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It takes a special measure of dedication to be excellent. This is particularly true of the Christian life. Excellence in Christianity does not happen by accident. It requires commitment and strong motivation. Yet every Christian has this high calling --the calling to excellence. Paul said, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14 RSV).
Paul was a man dedicated to excellence as a Christian. He did not believe in careless commitment. His goals were high, his standards were high and his purpose in life was to be the very best person in Christ that he could be. In the third chapter of Philippians he shares his reasons for reaching for excellence.
First, Paul said, "I press on...because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (verse 12). The apostle chose excellence as a way of life because Jesus had chosen him to be His own person, to belong to Him....He said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you" (John 15:16).
Paul wanted to reach for excellence because he belonged to Jesus, because Christ had chosen him.
Second, Paul said that God's purpose for his life was not yet fulfilled. He determined to reach toward excellence simply because he had not yet achieved God's full plan for him. "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect;...I do not consider that I have made it my own" (Verses 12-13).
The Christian who is growing in his faith and in his relationship to God is most aware of the distance he still has to go. The closer one comes to Jesus, the more conscious he becomes of how far short he falls of God's standard. The Christian who thinks that he has arrived in his Christian life is only stagnating.
Climbing mountains is an exhilarating experience. It is great to stand on a peak and be able to look down in all directions. But it frequently happens that the closer one gets to the top the farther away it seems. The way becomes steeper and more difficult as the summit comes closer.
Paul was a spiritual mountain climber. The closer he got to the top, the more clearly he realized that he was not yet there. At the same time, he was not about to turn around and go back. "Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead..." (verse 13), he said. He did not want to lose the ground he had gained. "Only let us hold true to what we have attained" (verse 16). Paul continued to reach for excellence. His spiritual life was active and dynamic. He was a growing person.
Maturing Sense Of Values
Third, Paul said he was learning to evaluate everything from a Christian perspective. He was willing to reach for excellence because of his maturing sense of values. "Let those of us who are mature be thus minded" (verse 15).
An immature person often lacks perspective on value. A two-year-old child, offered a choice between a five dollar bill and a piece of chocolate candy, will invariably choose the candy.
A mature person learns to choose the greatest value instead of the biggest attraction. Paul could say he chose as his goal "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (verse 14). He recognized this as of highest value and it became his major purpose in life.
The Christian who has not yet learned to choose real value needs God's help. "Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you" (verse 15).
There are many ways in which this works. The evening service in our church is probably not nearly as attractive as whatever is on TV or at the local theater. It should, however, offer far greater value than any kind of entertainment. The mature person is looking for value, not mere attractiveness. It is, then, a sign of maturity to reach for excellence. Because excellence was truly his goal, we know Paul was a maturing person.
Fourth, Paul said he had an obligation to his Christian brothers. He was committed to excellence because he was an example to others. "Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us" (verse 17).
Paul may sound a little arrogant when he tells people to follow him as an example. But this must be seen in context. He is not talking about being an example of perfection. He is talking about being an example of striving for excellence.
People would not profit from seeing our perfection, even if it were there to be seen. What people need to see is what God can do with our imperfections. It would be nice for me to be able to say that our two children had never seen their parents argue or disagree. But that would not be true. And if they did see two parents who never disagreed about anything, that would not be real. What they need to see is the way Christians handle disagreements and make creative use of conflicts.
People need examples of joy and dependence on God even in human imperfection. They need to see what it means to be a Christian and human at the same time. There are always bad examples around, sometimes even in the church: "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (verse 18). Paul, in contrast, was determined to be an example of excellence. He was a responsible person and felt this was his obligation to his fellow Christians.
Fifth, Paul said he had all the incentives of an eternal hope. He was free to reach toward excellence because he had a strong confidence in the future. "Our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself" (verses 20-21).
Our earthly situation--political and economic--may appear dark and grim. But as Christians we are not locked into this situation. While this does not excuse our carelessness or unconcern, it does deliver us from anxiety, because "our commonwealth is in heaven."
A person may be sick or weak or even ugly. And, one of these days, our bodies will die. But that is all right, because we have a larger frame of reference. Christ "will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself" (verse 21).
No matter what circumstances he faced, Paul could continue to reach for excellence because he was a hopeful person. He wrote, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).
Paul determined to be the best person he could be, for God. He said, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (verse 14).
Every Christian has ample reason to say with Paul: "I will be all that I can be. I will reach for excellence in Christ."