Pray For Perfection

(2 Corinthians 13:9-14)

It is a common thing among Christians to think less of themselves than they should. By this I mean that many Christians seem to be constantly aware of sin and sinning and a great many live in guilt and self-condemnation.

Pray for perfection
Pray for perfection

But here we see an interesting comment from Paul that shows a very different mindset than we see today.

And it is not easy to pick out because even the Bible translators have either missed it, not believed it or chosen to soften the truth of this verse, for they have modified the true meaning of the Greek word into something less than what Paul was talking about: Perfection.

Understanding Greek

Now I am sure that the scholars who produced the modern translations of the scriptures from the original Greek into English had a far greater knowledge of Greek than I do. But what puzzles me is when they produce a translation that takes away from the meaning of the scriptures where there is clearly no ambiguity about the word in question, and that is the case in a number of translations of this word, including the RSV that I use most of the time.

In many cases there can be subtle differences in words as the change from one language to the other, but not in this case. After checking the word in question in four different lexicons and Greek to English bible dictionaries, it is evident that the translators have watered down the meaning, at least in the version of the bible I regularly use.

The Greek word in question is “katartisin” and it is word number 2676 in Strong’s Greek Dictionary for those who want to look into it further.

The meaning in the various Greek dictionaries is: “perfection, make perfect, restore.”

As you can see this is quite different from the meaning suggested in the verse as translated by the RSV, which is:

”For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement” (2 Corinthians 13:9)

”Improvement” is not the same as “perfection” or even restoration. Improvement suggests that you will get better in some way. It suggests a hope for a journey to something better.

Whereas both “perfection” or “restoration” are suggestive of the destination rather than the journey. They both look to the final phase or point of the journey when we will be perfected in Jesus Christ, and it is this that Paul is looking towards for the church in Corinth.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all of the Bibles I have access to and checked have this wrong. Many DO use the word perfection or restoration or some variant of those that are better indicators of what Paul was saying. But likewise there are many that are weak on this point. One even was so weak as to just hope the church would “mend it’s ways,” which is weaker again.

My point in all of this is that we need to dig deep sometimes to find out what is really being said. This is especially true when we look at different translations and find discrepancies in the way translators have rendered the original Greek into English, as was the case here. And it is why we need to check when there are inaccuracies for the meaning and the truth can be lost.

Biblical Consistency

Which brings me back to the scripture in question and what Paul was saying. Are his words consistent with the rest of the message of the Bible?

Yes they are. If you consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48, we see perfection is the aim we must all attain to see God.

”You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

The aim of the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is to bring man into perfection. Or, if you consider the word “restoration,” to bring man back into perfection as he was created in Adam and Eve. It is the purpose of God for man to be perfect so that man can live with Him into eternity.

Jesus came to set man free from sin and to “take away the sin of the world” as John the Baptist said in John 1:29. And where there is no sin you have perfection, albeit a perfection based upon faith and the grace of God. This is what Jesus did for us. We can be perfect now when we believe He has taken away our sins and set us free from the law so that we do not sin anymore. But all of this is held only through faith.

But that is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. Jesus opened the way for us to receive the Holy Spirit and His work is to transform man into the image of Christ, who is the image of God, who is perfect.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to take us, freshly baptised into the death of Jesus Christ and believing we are now without sin and no longer bound under the law, and to use the power of God to transform us into the image of Christ. His work is described best in the following verses.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

The work of transformation is by small degrees as the Holy Spirit “cleans us up,” so to speak. We learn how to trust in Christ and to obey Him and to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ rather than acting on our passions and desires. We learn how to walk in the Spirit so that we can contain and destroy the works of the flesh within us and so walk as members of the body of Christ. And in time we will be brought into perfection and we will be “…perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Consider the reasons for why this must be. Do you believe or think that anyone who is a sinner will be permitted to stand in the presence of God Almighty? Do you think anyone who continues to walk in sin has the right to enter into the marriage feast of the bridegroom, as discussed in Matthew 22? The parable in Matthew 22 talks of our invitation to enter into the kingdom as the bride of Christ, and to enter we MUST be without spot or blemish. Just look at what the King says to a man who snuck in without being attired in the wedding garments, which by the way are the white robes of righteousness.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Matthew 22:11-13)

This too will be the fate of any sinner because you cannot come into the presence of God clothed in the filthy rags of sin. You MUST be PERFECT as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

And it is important we understand these things, because Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:9 was not “wishing” or praying for the improvement of the church or that they simply mend their ways. No, he was seeking them to walk into perfection and be perfected in Jesus Christ, just as we all need to aim for.

Of course, the best thing about this is that it is not our work but it is the work of God. He gave us the Holy Spirit to teach, counsel and guide us into perfection. We don’t do it alone because we basically can’t do it alone, since we do not understand the nature of God and what true perfection looks like.

But that doesn’t mean we can sit back and rest on our laurels doing nothing. The Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance all we need to know from the scriptures to help us fight the attacks of the devil and our own passions, lusts and desires. But we have to fill our hearts and minds with the knowledge of the truth in the first place so the Holy Spirit has something to bring to our remembrance! You can’t remember or recall something that isn’t there in the first place.

And the other point in this is that what we need to fill our hearts and minds with is the TRUTH. That is why it is critical to examine everything that we are being taught and to seek for ourselves. When you stand before the Judgement Seat of God on the last day, you can’t rely on what some teacher, pastor, priest or minister said. Maybe they got it wrong too!

Go and look for yourself and find the truth of all things. This is what will hold you in good stead both in this age and the age to come. It is only by the knowledge of the truth and following the sound words of Jesus Christ that we will be made perfect and have the right of entry into the Kingdom God has established for those who are faithful.

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