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Recapturing Excellence

by Kenneth V. Ryland

We have heard many times the scripture that refers to "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus." Have you ever thought about what that means?

Excellency has to do with surpassing the current standard, exceeding the norm. That is certainly true of Jesus' work on this earth. The norm was for a man or woman to present an animal to the priest for sacrifice to atone for sins. But, Jesus presented Himself. He not only exceeded the norm; He surpassed it to the ultimate. After His sacrifice, no other was necessary. In doing so, He took upon Himself the very worst of every man and every woman, so that they might be freed from the penalty of their own sins and cleansed to the core of their being. The exchange was that God would die for man -- the highest and best for the lowest and worst. There is no more excellent thing in all of God's creation than this.

This is our example, and I use it to show the quality of God's work as well as the efficacy of it. All the work that God has ever done for mankind has this same mark of excellence, this unsurpassing quality. It is forever both thorough and complete. There is nothing lacking in it.

But, how does God's work of excellence translate itself into our character? Let me say first of all that as He worked, so ought we also to work.

There was a time, a golden age, not too long in the past in which man came to understand that the worth of all his works would be judged by the Creator of the Universe. At this, man set his hand to labor in the most excellent fashion that the world had yet seen. It wasn't a matter of plundering nations and building monuments to themselves as the Romans had done. Men began to seek to know all that could be known of God and His universe. The grandest works of architecture, math, science, government, philosophy, music, art, and literature budded forth in this period of Renaissance and Reformation -- Renaissance in the South of Europe and Reformation in the North. We do not often think of the Reformation in terms other than religious, but all fields of learning were nurtured in the bosom of the Reformation. And, although the Renaissance is typically viewed as the rebirth of classical Greek and Roman cultural expression, it was driven primarily by the Catholic cosmology. The essence of these two confluent philosophical streams was primarily a religious one. These two views of God and the cosmos competed to determine which would predominate in the thinking of mankind. To confirm this, all one has to do is read the writings of the great men of the period like Columbus and Newton. Their passion to know God and carry the gospel of Christ, however they might have defined it, was all- consuming. That God existed and that men must serve Him to the fullness of their being was assumed. To people of that era the universe started at that point.

So, what has happened to our Christian view of the world as we prepare to embrace the third millennium A.D.? How is it that our testimony before the world has become exhausted? Where are the Newtons or Columbuses? Where are the great Christian statesmen like Washington and Adams? Why are there no composers like Haydn or Handel? The tide of their world view swelled to enormous proportions and swept Western man forward toward our modern era. But, the momentum is gone; the tide has retreated from the shore. We have spent too many years drawing from their deposits without replacing them or adding to them.

I am often amazed at the foresight of Francis Schaeffer, a Christian philosopher who wrote in the early 1970's that "personal peace and comfort" would become the obsession of the generation to succeed him. The coin of the realm in our day is the pursuit of money and comfort, and for these we have sold our Christian calling.

I have no answer for the crippling malaise of Christianity other than to draw on the wisdom of those who have gone before us, a wisdom that they sought from the pages of Scripture. The Bible persistently counsels the believer to seek excellence. Proverbs 22:29 gives us this principle, "Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men." Ecclesiastes 9:10 repeats this exhortation along with the reason for it: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going."

Along with the seeking of excellence, there is another reason the Christian should never produce anything than his very best. It is the principle of "returning value for value received." It is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others what you would have others do unto you." If only we would keep this one thing in mind, much of the sloppy, second-rate work turned out by Christians would be eliminated. If we are paid for our work, it should be the best that we can give for the money we get. None of us likes to receive poor-quality work or goods for the money we spend; our goal must be to make sure than others never receive such work from us. By this we set the standard of the highest and best.

There are principles that lead to satisfaction in life and a clear conscience, if not money and fame. Great men of the past lived and breathed these principles. Our forefathers lived by the creed Imitatio Dei, i.e., that all Christians should be imitators of God in every aspect of life. And, until every Christian comes to understand what it means to become like God, we will never recapture the culture.

There is much more that could be said about this topic, but I leave it to you, the reader, to engage your brain and take the initiative to bring forth excellence from all your efforts.


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