Question: "What does the Bible say about excellence?"
Answer: Excellence is the quality of excelling, of being the very best at something. Human beings have an intrinsic desire to see excellence. In every people group across the world, excellence is prized and rewarded. Whether it is a tribe celebrating excellence in hunting or a Wall Street accountant promoted because of his excellence in finance, our appreciation of excellence comes from our Creator. To be made in God’s image means that He imparted some of His character qualities to us (Genesis 1:27). We crave justice because He is just (Psalm 9:16). We love because He is love (1 John 4:16). And we strive for excellence because He is excellent in everything He does (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Many things get in the way of human excellence, including apathy, carelessness, and laziness. Our sinful nature is that part of us that is unlike God and is in fact in opposition to God and His excellence. We are all born sinners, and that sin manifests itself in a thousand ways. We cut corners, we shirk, we settle for second best (or third or fourth best) if the effort to achieve excellence is more than we’re willing to give. God’s cure for our careless ways is to remind us that He is our ultimate judge. We must answer to Him for how we spend our time, our resources, and our energy (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 3:13–15). Striving for excellence should be a part of all we do: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24).
Aware that it is Christ Himself we are serving, we don’t want to present Him with anything but excellence. Whether it is sweeping streets or running a country, we should strive for excellence in work ethic, in character, and in craftsmanship. No one is good at everything, but we’re all good at something. God expects us to develop the skills and gifts He’s given us in order to serve Him and others better. Paul addressed the subject of excellence in Romans 12:6–8: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” In other words, find your gifts and use them with excellence.
Joseph is an example of a young man who did his best at everything he was given to do. Even when Joseph was unjustly imprisoned, he was able to impress the warden with his excellent character and work ethic (Genesis 39:1–2, 20–23). Because of his commitment to excellence and God’s hand upon him, Joseph rose to power in a nation that had once enslaved him.
God does not promise to bless and help the lazy; rather, He has words to prod them to action (Proverbs 6:6–11; 10:4). But God is pleased with the diligent (Proverbs 10:3–4; 13:4;). Since God gives us His best in every way, we owe it to our Creator to pursue excellence in everything He’s given us to do (Ecclesiastes 9:10).