed fear. He'd been hit by more than the left jab I'd thrown. Later, the Spirit whispered to me, as I recalled the incident, and said, "Didn't you know, that was an 'angel.'"

 

At that time, I had the more conventional understanding of what the Greek, "angelos" refers to in the New Testament, not knowing that it should be translated simply as "agent" or "messenger, and not transliterated as "angel." The thought has to do mostly with an agent bearing a message. So the Lord spoke to me making concession to my then-present presumption. Well, as I became convinced that the "angel" who came to my aid, and gave my left jab the force of a sledgehammer, was none other than the spirit of Pasquale Lombardi, my maternal grandfather, I was awed at the "message" he delivered to my assailant, and how clearly that guy "got the message:" You best be careful who you pick a fight with. 🙂

 

Cf Jonathan's article, mentioned above: Who Are The Sons?

 

 

 

 

PERFECTION: COMPARATIVE and ABSOLUTE [John R. Gavazzoni] 2015          2

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