What does the Bible teach about the principle of excellence?
Christians are expected to be the best they can be (e.g., 2 Pet. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:14-16) and to do the best they can do in whatever God commands. This is seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 where Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that they are to excel still more in how they walk/live and please God (as they had already received instruction). In the original Greek language, the use of a definite article before the whole expression binds all together as a single object of the verb “received”. This is a general exhortation, covering the whole Christian life (The Thessalonian Epistles, Dr. D.E. Hiebert, p. 162). So, we Christians are to live the Christian life with excellence in whatever the Bible teaches we should be and do.
Again, in 1 Thessalonians 4:10 this principle is taught. We may be loving others, but we could/should love them still more (as we get to know them and God’s word better because then we’ll know how to best seek their highest good according to God’s Word, the Bible).
In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul tells the Corinthian church to earnestly desire the greater spiritual gifts (e.g., apostleship, prophecy, and teaching – 1 Cor. 12:28), but then goes on to say that there’s a more excellent way (to deal with their problems of self-centeredness within the church other than just having good leadership and teaching – 1 Cor. 1:10; 3:3). And that “way” that they were to pursue was to love others (1 Cor. 13:1 – 14:1). So, Paul teaches the pursuit of what’s best/excellent.
Even what we let our minds dwell upon should be of a morally/spiritually excellent nature – Philippians 4:8.
In Philippians 1:9-10 Paul states that the reason he wanted these Philippian Christians’ love to grow in real knowledge (of God and His ways) and all discernment (of biblical truth and principles) was so that they would approve the things that are excellent. We Christians should have a knowledgeable, discerning love for God and His ways, so that we can put our approval upon what’s best/excellent in terms of both moral/spiritual concepts and actions (Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 2, “Philippians”, p. 37). In other words, so that we can support/back what’s best.
In Hebrews 1:4 and Hebrews 8:6, the author of Hebrews lists as part of the reason why we should choose Christ over Judaism is because Christ has a more excellent name and ministry than what the Jewish people believed in and valued. So again, excellence is taught as that which should be pursued.
It’s not enough just to be or do what God says in a mediocre way or the way we want or the way that’s most convenient/comfortable or what’s popular in church circles. Instead, we need to be and do what God commands and to do so the best way possible, the way He says or shows.
The more the person knows, the more God expects from that person. This principle is seen in Luke 12:47-48. “From everyone who has been given much shall much more be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” The person who knew his master’s (i.e., God’s) will and did not act in accord with his will, shall receive greater punishment. The more you know of what God teaches in the Bible, the more you’re expected to apply/obey. The principle of excellence is also seen in Luke 19:13-27. In this parable, we see that the greater the degree of excellence/faithfulness, the greater the reward received.
So, when it comes to evangelism and building up believers spiritually, it is not enough just to do them how you feel. God has given us biblical examples and principles to follow. The two greatest disciple-makers in the Bible (Jesus and Paul) show us that living with your disciples is the best way to teach and train them (Matt. 4:18-22; Mk. 3:14; Acts 16:3-4; 20:4, 31). And being married is no excuse for not having your disciples or discipler live with you (Acts 18:2-3, 18), or for a married person to not be discipled (e.g., Simon/Peter – Mk. 1:16-18, 30 with Lk. 18:28-29). If for some reason it’s impossible to live with your disciples/discipler (e.g., you’re in the hospital, prison, etc.), then God understands. But if you have the opportunity to live with your disciples/discipler and choose not to do so because of self-centered reasons, then you’ll be held accountable for rejecting God’s best method of discipleship. And the same could be said for evangelism. Taking the initiative to verbally share the gospel with anybody and everybody is the biblical model (Acts 8:1, 4; 10:42-43; 11:19-21; 13:5-41, 46-49; 17:1-3, 16-31; 20:20-21; Lk. 9:60; Phil. 4:9 with Phil 1:12-18, 27; Col. 1:3-7; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Thes. 1:8; 2:9; 2 Cor. 1:19; Rom. 10:13-15; Jn. 4:7-26). It’s not enough just to pass out gospel tracts/booklets or to only talk with people whom you’ve befriended, but we should take the initiative to witness to strangers and friends alike (as the above passages show).
Excellence, doing what God wants done the best way possible – the biblical way, is what God expects! And that’s one reason why He had recorded in His Word, the Bible, the bad and good and best examples of others – so we could learn from them (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Chron. 25:2; Phil. 4:9).
Don’t settle for what’s just OK, pursue excellence/what’s best and, thereby, please God.