Perfecting of the Saints

" And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:"
(Ephesians 4:11-13)

One of the main purposes for the ecclesia is the perfecting of the Saints. Christ desired that the composite body of the multitudinous bride, now known as the ecclesia, be a crucible for developing godliness through a transformation of its members to become truly one body in the mind and spirit of Christ. As iron sharpens iron so it is that through ecclesial self-examination and mentoring the ecclesia can strive to develop its members both young and old alike into perfect (complete) and acceptable Saints of God, able to hold forth the torch of salvation within their ecclesia and unto the world at large.

Developing godliness: The ecclesia must provide an environment that nourishes its collective membership's service to God and his son Jesus Christ, and be a place of continual refreshing regarding those great and precious promises embodied in the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Godliness is reverence. It characterizes "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding," and, as Paul prays, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (Philippians 4:7; 1Timothy 2:2)

Living a peaceable life within the ecclesial setting requires us to act individually in the same manner as the Saints at Colossi; with mercy, kindness, humbleness and meekness, forbearing one another in long-suffering. If we have a dispute or quarrel amongst ourselves we are to be forgiving "even as Christ forgave...and above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." (Colossians 3:12-15) How we act with charity (agape love) within our ecclesias will, for the most part, establish the rate at which our respective ecclesias can hope to attain godliness for its individual membership and its "lampstand" status in the sight of Deity.

What can the ecclesia do to be godlier? Paul continues in Colossians with this guidance, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Colossians 3:16-17) For example, Paul's guidance might be expressed through well-attended Ecclesial Bible studies and led by mature brethren. Bible study schedules would be arranged at times that facilitate attendance. Sunday meetings could on occasion be extended into the afternoon and provide opportunity for young and old alike to enjoy each other's company around the word of God, building both body and spirit. Periodic hymn sings can further ecclesial unity. All these things can be pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

If we are to be partakers of the divine nature we must escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. How can this be done? Peter in the first chapter of his second epistle says that after taking on the saving name of Christ through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we are to be diligent by adding to "faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:5-8) This progression of growth leading to agape love tracks very similarly to Paul's counsel given to those at Colossi referenced earlier. Developing godliness is indeed a progression, one that began when we first heard the word of God, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," and progressing through baptism to a lifelong walk of good works; for love is known by the good works it prompts.

Virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love are the fruits (2 Peter 1:8) that are an outgrowth of the precious faith. These fruits add to the blessing accompanying The Faith, which God has multiplied unto you. These seven qualities are steps of the believer's journey, beginning with faith and culminating in love, and as our fruit ripens we are promised that we will be neither barren nor unfruitful. To be barren is to be inactive or idle, so as we grow in the Lord we should expect to be more active servants. Activities help bring forth a perfecting of the Saints in the Lord's vineyard. This can be seen as a chain; an increase in Divine qualities, leading to an increase in activity in the Lord's vineyard, leading to fruitful works, and with God's grace, leading to an entrance into the everlasting kingdom. The reverse can be concluded as well. If one is not engaged in the works flowing from these seven Divine attributes, then one is not diligent and may be blind not discerning the true intent of the Lord's body. Paul told Timothy that faith is made complete (perfect) by good works. (2 Timothy 3:17) James observed, "...I will show thee my faith by my works." (James 2:18) Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." If we don't exhibit the actions resulting from virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love towards others, then we are described as blind; not able to see the joy set before us. We are reprobate in that we have abandoned the covenant we made at baptism. The ecclesia's purpose is to aid in developing this godliness - the divine attributes and their resultant works in its members.

Transformation: Our ecclesias must not be "conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2 NRSV) Each ecclesia must ensure that collectively its individuals have "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Ephesians 4:24) This transformation, while achieved individually, becomes collectively the personality of the ecclesia. The ecclesia must be humble as a little child and present itself as living sacrifice. This means the cares of the world so frequently represented in the media of television, sports, movies and dress must be crucified with our old man and left behind to a corrupt world that will be cleansed by our returning Lord and Savior in that great Day of Judgment. Our ecclesial activities and responsibilities should not be forsaken so that we may serve sin. (Romans 6:5-6)

One body: All ecclesias are to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called. We have been all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1Corinthians 12:13) If this be so brethren, keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace must be our ecclesia's objective under the leadership of its senior brethren. We must all speak the same thing... that there be no divisions... that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10) On more than one occasion, Paul reminds us that the body is not one member, but many. It is God that has set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. (1 Corinthians 12:18) In his wisdom, he has combined the comely parts with the uncomely that we might give abundant honor to all, that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1Corinthians 12:23-25) It is the duty of the ecclesia, whether looking internally at its members or externally at other ecclesias, to keep a proper balance of faith, love and good works that grace may abound when Christ sits in judgment and the books are opened. (Revelation 20:12)

Iron sharpens iron: The autonomy of the ecclesia demands the thinking expressed by Solomon that, iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17) As self-directed and self-policing bodies we must continuously exhort one another, test whether those things be so, and examine ourselves whether we be in the way of truth or not. What better way to perfect our ecclesia than by self-examination? To the extent we can objectively look at our ecclesia's performance in the categories which lead to godliness, we help perfect our Saintly membership.

Paul admonishes us to personally examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. (RSV, 2 Corinthians 13:5) This idea of self-examination can also be applicable and strengthening to the ecclesia taken as a whole - to coin a phrase, "ecclesial-examination". Paul expressed delight when the ecclesia at Corinth demonstrated its conviction to the oracles of God by strong practices, and says, "what we pray for is your improvement." (RSV, 2 Corinthians 13:9) We find in this verse our purpose for examination, which is improvement as a primary objective. We are asked at the Memorial Service to examine ourselves and assess our worthiness in discerning the Lord's body. In the context of this examination, we are admonished, "but if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged." (RSV, 1Corinthians 11:31) The ecclesial implication here is if we were to truly look at what we could be doing as an ecclesia to improve the progress of God's objective, that, "all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord," then we would not be judged critically. Thus we conclude that ecclesial improvement is for the purpose of ecclesial examination.

When undertaking ecclesial-examination we must include consideration for the membership's children, knowing that it is the parent's responsibility to "provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4) For if they, "train up a child in the way he should go... when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Our children are the heritage of the Lord, and as such, must be afforded the ecclesial environment to grow in the Lord - an environment encouraging to parents and their children alike - full of examples of how servants of the Lord behave in a saintly manner in this wicked and perverse generation.

We have been considering the perfecting of the Saints, which is one aspect of the Biblical purpose of the ecclesia, and have concluded it is, in part, for the development of godliness through a transformation of its members to become truly one body in the mind and spirit of Christ. And with this transformation the ecclesia, "speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Scott Cram
St Louis, MO