What do you think of when you think of the word excellent?
I revert back to my elementary school grading scale, instead of ABCDF it was ESPN–Excellent, Satisfactory, Progressing, and Needs Improvement. Weird, I know! My goal was to get E’s! As a perfectionist as a child, I soon learned that obtaining all E’s all the way up was not an obtainable goal. I was not perfect. There were things that I tried really hard at that I just couldn’t fully get–resulting in a grade less than an E. What I learned through this was even my best wasn’t good enough–a lesson that many of us take very hard and don’t fully learn from. Why would I want to go through life knowing my best was never going to be good enough, yet someone else’s best was? We all have our own strengths. God created us all so uniquely! However, doing your best doesn’t necessarily mean perfection.
The difference between excellence and perfection
Perfection in scripture
In scripture, the word perfect only refers to God and Jesus.
In the Old Testament, the term perfection belongs to God alone, it is an attribute of God. Deuteronomy 32:4 shows the perfection of God in the Old Testament:
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
In the New Testament, Jesus was made perfect through suffering so that He could bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). Only Jesus was perfect, He died on the cross so we didn’t have to be.
But the Bible says we’re called to be perfect?
Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” After everything we have learned above–there is no way we could be perfect by ourselves. So what does this verse really mean? As you have seen from scripture, the Bible instructs us that there is nothing holier or divine than God. This verse is a mere call to be “imitators of God as dearly beloved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). The context before Matthew 5:48, talks about showing the perfect love of God toward your enemies. Be imitators of God’s perfection and walk in the way of love.
The pursuit of perfection can be terribly frustrating, and never truly gratifying.
We can’t be perfect—only God can be, but we can be excellent.
So what is excellence?
Excellence–the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. The Greek translation of excellence is “arete” meaning virtue.
When the Bible mentions the word, excellence, it is used in two different contexts. The first, describing God and the second how we should live a life according to God.
The word, excellence appears in scripture where it is clear that God wants us to excel in both inward character and outward character (Matthew 23:37-38; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Philippians 1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:1, 4:10). There is no way for us to love God with all our heart if we aren’t seeking to do our best to glorify him.
To pursue excellence means to do your best with the gifts and abilities God has given us.
Pursue a life of excellence
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
A great biblical example of an individual who lived a life of excellence is Daniel. Daniel was highly favored.
“Daniel so distinguished himself above the governors and the satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.” –Daniel 6:3
I love the way G. Campbell Morgan describes the excellence of Daniel:
He had an excellent spirit because he was:
- a man of purpose
- a man of prayer
- a man of perception
- a man of power
Daniel was purposeful in everything he did (Daniel 1:8). He was a man of prayer–intentional prayer. Because of these things–he became a man of perception and power. It was no joke that God had given Daniel the gift of interpretation–but I’m not quite sure God would have given him that if we wasn’t purpose-driven and prayerful. When we pray, we perceive things differently. With the Holy Spirit working in us, we should be able to interpret things better in the world. Finally, because of his purpose, prayer, and perception, Daniel was a man of power. He ruled over little and he ruled over much! Whatever God has put in front of you rule over that realm. Take ownership and be a person of purpose, prayer, perception, and power.
As we chase excellence, we should do it Daniel style.
As Christians we can often take advantage of the knowledge of God’s grace. When we don’t do our best, we remind ourselves of the grace Jesus purchased for us. We should have grace for others and grace for ourselves, but where is the line between too much grace and not pursuing excellence? Look at the world. Do we have much grace for our presidents or celebrities? No–not really. Look at Daniel? Do you think everyone was going to give him grace? They definitely didn’t–he was thrown into the lion’s den! You are an example of what a follower of Christ looks like to the world, we all are going to make mistakes–but we need to do our best.
Chase excellence, not perfection
Personally, if we are to face many trials and tribulations in life–we might as well excel at facing them. Life is too short to waste time on not doing your best.
Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
Even pursue excellence when no one is watching–God sees everything and you will be rewarded and judged accordingly (1 Corinthians 15:58).
What I didn’t realize about my elementary grading scale was that I wasn’t just trying to get all E’s I was chasing them. I was chasing perfection, but the grade wasn’t P for Perfection is was E for Excellence. I was actually chasing excellence. The grade is therefore a guideline–similar to Christ being the E in our life. We’re chasing to be excellent like Him. We’ll never reach the perfection God is here on earth, but we can chase the excellence God breathes.