The Things that are Excellent
The Things that are Excellent
"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).
For the Christians in the city of Philippi Paul prays that their love may grow and abound and that it would be an intelligent and discerning love, so that they would be able to recognize and concentrate their energies upon the things that are excellent. Other translations render this verse: “Enabling you to have a sense of what is vital” (Mof) “So that you may always approve the better things” (Wms). “That you may learn to prize what is of value” (Knox). The things that are excellent are those things which surpass other things in value, importance, and especially in terms of value that lasts into eternity. Two recent events started me thinking about “the things that are excellent”:
- Recently I witnessed a man being informed that his mother had just died. In less than 12 hours this man with his wife made all the necessary air line and rental car reservations, packed clothes for themselves and four children under 13. They attended a gospel meeting, drove two hours to the airport, flew from Spokane to Chicago after 11 pm. Had a three hour lay-over in Chicago. Flew to San Antonio, then drove five hours to Brownsville Texas in over 90 degree heat and arrived almost 24 hours after they had left the meeting. All of this was done in a manner that would have pleased God. It started me thinking that our culture which loves to hand out awards, really misses giving accolades for what is truly impressive. Couples should get some sort of award for the above.
- During this time of year at various events you will see individuals wanting you to sign a petition for some cause or future ballot measure. My question for such an individual would be, “What difference will this make in our country 50 years from now?” “What is the long term benefit or downside of what you are wanting me to sign?” “Will this move us as a nation closer to God or further away from Him?”
- I was reading a book written by a popular sports commentator who noted that too many parents have completely unrealistic expectations for their children when it comes to sports. About 2% of high school seniors win sports scholarships every year at NCAA institutions. The average scholarship, by the way, is less than $11,000. Only about 1% of all college athletes are good enough to play professionally. Then the average professional career is only 3 to 5 years in length. 78% of NFL players face serious financial challenges two years into their retirement. In addition, the divorce rate for professional athletes is 80 percent. The writer noted that in the light of such odds, parents might want to revaluate the time and money they are putting into chasing various athletic dreams and put that time and money into something that will actually help their kids get a job, stay married, and succeed in life.
- He reminded all of us that it is important to look ahead in life and ask ourselves the question, “What is the real payoff”?
- Recently a father who had his son involved in all sorts of sports, and this young man was now reaching a point in life where he needed to make some serious decisions about his future, recently noted, “Maybe we should have spent more time studying the Bible”.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with having our children involved in various activities. Yet it is fair and wise to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Is this the best use of our time right now?
- What will be the real payoff in this investment?
- Is this making them a better person?
- Is this giving them any skills that they will use for the next 50 years of their lives?
- Does any of this translate into them becoming a more spiritual and unselfish person or are they becoming more self-absorbed?
- At the end of it all, are they more mature or am I simply left with a lot of used equipment for which I paid a lot of money and that I will either sell at a garage sale or donate to Goodwill?
The same is true concerning the use of our own time and the time and effort we put into hobbies or other earthly distractions. Am I spending a lot of time focusing on the lesser things of life?
The Lesser Things/Let Someone Else Do That
- “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
- “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32).
- Let us remember Abraham and other examples of faithfulness in the past. Abraham as well as others were looking for something better (Hebrews 11:10,16). Earthly goals could not hold their attention.
The world has always been filled with people who are willing to put a lot of time, money and effort into achieving a very temporary goal. And a question that should surface in my mind is, “Am I currently focusing a lot of my energy on a perishable wreath?” If a goal is a perishable wreath then at least I need to acknowledge that. “What did you do with your time this afternoon Mark?” “Well I invested the entire afternoon in a perishable wreath”.
Am I Willing To Invest?
Long-term thinking is a problem in our country:
- 1 in 3 Americans have no savings for retirement and study after study seems to confirm that most Americans are not prepared for that eventual stage in their life. In 2010 seventy-five percent of those nearing retirement age had less than 30,000 in their retirement accounts.
- 60 percent of Americans have no will or estate planning in place.
- In like manner, studies also reveal that most Americans are unprepared for a natural disaster and unprepared when they go off hiking into the woods.
- As Christians, we already know that most people, Americans or otherwise are not prepared for death or the arrival of Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14).
When it comes to matters of the soul, my own spiritual growth or the growth of my children, am I willing to put serious time and effort into that category? Or, in other words:
- How much of an investment would I be willing to put into becoming a song-leader? Would I be willing to travel and incur the expenses of a training course?
- If I am a young man or young woman would I be willing to travel and spend a couple of weeks in an intensive training course for my age group or gender that would result in knowing the Bible better and or becoming a stronger Christian?
- How much time and effort am I willing to put into improving either my marriage or my parenting skills, compared to the time, effort and money that I might be putting into things that have no long term gain?
The Body of Christ Needs You
In a number of passages the point is made that the church is a body in which each member plays a vital role for the growth and health of the entire body (Ephesians 4:16). What this means is:
- The body needs older and experienced members who stay involved and are willing to share their wisdom (Titus 2:3-5).
- The body needs couples who are happily married, rather than distracted and disillusioned.
- The body needs fathers and mothers who are leading their children in the ways of God, and who are not overwhelmed.
- The body needs singles who are dedicated to using their singleness to serve God.
- The body needs responsible, involved, knowledgeable and cheerful young people who are seeking to share the gospel with their friends.
- The body needs respectful children who give their parents first-time obedience.
At the end of the day, is God getting my best at this stage of my life? Or, more to the point, when was the last time that God got my best? Is a lot of my current time and energy being spent on the lesser things? This year, let my goal be to focus, read, watch, listen to, spend my time and energy on the things that are excellent.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017