Excellence. What is it? How are Christians to attain it?
Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) By this he meant that we are to exceed merely “doing” or “performing” the righteous, outward, requirements of the law, and excel in being of a gracious, humble, yes, even merciful spirit, as God himself is. That is what approves a Christian, and is what Jesus was saying by his statement found in Matthew 5:48. It meant to do more than just “outward righteousness” (primarily to be noticed by men). It meant, really, a change of heart, a change of direction, a change of attitude, from what men normally expect of us.
Now if one reads the passage carefully (particularly from Matthew 5:20 to Matthew 5:48), one must understand that what Jesus was referring to is the inward attitude of heart, as opposed to what the scribes and Pharisees normally focused on in their behavior, which was the outward performance (to be seen by men). Jesus was interested in more than that. He wanted a change of heart. Thus, this whole “paranthetical passage” begins with the statement found in Matthew 5:20, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Thus, Jesus is talking about righteousness. He is saying, “To be righteous like the scribes and Pharisees is not good enough”. No, we must do better!
Now recently, I had an experience (at work) which I think really helped me to see how outward performance can relate to inward heart attitude and our need to be “perfect” in this life. In fact, the whole thing related to this whole notion of “excellence” as is preached upon quite often in the workplace (“we strive for excellence, etc …”). Let us examine how outward excellence, in fact, can and does affect our inward heart attitude, and how that affects our testimony at large with other people who are not yet Christians.
I was in a situation where I had to get a permit of sorts signed by various managers at work. So I filled in the required details and went to each one of them, asking them if they could please sign on the line allocated for their name. In a hurried way, I had scantily marked down the details of “what it was” that I needed the permit for (this is called a “production permit” and enables engineers to proceed with a technical change in the production facilities). I had been prompted by a (non-Christian) friend, “Just put down such and such” on the production permit. Then, get the people to sign it.” So I had done just that. (Normally, I would have been much more thorough, but I felt somewhat uneasy in my friend’s presence, so I hurriedly did what he said.)
The first person to sign was my manager. There was no problem. But inwardly, even as she signed it, I felt, “I’m not sure … maybe I need to go back and change the wording in that production permit. It wasn’t as thorough as I think it should have been.” I pondered this thought, and then ran into the very next person who needed to sign it (strolling by her office). I got him to sign it, but, lo and behold, I noticed, he had put down the wrong date! (April 16th instead of April 26th). That made me feel a little uneasy, but I kept on going. I reasoned to myself, “The wrong date is his problem, not mine. I’ll just keep going and get the other two signatures that I need to close this permit, so we can go ahead and complete the job that I am feeling pressured to do”.
The next person to sign put down “April 25, 2000” instead of “April 26, 2000.” After he had written the date, he asked me, “What day is today?” Glancing down at his error, I said, “It’s April 26th, not April 25th.” He said, “Oh, that doesn’t matter.” Then, he quickly passed the paper back to me. I had a little “chill” go down my spine. It looked like I was getting into hot water. So far, there were two incorrect dates on the production permit! I stepped aside and prayed. “Lord, I feel a chill down my spine. I don’t feel like this is right.”
I sensed the Lord directly speaking with me. “Go back and fill out that form like you should have the first time. Re-write it!” Ah … I kind of sensed that the Lord “allowed” those two guys to mess up on the dates for precisely that reason. After all, if I wasn’t going to be “perfect” in filling out the form, like I was supposed to, then God wasn’t going to “perfectly” bless the effort, either, and I would run into some road blocks, which I did!
(To be continued tomorrow.)