In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” OK, then, let’s do just that – think about excellence.
Christians Not Always Known for Excellence
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “excellence”? Chances are, it’s not people in the church. It’s just a minor pet peeve of mine, but how many times have you seen typos or other spelling or grammatical errors in church bulletins or on worship slides?
I hate to say it, but we Christians aren’t always known for excellence. More commonly, we’re known for mediocrity. Years ago, Franky Schaeffer, son of apologist Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book called Addicted to Mediocrity. He was talking about Christians in the arts, but he could as well have been talking about Christians in general.
5 Reasons Why We Settle for Less Than Excellence
So why are we often settling for less than excellence? I believe there are at least 5 reasons:
- We have a deficient understanding of grace. We believe grace means simply letting go and letting God do his work. We don’t believe in working hard. We wait for God to help us, and don’t realize the truth of what Paul was writing to the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Yes, we’ve been saved by grace, and we should continue by grace, but God still wants us to work hard and even to excel in what we do for him.
- We think excellence is not for everyone but only for a few exceptional individuals, like athletes, professionals, or artists. Well, I’ve written an entire book showing that excellence is for everyone. Maybe we have the wrong definition of excellence, but rightly understood, all of us should make every effort to pursue excellence in who we are and what we do.
- We think excellence is out of reach because we’re too busy. When you have a paper due in a week or two, you just try to get it done. You try to do a good job, or at least an adequate job, but you don’t even attempt to excel because you feel that’s beyond your reach and unrealistic. That’s unfortunate, because sloppy work doesn’t glorify our Creator and Savior. Excellence does. We’ll have to aim high, and find ways to make the time to do well what it is we’re called to do. Maybe we need to do less; we need to do fewer things well. We need to do a better job at setting priorities and at cutting back. We need to learn to say “no.” We can’t be all things to all people. We must decide what our strengths are and what our calling from God is and then remove distractions from our lives that keep us from pursuing with excellence what it is God has called us to do.
- We think excellence is not important. We focus on other things, such as family, or personal holiness, or missions. All those are good things, of course, but they’re no substitutes for pursuing excellence. I’m not advocating that we’ll become workaholics and neglect our families. Nor am I saying that spending time with God is not important or engaging in evangelism or missions. What I am saying is that we should pursue excellence in every sphere of life: in our marriage, in our parenting, in our relationships, in our character, in our work, in everything we are and do. Excellence must become our all-consuming, all-encompassing passion. We must become “Addicted to Excellence.”
- We don’t think excellence is commanded for Christians in Scripture. Obviously, if Scripture doesn’t command Christians to pursue excellence, settling for mediocrity would be acceptable, correct? Well, in Phil 4:8, Paul tells believers, “if there’s any excellence, think about these things.” In 2 Peter 1:3-11, too, Peter makes unequivocally clear that you and I are called to excellence for the glory of God.
Excellence Is for Everyone
I believe excellence is a Christian virtue; in fact, it’s a core virtue that is often neglected in our churches today. But that’s unfortunate, because excellence is a great way for us to glorify God, our Creator, in our lives and work. In fact, if you can’t do something with excellence, you may not want to do it at all.
The Bible does call us to excellence. And excellence isn’t just for the exceptional few but for everyone. Better still, excellence is attainable if we put our mind to pursuing it, by the grace of God, through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.