Excel Still More
Excel Still More
When writing to the congregation in Thessalonica, among other things Paul commended the congregation for how they loved each other (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). And instead of saying something like, “You have that done, so let’s talk about something else”. Paul exhorted them to “excel still more” (4:10). That is, to even improve in an area in which they were doing rather well.
The Life of Continual Improvement
There are many passages which exhort the believer to press on or excel during their entire lifetime. And to continually grow in areas in which one presently achieving.
- “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Chris”" (2 Peter 3:18).
- “If these qualities are yours and are increasing” (2 Peter 1:8). In this passage no time limit is set on how long one needs to increase in such virtues. The text does not say, “You only need to increase in such things for the first ten years of your Christian life”.
- Even the apostle Paul, an incredibility active and spiritual person, continued to press on towards greater growth in the Christian life: “and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He then notes that the “perfect” or mature Christian understands that the Christian life is one of continual growth (Philippians 3:15).
- One of the things that I have observed over the 40 years of my Christian life is that while mature Christians continue to press on and realize they cannot rest upon the accomplishments of the past, the lukewarm believer tends to believe that where they have arrived is “good enough for now”.
- Even in the Old Testament we find this continual theme, that the godly person, like a healthy tree continues to grow and bear fruit:
“He will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green. And it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8). “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
Point of Clarification
When Peter exhorted the Christians to whom he wrote to “grow in knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18), he was not teaching that the teachings in the Bible change as you mature. Christianity is not a faith in which by twenty years in you finally discover what it is really all about, or secret truths or some secret handshake is finally shared with you. You will appreciate the teaching about baptism more in twenty years, but the basics about baptism will never change. When you are a Christian for 40 years, Mark 16:16 will still read the same to you. In fact, Christianity is a faith in which you are told what it is all about before you make the decision to follow Christ (Luke 14:26ff).
Three Lists to Compose
The following practical suggestion I discovered on a podcast by Kris Emerson who preaches for the Lindale church of Christ. The podcast site is called excelstillmore.life
Where are you getting better in serving Christ?
This could include:
- I am doing a good job when it comes to my daily bible reading.
- As a couple we are excelling in extending hospitality.
- This last year I did a good job in greeting visitors.
- I am making a lot of connections on a weekly basis with the members of the congregation, and not just family members or close friends.
- We are doing well in our family devotions. We are on the ball when it comes to having the kids prepared for their bible studies.
- I am handing out a number of cards each week to non-Christians and inviting them to a bible study.
What are you already doing, but want to get better at in your service to God? This might sound like….
- I am reading my Bible, but only once a week. I want to achieve a daily level of reading.
- I am attending, but only once a week. I want to the other periods of study.
- I made it to one group meeting last year, this year I want to try to be at all of them.
- I talked to someone about the Bible this week, but that was the first time I have done that in a long time. I want to become better at personal evangelism.
- We opened up our home last year once to the brethren, and we want to do more of that this year.
The key to the above question is the word “want”. When it comes down to it, growth and improve only happen when we “want” to improve. No one can really force us to grow or mature. Even such things as the fear of hell cannot sustain long term, day in and day out growth. One must desire to give God your best. Do we desire that the very best in us emerge?
- “We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
- “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all therefore all died…so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Some of this is the realization when I take charge of my life and call the shots, I end up in a mess. But when I put to death the old man, and allow God to call the shots, the best of me will surface and I will walk in newness of life (Romans 6:6-11). In other words, the secret to happiness or improvement (which is not a secret) is no longer living for you.
- “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; who whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
So, when it comes to your own personal growth, if you preface areas of growth with someone that sounds like, “People keep telling me”. “My parents are on my case about…” . “The church down there keeps harping on”. “Mark keeps preaching sermons on…” Then you lack the “want”. You know you have the right motivation when you say, “I am not where I need to be, but I want…”
Reading the Bible, attending, etc…to get people off your back is not growth.
That Controlling Element
So what controls you right now?
- Fear of what other people might think?
- Negativity. I can’t. I could never. Too good to be true? Hear it all before?
- Defeat. At the end of 2020 I will be pretty much the same person I am now. I really cannot see any real improvement?
- Comfort? I am not really that happy, but I am comfortable.
- Fear of failure? But you are failing right now.
- I have tried before?
- Waiting for a sudden and easy answer? Win the Lottery. The Instant Fix.
How do I Go from “Have to”---“To Want To”?
That is a great question and maybe the following comments will help:
- Living in the realm of “have to” is no fun. It is miserable. So if you really desire happiness you need to realize that it will not be found as long as you dwell in the “have to” mode.
- Whatever you do in the “have to” mode will result in a poor job. That is, when you clean up your room because you “have to” you will never do as good or thorough of a job as when you “want to”.
- You will not learn anything as long as you remain in “have to mode”.
- Living in “have to mode” means being angry and bitter a lot of the time, because you will resent people pushing you. Even if they don’t push that hard, you will read into their comments that they are pushing you.
- Instead of appreciating advice, you resent it.
- When you know what you should be doing and you are not doing it, not only is that sin, but it is misery as well (James 4:17). It is absolutely no fun to live with a guilty conscience.
- “Have to mode” puts a lot of things on hold, which will rob you of any energy and motivation. You will simply be that guy who is “stuck” and surrounded by half-started projects, but nothing is finished. And the more it all starts of backup, the more overwhelmed you feel, the more discouraged you become, and the more you snap at people who try to give you advice.
- In have to mode you just feel continually guilty.
- When you choose to live in the “want to mode”, suddenly everything that seemed so backlogged and impossible or stuck, will all of a sudden break free.
- In “want to mode” you suddenly have time and energy to do all sorts of things. You also feel great about how you are living. And you become open to advice and ways of doing things better.
What I should be doing for Christ and His church that I am not presently doing
- Much like Hebrews 5:12 “by this time you ought to be teachers”.
- What should I be doing at this point in my Christian life?