More than a few times, during both primary and high school, I received the annual “Most Improved” award for my class. I always felt a bit embarrassed to receive this award because of its implicit suggestion that I must have been a poor or immature student at the beginning of the school year.
Somehow, I still feel that this label of “most improved” applies to me, with both its negative and more positive connotations, because I still seem to be learning so much about God. I’m learning about his will and about his world, and about my place in his will and world.
I used to think that as a Christian person got older, and had (hopefully) moved a little closer to the goal of spiritual maturity, progress would slow down. I thought that progress would slow because there would be fewer areas left to be worked on. I had assumed that much of the major transforming work would have been accomplished, with only a fine tuning and final polish still to come. This, however, has not been my experience.
When I look back, I can see that God has helped me to overcome some considerable emotional and social inadequacies. Yet, I am equally aware that God is still very much at work in my life, making me even more mature. He is moulding me more and more into Christ’s likeness and making me better equipped for his service (Phil. 2:13).
William Barclay, in writing about teleios (the Greek word sometimes translated as “mature” or “perfect” in the New Testament) explains that:
Teleios . . . has a variety of interrelated meanings. In the vast majority of them, it signifies not what we might call abstract perfection but a kind of functional perfection, adequacy for some given purpose. It means to be full grown as distinct from underdeveloped; for example, it is used of a fully grown adult as opposed to an underdeveloped youth. It is used to mean mature in mind, and therefore means one who is qualified in a subject as opposed to someone who is still learning.
William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1975, 2003), 77.
I am extremely grateful for God’s transforming work in my life (Rom. 8:28-29), that he is transforming my inadequacies and weaknesses into strengths. I am glad that God is making me more useful and more qualified for his purposes. I am even grateful for the mostly difficult and painful periods of stretching and proving which can speed up spiritual growth and development (cf. Rom. 5:3-5; Jas 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).
In many ways, I am far from being mature or perfect (cf. Phil. 3:12). My life continues to be a work in progress and there is much to look forward to and “reach out” for (Phil. 3:13). I will not graduate from the Christ’s School of Discipleship in this lifetime—unless I live to see the Day of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). In the meantime, I hope that I will continue to be a contender for the “Most Improved” award.
This is an edited excerpt from Maturity and Perfection – Philippians 3:15-19, from my Philippians Bible Study, Week 17.