As I studied Scripture for this writing project, two themes emanated from the Word of God regarding excellence. First, excellence can be recognized and substantiated in culture. Secondly, Scripture indicates there is an inextricable connection among love, knowledge, and excellence.
I recently introduced a series on thinking about excellence from a biblical perspective. I shared a quote from Drew Holcomb that left an indelible mark on my heart and mind about what is excellent. (See last article.) Now, I aim to give you a snapshot of the pattern in Scripture concerning our topic at hand - excellence.
As I studied Scripture for this writing project, two themes emanated from the Word of God regarding excellence. First, excellence can be recognized and substantiated in culture. Specifically, this is evidenced by Solomon and Daniel. King Solomon was sought out for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 10, Queen of Sheba makes a special trip to see the "fame of Solomon," recognizing his wisdom firsthand; but also, she notes the culture the Lord established through Solomon (1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9). In fact, King Solomon excelled over all the other kings of the earth to the point that many sought his presence to hear the wisdom that God placed in him (1 Kings 10:23-24). Daniel is another example of one in whom culture recognizes excellence. King Belshazzar heard from the queen of Daniel's "excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams . . ." (Daniel 5:12). After King Belshazzar summoned Daniel, the king tells him, "I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you" (Daniel 5:14). Excellence is something that is perceived and tested by culture and can lead others to pursue God. What a joyful stewardship opportunity for Christian educators!
Secondly, Scripture indicates there is an inextricable connection among love, knowledge, and excellence. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes to the church in Corinth regarding spiritual gifts and the body of Christ as one body with many members. Paul makes a bridge statement in 1 Corinthians 12:31: "...And I will show you a still more excellent way." Next, Paul unpacks the way of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul prays that the saints in Philippi would abound in their love, knowledge, and discernment so that they could approve of what is excellent. I am reminded of a sobering thought from John Piper in his book, Think, where he juxtaposes knowledge and love, stating,
Any knowledge that does not stand in the service of love is not real knowing. It is prostituted knowing. It's as though God put surgical tools in our hands and taught us how to save the sick, but we turned them into a clever juggling act while the patients died. Knowing and thinking exist for the sake of love – for the sake of building people up in faith. Thinking that produces pride instead of love is not true thinking. We only imagine that we are thinking. It's not surgery; it's juggling.
This quote reminds me of Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in the movie Spies Like Us (1985) when they are posing as the surgeons, Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Greenbaum. In the comedic movie, the patient dies because they are juggling trying to be surgeons when they are poser spies. To use Piper's analogy, I wonder if we are jugglers or surgeons. I desire to be a Christian educator surgeon.
One of the Greek words in the New Testament for excellence is arête. It is a word that lassos the entirety of all the classical virtues into one word. Imagine using one word to describe the sum of all the desirable character qualities of a person. This is the Greek understanding of arête. Surely, Paul had this in mind when he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the saints in Philippi in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Next week, I build off Scripture to discuss what excellence looks like in praxis.
Piper, John. 2010. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.Wheaton, IL: Crossway. Pages 159-160.
Scripture quotes from the English Standard Version (ESV)