Excellence is defined as: the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence
We often use this word when talking about musical performance, academics, and sports. Thinking about the word excellence makes me think of when I learned to play ping-pong.
I was in college, and I used to play against my roommate all the time; late at night we would go down into the dorm basement and play for hours. Neither of us was a great player -- we just had a lot of fun (and wasted a lot of time!).
And we weren't really serious about getting better. Consequently, we really didn't get much better.
Until the day Yin, a tournament champion, moved into the dorm. He offered to play the winner, and proceeded to absolutely destroy me. I think I got one or two points against him.
Then, a few weeks later, another tournament champion moved into the dorm. (What was it about my dorm that attracted ping-pong players? I'll probably never know! ;D) When I mentioned to Bob about playing against Yin, Bob said, "Yeah, he's not that good."
I was shocked. "Really?"
"No, he just has three or four 'tricks' -- once you get past those, he's not hard to beat."
So I said: "Teach me!"
For the next few weeks Bob and I were in the basement most evenings. Not playing games (I knew he would butcher me, anyway). Bob taught me how to watch my opponent. How to study the way his arm, his wrist, his hand and his paddle moved. How to watch the way the paddle intersected with the ball. How to predict the path of the ball based on all these things. How to wait and watch the bounce before swinging.
He taught me to be a defensive player.
And the next time I played Yin, I discovered that he relied very heavily on his serve. Once I could get past that, the volleys were not nearly as difficult. This time I got eight or nine points against him.
Then Bob started teaching me to play offensively. Not just to block what my opponent was trying to do, but to use it against him. How to spin the ball, how to take a low hit and put a vicious top spin on it to move it fast without driving it into the net. How to fool my opponent into thinking I was doing one thing, when I was really doing another. How to push the battle into his court.
Then I took all of this, and with some practice, was finally able to beat Yin. I had gone from being a novice player to a player of excellence. (Of course, now, after a decade and a half, I'm back to being just an average player, because I never practice anymore.)
2 Peter 1:5 talks about having moral excellence. And like excellence in ping-pong, moral excellence requires hard work and (as 2 Peter 1:5 also says!) diligence.
And, like excellence in ping-pong, moral excellence also has both a defensive and an offensive component.
The defensive component is what we most often think of -- it's learning to defeat Satan's temptations. How to say No to his attacks. Whether we face sexual temptations, or temptations to lie, to steal, to have prideful thoughts, bitter thoughts, or whatever the temptation might be, we must develop the ability to be defensive, and block Satan's "fiery darts."
But we often forget about the offensive component of moral excellence. The offensive component means taking the battle into his court. It means not just saying "No" to the bad, but finding the good and saying "Yes" to it. Philippians 4:8 gives us a list of the good things that we say yes to. This is a good starting point -- we don't just reject the bad, we fill our minds with the good.
And when we face temptation to do something bad, we take that as our cue to go out and find something to do that would just drive the enemy nuts.
This is why, in our youth group, we try to provide many opportunities for our teens to serve -- to help at the nursing home, the homeless shelter, doing yard work for senior citizens, helping Child Evangelism Fellowship with some of their ministries. It is all part of moral excellence, because it is the offensive component of defeating the enemy in our lives.
Moral excellence: Say no to the bad, say yes to the good.
This object lesson is part of a series of "one-word lessons" from 2 Peter 1:5-8. Each week in our youth group I am teaching one word from those verses.
Next week our youth group is going to be doing some yard work and spring cleaning for several people in the church who, because of health reasons, need help getting their spring work done.
Wednesday night at our youth group meeting I told the teens about the four families we would be doing work for. First there's Trudy, who most of the teens don't know. Then there's Irene, and Al and Hattie, who a few more (but still not many) know. The fourth family is Bill and Judy. Most of the teens know Bill and Judy. In fact, Bill and Judy have had the entire youth group in their home, and are going to host a cookout for us this summer.
So when I mentioned that we would be doing some work for Bill and Judy, the teens were quite happy about that. In fact, one girl said, "They fed us! I'll definitely help them!"
We got a big chuckle out of that, but it also played right into what I wanted to teach them that night. 1 Peter 2:12 tells us to "keep our behavior honorable." Not "good"..."honorable."
What is the difference between "good" and "honorable"? What I told the teens is this: Good is going to help Bill and Judy, knowing that in some ways, helping them out is nothing more than saying "thanks" for the things they are doing for us. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is good!
But "honorable" is going to help Trudy, who most of them don't know from Adam, and who will probably never invite the youth group into her home, and who we certainly don't expect to receive anything from.
In Luke 14, Jesus is at a feast, and he says to the hosts:
Now that is honorable!