“Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Cor 13:11
There were several factors in play in Paul’s letters to Corinth. They were baby believers – they were zealous above all the churches for the gifts of the Spirit, and their church services were undisciplined, unruly shouting matches where each one was trying to bring forth his particular gift all at the same time, and the women were contradicting what the pastor or teachers were trying to teach from the word (which was the Old Testament only at this time, let’s not forget).
So Paul placed restrictions on this church that were not on other churches. He did not permit the women to teach or even speak in church. He had to explain the gifts of the Spirit and instruct them on how to use them properly and calmly.
Then there was the rampant sin and immorality. Someone had taken the liberty in Jesus concept, and my sins are now forgiven, to mean a license to sin, and one man was living with his father’s wife (which was a forbidden relationship in the Torah); and some were going to pagan prostitutes (for all prostitution in the ancient world was associated with pagan temples – it was part of their religious rites). And that is just what we know about from the correction in his letters. Then they were diminishing Paul’s authority, and saying that his correction didn’t need to be listened to, because he was weak and if he was really of God, then wouldn’t he be mighty and powerful, etc.
So he instructed them to examine themselves and straighten up, in essence, before he got there, so that when he arrived he could be gentle with them. Because if they waited for him to come and clean everything up, then he would be forced to be stern, and then they would know what the authority of an apostle was really like. Think of Peter asking Ananias and Sapphira if they had really sold their land for such and such a sum, in Acts 5. Peter did not kill them, but the LORD did. He judged the sin in His church, in the presence of His apostle, and that was what Paul was trying to spare them.
So he exhorted them to: “Become complete.” This phrase is a single verb in Greek: katartizo, and it means, to complete thoroughly, to repair or adjust, to mend, to make perfect, to prepare, to restore. The funny thing is, this phrase in the King James Bible is “Be perfect.” You know, this makes people, especially us recovering perfectionists, uncomfortable.
But these exhortations are in the Bible, just as it also says, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” God is not holy 98% of the time. He is wholly holy and blameless. God would not say it if He did not expect it of us. And He would be unjust if He expected what was not possible for us to do. And He is not unjust. If with every temptation, God provides the way of escape (1 Cor 10:13), then by taking that way every time, we can live a blameless life. However, most of us choose not to take that way every time, even though we may take it sometimes or even most of the time, and God in His mercy provides forgiveness for our sins. But obedience is better than the sacrifice for sin, even if that sacrifice was Jesus on the cross.
But the problem we have with being perfect or complete, is how we go about it. We cannot perfect ourselves by the works of our flesh. Our flesh has not been made into a new man. That was our heart that this happened to. But if we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the immoral desires of the flesh. It will be easier for us to resist temptation.
We need to live as new men, putting off the old man. Holiness in our lives is an outgrowth of knowing in our minds (new man thought) that we have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus in our hearts. Then right behavior flows out naturally from a right heart, like rivers of living water.
The biggest obstacle to living by the Spirit, I have found in my life, is listening to the lie that the enemy says that we have blown it and God is now unhappy with us: having a “condemnation” mentality breeds sin like rabbits. But having instead a “justification” mentality, which is, God has made me righteous (independent of my attempts at perfection through the works of my flesh) and He is not angry with me, but “This is My beloved son (or daughter), in whom I am well pleased,” breeds holiness. Knowing the truth clears the obstacles out of our path, and allows the righteousness of God that has been made within us, to flow out unobstructed. Perfectionists, such as we were trained to be, can have real trouble getting their head wrapped around the concept that God is not angry, and is not keeping a scorecard of the failures of our flesh (1 Cor 13:4-5, love keeps no record of wrongs).
Vine’s Greek Dictionary of New Testament Words says about katartizo, that it means to render fit for service or use, or to complete.
“It does not necessarily imply, however, that that to which it is applied has been damaged …; it signifies, rather, right ordering and arrangement; … it points out the path of progress, as in Mat 21:16; Luk 6:40; cf. 2Co 13:9; Eph 4:12 …. It indicates the close relationship between character and destiny …. In 1Th 3:10 it means to supply what is necessary, as the succeeding words show.”