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Motive for the pursuit of excellence: The glory of God

22 Oct

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

In thinking about biblical motives for the pursuit of excellence we are brought face-to-face with the issue of the chief purpose for the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul reminds us that whatever we do (in keeping with our purpose) is to glorify God. This naturally includes pursuing excellence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism echoes this point with the words “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

For the Christian who is be concerned about his motives, this is the appropriate starting place. This comment by the apostle Paul and the statement from the Shorter Catechism brings us to the heart of the matter and it is doubtful if the issue can be more accurately and succinctly expressed. Christians must constantly be reminded that nothing less than the glory of God should be the motive for whatever they do and how they do it. To glorify God means to bring honor and greater respect to God’s name among men and even the angelic world who watch the behavior of the church (see Eph. 3:10). Every other consideration must be brought into subjection to this supreme objective.

Matthew 10:42 (25 kb)The Principle of Redeeming the Time, Using our Opportunities

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

Ecclesiastes 9:10b, “for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” brings us to the climax of Solomon’s point in this verse.

It may be that Jesus Christ was paraphrasing verse 10 when he said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Solomon was not saying anything sub-Christian here. Scripture knows nothing of a purgatory where one can pick up or gain what was neglected in this life. The New Testament agrees that it is deeds done in the body that count.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

The reason for the preacher’s advice in Ecclesiastes is that once death comes we can no longer buy up or use all opportunities for work and service. After death a person will have no further opportunities for work; there will be neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. We must not think this passage is suggesting soul sleep; see comments on our web page regarding “soul sleep.”

Eternal Rewards

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding (excelling) in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

Another awesome reason for the pursuit of excellence is that our toil in the Lord is never in vain if done in His strength or by the enabling ministry of the Spirit of God. All Christians will one day stand before the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ to receive back for what they have done while alive in this life.

“For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12  If anyone

builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13  each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

The consequences of the dishonor to the Lord, failure to be a blessing to others, failing to use our opportunities, and the possibility of the loss of rewards form excellent motivations for the pursuit of excellence.

The Role of Attitude in the Pursuit of Excellence

How does one develop the pursuit of excellence? What are some of the things involved by way of the means for pursuing our best?

From the standpoint of that which affects the way we work, there is probably nothing more important than one’s attitude! Our choice of attitude impacts every decision we make on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. Our attitude can either fire our hopes and the pursuit of the things that are important or it can extinguish our hopes and pursuits. The value of one’s attitude on what we pursue—our values, priorities, objectives, and how we pursue them is very evident in the book of Philippians where one of the themes is that of joy or rejoicing in the Lord no matter what the conditions or circumstances of life.

While chained daily to a Roman soldier in his own apartment, Paul wrote the following which is literally satiated with a positive attitude that clearly fueled his hopes against all odds.

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel. 13 The results of this are that the whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and that most of the brothers, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word without fear.

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me; yet I don’t know what I prefer (Phil. 1:12-22).

Then, in Philippians, as an encouragement to “working together harmoniously for the faith of the gospel” (1:27) Paul wrote:If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:1-2).

Note what the apostle is doing. There is encouragement which comes from our being in Christ, consolation or comfort which comes from God’s love for us, the love of Christians for one another, and there is a marvelous fellowship of the Spirit. This leads to affection and compassion in the hearts of God’s people. So Paul encourages the Philippians to allow the above realities to impact their attitudes in their relationship with one another—to have the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and intent on one purpose.

Then, in a context dealing with two women who had served with him in the gospel, but were having difficulties in their relationship with one another, Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! 5 Let your steady determination be seen by all. The Lord is near! 6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.  9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:4-9).

Finally, in thanking the Macedonians for their support, we are given these words that display the power of maintaining or choosing the right attitude by faith in what we have in Christ:

11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

There is a colorful illustration in the life of the great violinist, Paganini, which shows the value and power of attitude on the pursuit of excellence.

The colorful, nineteenth-century showman and gifted violinist Nicolo Paganini was standing before a packed house, playing through a difficult piece of music.  A full orchestra surrounded him with magnificent support.  Suddenly one string on his violin snapped and hung gloriously down from his instrument.  Beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead.  He frowned but continued to play, improvising beautifully.

To the conductor’s surprise, a second string broke.  And shortly thereafter, a third.  Now there were three limp strings dangling from Paganini’s violin as the master performer completed the difficult composition on the one remaining string.

The audience jumped to its feet and in good Italian fashion, filled the hall with shouts and screams, “Bravo! Bravo!”  As the applause died down, the violinist asked the people to sit back down.  Even though they knew there was no way they could expect an encore, they quietly sank back into their seats.

He held the violin high for everyone to see.  He nodded at the conductor to begin the encore and then he turned back to the crowd, and with a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and shouted, ‘Paganini…and one string!’  After that he placed the single-stringed Stradivarius beneath his chin and played the final piece on one string as the audience (and the conductor) shook their heads in silent amazement.  ‘Paganini…and one string!’[14]

(2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

God has never done or made anything that was not characterized by superlative goodness and excellent quality: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Unfortunately, however, the words excellence and quality sometimes cannot be used to describe the products of our efforts — occasionally we slip into the habit of doing things in a careless, inferior way.

But in the Lord’s work, of all things, it should constantly be our aim to do the very best we are capable of. Should we not be motivated by a commitment to excellence in the work of the Lord?

 In regard to the Lord’s Work, two basic attitudes are possible: one of these tends toward mediocrity.

There is a certain disposition that is concerned with nothing more than “getting by.”

This attitude is content with a relatively low level of quality. Nothing is aspired to beyond what is “adequate” or “good enough.”  With this attitude, we offer work and service to the Lord that are inferior even by human standards.

(Haggai 1:4)  “”Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?””

(Malachi 1:8)  “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.”

What object lesson was God teaching by requiring Israel to offer the first and best of what they had physically — if not that we ought in all things to “give of our best to the Master”?

Solomon advised: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Prov. 3:9).

“The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind” (John Stuart Mill).

“Mediocre” = of moderate to low quality; average or inferior.  Mediocrity is to human endeavor what entropy is to physical systems. “Entropy” is a measure of the disorder in a system.

It increases when things are left to themselves and no energy is introduced from outside the system.  In our work, when we take the course of least resistance and do only what is easy, mediocrity increases — without a conscious effort to rise above it, we are left with a “lowest common denominator” quality of thinking and living.

In regard to less-than-excellent work in the church, people have been overheard to say, “Oh well, it’s only the church.”  What kind of attitude is reflected in such a statement? What would be the result of such an attitude in the Lord’s work?

The other basic attitude tends toward excellence

Rather than a contentment with mediocrity, we should have a commitment to excellence in whatever we do:

(Ecclesiastes 9:10)  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

(Colossians 3:23-24)  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, {24} since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Should we not have higher standards of excellence in the Lord’s work than we do in our own endeavors?

(1 Corinthians 15:58)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

(2 Corinthians 9:6)  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Our English word “pride” can mean a sinful attitude toward oneself — but we also use it to mean self-respect, a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value, pleasure or satisfaction taken in one’s work, etc.

Is there not a good sense in which it can be said we ought to “take pride” in what we do in the Lord’s work?

(Galatians 6:4)  “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,”

As an example, consider the conscientious work of Fletcher Lawson, the road grader operator, who was not content to be anything less than “the best that ever did it.”  Zenith, the electronics manufacturer, used to say in its advertising: “The quality goes in before the name goes on.”

What should be the quality of the work that we attach the Lord’s name to?  We have a duty to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10)  “and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”).

Quality knowledge > quality principles/convictions > quality actions.  A commitment to excellence (or the lack of it) often shows up most clearly in the way we do the “little” things.

Should we not have a high commitment to excellence in:

·        Our individual work as Christians?

·        Our congregational work?

·        A commitment to excellence requires extra effort — carefulness and hard work are required. (Ephesians 5:15)  “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,” (2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

We should strive to “give of our best to the Master.”  We should aim to go “beyond ordinary.” We should be striving for the “quality life.” It makes a big difference how high our goals are in the work we do. If we “aim for the stars,” we may not reach them every time, but our work will be more excellent than if our sights were lower.

It is not a shame to fail; it is a shame to aim low. Wherever the Lord’s work is concerned, good enough is not good enough! Our intent should always be to work as those who do “not need to be ashamed”

Indeed, “nothing but the best” is good enough for the Lord who gave His life for us.

“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14,15).

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Church, Doctrine

 

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