There is in within American culture a ruthless spirit of competition. Part of this spirit can be traced to the concept called “The Protestant Work Ethic” which recognizes that hard work, diligence, religious faith, and frugality will result in personal prosperity, and social advancement. The phrase was invented in 1904 by Max Weber in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Nations prosper when the Protestant Work Ethic is promoted.
There are some negative facets to a ruthless spirit of competition, not the least of which is the conflict it has with core Christian values. The world teaches people to look out for number one, to selfishly horde what is obtained, and get all the gusto possible out of life. The world honors and rewards those who are first, and those who are successful, no matter if the individual who is first has personal honor or not. A movie star, a business man, a doctor, a lawyer, an athletic, or a writer can be a vile, prideful, profane, and wretched human, but if they are competitive and successful, they are honored. Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
Christ teaches His followers something different. Christians are to prefer others before themselves. Christians are to share their resources, and love their enemies. Christians are to be kind at all time. Christians are to be virtuous. Performance does not negate or excuse morality, but demands it. Whatever is done by the Christian, is to be done unto the Lord, and in compliance with Biblical guidelines.
The caveat, is that while Christians value excellence in the world, the temptation comes not to compete for excellence in the Church, or in one’s personal life. Some do not want to be labeled a hypocrite. Others want to avoid being called a Pharisee, or legalistic. Still others are weary of conflict, and just want to be left alone. The result is an anemic spiritual life.
Having been told that God loves a person as they are, and that God accepts every individual where they are, the wrong conclusion is reached, “I do not have to change.” But regeneration is all about change. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). In the call to salvation, is the call to excellence.
Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
The Lord called Paul, as He calls all of His followers, to be a disciple, and that involves strenuous effort, and discipline. Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle said, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). Therefore Christian, ““Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might” (Eccl. 9:10).
So, what is the Christian to strive for? What is the Christian to do with all of his might? The Biblical answer is simple, perfection. Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
Before there is a groan of despair and helplessness, let it be understood that Christian perfection is just another way of saying Christian maturity. God would have His children be mature. The objective of the believer’s life is spiritual union with God, characterized by a life of personal holiness, conformity to His known will, and the ability to display God’s pure love towards all others. The Christian life is not a passive life. It is not being at ease in Zion. It is not spiritual slumber. It is to be like Jesus, who said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
The Church, in every generation, should be producing great Christian musicians, artists, novelists, theologians, scientist, preachers, politicians, and performers in the fine arts. Great Christians are produced, not because of who they are by birth, but because of who they became by nature of their rebirth in Christ.
Here is an encouraging thought for you, whoever you are, what failures you might have had in life. God can put you on a path to excellence and immortality.” Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old,… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!” (Unknown)
“No matter where you are in your life with God, HE is qualifying you for his service because you are CALLED. He can help you overcome the mistakes you have made, and even use them to help others. Just allow Him to use you” (Colton Jansen).
“Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
Rise up, O men of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!
Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!”
William P. Merrill