Excellence is the process–note that word process—of becoming better than I once was…Excelling is simply–and radically–the process of improving over yesterday or, in the apostle Paul’s words, ‘pressing on’ (Philippians 3:14, NIV). (108)
I’m working my way through Harold Best’s Music Through the Eyes of Faith, and the best chapter thus far has been the one that is the least (directly) about music. The chapter “Personal Excellence” speaks to far more than musicians and their trade (and such was Best’s intention).
The above quote is the definition Best gives for excellence. It is as much a definition of walking in faith as anything else, especially given the reference to Paul’s pressing on toward the goal of Philippians 3.
Peter calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). To measure growth requires one to compare, but so often we compare our growth against the current state of someone else. We want to love Jesus as much as so-and-so; we want to have the happy marriage of so-and-so; we want to be the godly parents that so-and-so are; we want to know the Bible as well as Pastor does.
What’s interesting is that Peter’s exhortation to grow comes in the context of saying even though Paul writes inspired Scripture, he still doesn’t understand it all. Peter’s command is less a directive of a commanding officer than an invitation to join him in sounding the depths of the glorious good news that has come in Jesus. Neither Peter nor Paul are the standard against which we measure ourselves; we measure growth by how much different we are than we were.
Best goes on in the chapter to reinforce that very idea:
Excellence is not being better than somebody else, nor is it even being like him, her, or them. … We cannot become better than we once were with other people’s gifts…And when we confuse steady and stewardly work with workaholism, we end in a dilemma that has put a stranglehold on far too many sincere young Christians, all in the name of some vague idea of Christian perfection (111).
Paul’s statement at the end of 2 Corinthians 3 is another reminder of this same truth:
We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 HCSB).
We look, Paul says, in a mirror. Paul does not say we look through binoculars, creepily spying on our brothers and neighbors. We look in a mirror. We see ourselves. What do we see there? The glory of Jesus. What is the measure of our growth? Our transformation into the image of Jesus–from glory to glory. Every saint who looks in God’s mirror sees glory; in fact, every saint should also expect more. Who is doing this incredible work? “This is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is uniquely working in you to transform you from glory to glory. He is not transforming you from yourself to somebody else; He’s making you into the Jesus-Reflector God has declared you will be.
Your growth as a Christian is measured by becoming better than you once were. Your growth is not measured by comparing yourself to anyone else but yourself. Are you in the process–remember Best’s emphasis on the word in his definition–of becoming better than you once were?
Are you a better spouse than you were six months ago? Five years ago?
Are you a better parent than you were six months ago? Five years ago?
Do you know more of the Word now than you did six months ago? Five years ago?
Do you forgive faster than you used to?
Do you fight and struggle against things that never occurred to you to fight and struggle against before?
Do you win a few more battles in your fighting than you used to?
Do you see more of your sinfulness and need for Jesus now than you used to?
If the answer to any of these questions (and countless others, too) is yes–even a tentative yes–then you are excelling. And in all the yeses, tentative, qualified, or resounding,
We can all take comfort in this simple fact: While we move from good to better to best; while we endeavor to become better than we were; while we excel, Christ perfects our excelling and presents it to the Father. This is grace, this is atonement, this is powerful, this is wonderfully comforting, and this is the way it is (111, emphasis added).
Rest in the fact that this is the way it is.
Harold M. Best. Music Through the Eyes of Faith.