As Many As Be Perfect – Part Three
By Fred Pruitt
Jesus knew His commission. And He also knew the cost, and the reason for the cost. He also knew He was a man and as a man He knew He was weak. That is why the foundation “principle” by which He lived had always been, “the Father that dwells in Me, He does the works,” and, “The Son does nothing of Himself, but what the Father does, the Son does.”So He knew that, even though He would be in weakness, yet He could walk that road by the grace of the Father, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God.” (2 Cor 13:4).
It was the fruit He was after. What fruit? We know – we are the fruit He was after!!!
In one place it says a town became angry at Jesus because He wouldn’t stop and spend time with them, because His face was set on Jerusalem. (Luke 9). He HAD to complete His mission. All the scriptures that spoke of Him would be fulfilled. He knew He could not engineer all that, only the Father could cause everything to come together at the right moment. He just knew He HAD to go to Jerusalem. He could not “rest” until His mission was completed. Though He had an inner serenity, I am sure He also had every emotion and thought imaginable regarding all these things, and once he alluded to the “pressure” on His shoulders, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”(Luke 12:50).
To those who are not privy to it, it might seem like madness or obsession. But this is the life of the intercessor, we MUST do this thing, that may cost us dearly, to bring about the Father’s result. WE are the ones who are tapped on the shoulder. When we hear a voice that says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” (Isa 6:8). Foolish though it might have been to the flesh, we had no choice but to say it, “Here am I, send me.”
There was that saying a few years ago: “What would Jesus do?” THAT is what Jesus did!! Who’s up for that – horrible torture and crucifixion? But He was not just beaten and tortured in His body, dying a horrible death by crucifixion. Many men and women have endured the same physically. But Jesus of Nazareth was the only one who became Sin for us finally giving Himself over to death, trusting the Father’s Word to be true as He gave up the ghost and sank completely into the sleep of death, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Ps 16:10.)
It was a Divine leap of faith for the Son of Man to take that leap, not only into physical death, but into spiritual death as well, to trust He could come back out of it. Once He “gave up the ghost,” any sense He might have had of His hand being on the wheel, was gone. Just like we must, all His marbles were bet on Another’s Promise, that only He (the Father) could fulfill. And the Father DID fulfill His Word! Jesus descended into the lowest regions where Sin/Satan reigned, and took captivity captive and by the power of Another was raised from the lowest depths to the highest heights, giving gifts unto men!
Certainly we do not repeat that one act, by Him alone, that secured for us our Life in Him, but nevertheless He has let the full manifestation of His Kingdom flow out through time, by means of us, in succeeding generations in an ever increasing way across the whole world. As Hebrews says all things are under Him and therefore all things are under us, but we do not yet see it all, but we see Jesus. And it is in that life, that we walk for others as Paul walked for his others, saying, in Col 1:24, “[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church,” and we now say the same.
Paul actually “bragged on” his sufferings a time or two. But he didn’t just see them as events “happening” to him, even just for the sake of the gospel, but he saw further than that. God had given him a commission to fulfill that part of Christ’s own commission regarding being a Light to the Gentiles, the nations. “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” (Isa 42:6). He saw his sufferings and daily dying as life-producing!
That was Paul’s commission – intercession – to and for all the nations of the earth. As Paul said in Acts 26, when speaking before King Agrippa, he was “not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” To fulfill his commission it required everything of him. He told the Corinthians, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” (2 Cor 12:15). For Paul, it was all in. Not for his own sake, not for lauds and congratulations and pats on the back, not to be known as someone great himself, but that those who were his would know the Christ he knew. Everyone he had come across and had helped into the kingdom were precious to him, and he to them, though he complains it seems like they love him less. But their appreciation or lack of it did not deter him in any way. He was operating in a Divine Unction, a Divine “MUST,” which is not to be confused with the legalistic, condemnation-producing, “I ought to,” or, “I should.”
Just as Jesus, operating under the same Divine Unction, had to complete His work, so did Paul, and for those of us who see it, so do we. It may be a lifelong commission, filled with many shorter-termed mini-commissions. There really is no law or form for it, except what the Holy Spirit gives in the moment.
Before Jesus suffered the “Passion,” everything was in the theoretical, (according to one way to look at it), or in the “invisible,” (another way to look at it). At the last supper, He has yet to fully pay the cost to complete the intercession. So in a sense, especially in the apostles’ minds, but even it must have been for Jesus as well considering His struggle in the Garden, everything is still up in the air. Out in the unknown. Even the things He says to them in those marvelous chapters in John, culminating in 17, are only faith statements from where He stood at the moment. Even though He has done astounding things, including raising at least four people from the dead, their minds are still dull and still do not grasp who He is. Which is why they found it so hard to believe three days later when told He had risen.
Now let’s get back to Paul. Everything Paul has been praying, talking about, believing for, etc., has not been about himself. It has not been about his salvation or about his “rewards.” Paul’s whole thrust in these passages is about the life of Christ not for himself, but for others. Why else would he also seek to know the Lord’s sorrow and concern – “the fellowship of his sufferings,” or to be “made conformable unto his death”? These are not holy brownie points he is seeking. He truly DID know the fellowship of His sufferings, and he truly WAS MADE conformable to His death.
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
It is his commission Paul is speaking of here. That word “perfect” throws us off. Christianity has historically equated that word with behavior or mental attitudes, etc. But Paul cannot be falling back into everything he preached against, a microscopic introspective constant self-evaluation, somehow saying he hasn’t done enough, yet, to be secured a place in heaven! Or that his behavior still is not what it should be? Does consideration of that belong in this discussion of Christ in us, as us?
For what was Paul “apprehended of Christ Jesus?” To be “saved,” and one day “go to heaven?” That had not been Paul’s concern. He knew he would continue until his course was finished and had completed and gained his intercession. His intercession and poured out life, certainly was not about Paul “attaining” heaven. It was about bringing others into that same resurrection and heaven, who then do the same toward more others.
His “rewards” in heaven, though I’m sure he had some, were not his motivation. In the kingdom of God, no one “works” for rewards. They labor for love. “Proof” that Paul’s thrust is not “perfection” regarding his spirituality is in the very same chapter, a few verses down:
“ For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Phil 3:17-21).
This is not a man in any way concerned about himself, because those issues for Paul had been settled years before. His only concerns are the furtherance of the gospel, and that he might complete his course. Every day, despite every obstacle, whether free or in chains, Paul lives Christ, all the while knowing, “to die is gain.”
Paul’s last thoughts on the matter in Philippians are these:
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”
Historically that passage has been preached over and over in good old fashioned rededication sermons, to keep on trying, keep on keeping on, keep on trying to act like Christ as best as we can (though we know we can never measure up), and to redouble our efforts at sanctification, spirituality, holiness, so that the Lord would bless us, etc.
But this is not about that at all. Paul had a commission from the Lord. There was no doubt in his mind about that. It took him over. He would consider it “perfect,” when it had reached the point of completion! Like Jesus on the Cross, he could then say, and only then by the Spirit, “It is finished. I have completed what I am here to do. All of ‘my’ part is done, and it is now completely in the hands of the Lord for the fruit, for the increase.”
The prize that he seeks in the “high calling,” is the only thing that is worth anything – living sons of God giving glory to the Father, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” (Rev 5:9,10).
Paul’s life, since he began to travel with Barnabas on his first journey, has been about nothing but the saints of God, finding them, loving them, growing them up, and then finally, because he must, leaving them, knowing that after he leaves many wolves will attack the flock. Paul’s letters to the saints and the churches are filled with personal affection that is obviously genuine. A whole community grew up around Paul’s journeys, so that by the third one he is going to people who have been established for years and are growing up. He is eaten up by his zeal for God’s house, not a fleshly zeal such as he had in the days of his persecutions, but by a holy true zeal, that allowed him no rest, no respite, but the daily exercising of his mind and body to the glory of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.
And he finally comes to that in his last letter to Timothy. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8).
Both Jesus and Paul had to endure physical death before they saw the full completion of their intercessions. They had to go to their deaths in the face of what looked like failure to many, or a sure sign of divine displeasure. Neither, in their earthly lives, saw the full results of their intercessions. It is the same with us.
Paul revealed the principle of intercession in his writings, just sharing his experiences and his revelations. He was the one who said he was “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
What can that mean? By realizing that the body of the Lord Jesus took into it everything in the world wrought in sorrow and grief, and He assumed all those sorrows and griefs within Himself, took them into Himself and embraced them. He literally assumed, took upon Himself, “the weight of the world.” The best way to understand it is like comparing it with a parent suffering with his children’s suffering. When those closest to us are affected in some serious negative way, we suffer ourselves in their sufferings. We take it with them. We feel what they feel. And it is especially tough when we cannot fix it, or solve their problems. We doubly feel their pain and suffer in their sufferings.
Spiritually, Paul is saying that in Christ, we are experiencing something of the weight of our world. We feel the futility some are in. We feel the pain others experience. Some of it we know about, but we all in general feel what the common feelings of humanity are. I believe when one suffers all suffer.
We feel this in Christ, not to suffer, but to know the resurrection unto life, that these deaths bring to others. We begin to have faith to say our “sufferings” are not punishment or merely injustice or merely from wrong choices, but that Christ in us, in these “sufferings,” which can be most anything, sanctifies these negatives, and instead of misery they produce the Word of Life. Paul said we always bear His dying in our body, that at the same time the “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2 Cor 4:10b).
Paul finishes his word on the principle of intercession in this passage:
“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” (2 Cor 4:11-14)
That is the prize of the high calling.
And now that is the life of all of us. No matter our “stage,” no matter our knowledge or understanding, no matter our vocation or avocation, to live Christ is to have this same Life working in us, knowing we are not our own, but bought with a price, the Blood of the Lamb, and by His Blood and Body we become in some way the Passover Lamb for the ones the Spirit sends us.
And let us always remember that this is true about everything: “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!”(Ps 118:23).