We often talk about the Corinthians’ problems. We hammer them
for their division, their error, their tolerance for sin. However,
for all that was wrong with the Corinthians, Paul was still able
to commend them. II
Corinthians 8:7 says, “But as you excel in
everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all
earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this
act of grace also” (ESV). I have to ask myself, could Paul call
up any example of excellence in my life? Let’s learn where we
need to excel.
First, understand excellence. When I looked up the word
translated “excel” in this verse, one of the first definitions
I found was “to superabound.” Not just abound, but abound “superly.”
is not meeting minimum requirements, but exceeding expectations. Consider how the word is used in Luke
15:17. The servants in the house of the prodigal’s
father had more than enough bread. The NKJV says, “bread enough
and to spare.”
“Excellence is not
an act, but a habit,” said Aristotle. Paul agreed in I
Corinthians 15:58, saying we must always “abound.” If
we excel only once, we are not excelling.
is not a goal, but a continual pursuit.
Paul urged the Thessalonians to do “more and more” (I
Thessalonians 4:1, 10).
Excellence is not reaching a certain level, but always pushing
for the next. Though we have more than expected, we keep growing.
We must never be satisfied with good enough. We must excel
and then excel even more.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction
of things not seen (Hebrews
11:1), without which we cannot please God (Hebrews
Peter 1:5 presents faith as the foundation of spiritual
growth. We could not be God’s children without it. Yet, we must
not be satisfied with our present level. We must excel. We must
have faith enough and to spare. Don’t ask, “Do I have enough
faith to be saved?” Ask instead, “How can I develop deeper
Consider two means by which to excel in your faith.
says, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word
of Christ.” If you want to increase your faith, don’t read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Get into the Word. When the
Hebrew writer wanted to increase his readers’ faith in Hebrews
11, he reminded them of the Bible’s faithful. Get into
their stories; read them, study them, live them.
14:25-31, Jesus schooled Peter in faith. Though Peter
stumbled while on the water, do you think his faith was increased?
I have no doubt walking on the water with Jesus would increase
anyone’s faith. If you want to increase your faith, get out of
the boat. Don’t wait for increased faith to get out of your
comfort zone. Do what Jesus said while it is uncomfortable,
relying on Him, crying out to Him when you stumble and watch your
According to Matthew
12:33-37, we will be judged by our words because they show
We could spend whole lessons on the tongue. Instead, note
three major principles.
1:19 demonstrates we must be quick to hear but slow to
speak. Let us not be so enamored with our own voices we rarely
listen to others. Many sins of the mouth could be overcome by
learning to keep it shut.
in submission to Jesus.
3:17 explains everything we do or say should be done in
the name of Jesus. No, we do not have to preface every statement
with the words, “In Jesus’ name.” However, we must be
certain everything we say defers to Jesus’ will.
to build up, not tear down.
4:29 explains we must remove all corrupting speech from
our lives. Whether that is gossip, malice, lying, filthy talk,
dirty jokes, cussing, hypercritical judgment or any other foul
language, we must remove it and speak only what builds up and
supports. Paul said our speech should give grace to our hearers.
Our speech should give to those who hear, not take away from them.
says we must add knowledge to our moral excellence and faith. We
live in a time that places little value on knowledge, even among
Christians and churches. We must have moving sermons and studies
to increase our faith, deepening our devotion. We must learn the
lessons of application affecting how we live each day. However, if
we neglect excellence in knowledge, we doom our deeper devotion
and purer lives to uselessness.
Do not forget Hosea
4:6. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (ESV).
10:2 demonstrates the problem. “I bear them witness that
they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (ESV).
We can be roused by devotional materials. We can feel more
spiritual. We can look more Christian. However, if we do not excel
in knowledge, there will be a leak in the dam that will eventually
break and flood our lives.
Today, Christians, in general, have increased their
capacity for compassion. We know better than ever how to feel each
other’s pain. We have increased our desire to be there for each
other. But we don’t know how to help each other because we
don’t know the help God has in His Word. Yes, we must take care
not to so focus on knowledge that we are puffed up (I
Corinthians 8:1). But we must remember excelling in
knowledge allows us to instruct one another (Romans
15:14) and stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews
10:24). If we do not have knowledge and to spare, we
cannot accomplish these goals.
Without this characteristic, there could be no excellence
whatsoever. Earnestness is the practical key that unlocks the door
to excellence. To be earnest means to be diligent, to strive after
something, to make haste toward something. Earnestness means
giving it your all and going the extra mile to get the job done.
According to II
Timothy 2:15, we must have this earnestness (or diligence)
to be approved by God, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.
Paul commented on the Corinthians’ earnestness in II
Corinthians 7:11. He had rebuked them in I
Corinthians 5 because they had tolerated sin in the camp.
They had acted. But they did not act in a “Ho-hum, we’ll get
around to it when we feel like it” way. Notice some of the words
Paul used to compliment them: zeal, eagerness, longing.
I know we all want deeper faith, better speech, greater
knowledge, stronger love and wider grace. How hard are we working
on these things? We need to have earnestness, diligence, zeal,
longing, eagerness and to spare. Peter used this same word in II
Peter 1:5 as he encouraged us to add to our faith. No
longer can we sit on our hands, waiting for greater opportunity.
With zeal and earnestness we must pursue maturity and work for the
Lord. We must excel at it.
The ESV says “in our love for you.” However, they add
the footnote that some manuscripts read “your love for us.”
Most translations pick this second statement. The New American
Standard translation provides a great bridge to help us understand
Paul’s point: saying the Corinthians excelled “in the love we
inspired in you.” Whatever struggles we might have with textual
issues in this verse, we all recognize Paul wanted us to excel in
According to I
Timothy 1:5, the aim of our charge is love issuing from a
pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Everything we
do should push us to accomplish the two great commands: love the
Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your
neighbor as yourself (Matthew
Through loving others, we become more like God (I
John 4:7-8; Matthew 5:43-48). Through loving God, we
receive His blessings and promises (Romans
8:28-30). We must not love halfway, but with excellence;
not in word only, but in deed and in truth (I
John 3:18). As most of us know, I
Corinthians 13:4-7 provides a description of excellent
love. We must work diligently to make these characteristics ours.
We must have love enough and to spare.
This final point was Paul’s main thrust. This was the
sticking issue for the Corinthians. Interestingly, it is a
sticking issue for many Christians today as well. The grace Paul
spoke of was not God’s saving grace. Rather, it was the gift the
Corinthians had promised to give for the Judeans enduring the
Corinthians 9:5). Their monetary gift was grace from them
to the Judeans. In fact, it was a means of God’s grace upon the
Do you excel in grace…
…on a person to person basis? Consider Hebrews
13:16. Are you generous with God’s blessings to you,
sharing with others and showing hospitality? Or are you a hoarder,
constantly coming up with excuses for closing yourself off from
…in relation to the congregation? According to Wikipedia,
our county is in the top 1% of US counties for wealth and per
capita income. Consider the grace this congregation ought to be
able to offer. First, think of the grace we could offer by our
support of the gospel. We ought to have a presence in the
newspaper, on the radio and on the television. We ought to be able
to purchase and distribute Bibles and other materials to draw
people to Jesus. We should be able to support many evangelists
locally and in foreign countries. We are doing hardly any of that
now. Second, think of the grace we could offer as the Corinthians
were, helping needy brethren. While we gain weight at potlucks, we
have brethren in S. Africa and Zimbabwe who mix gravel with corn
mush to help their children feel full. Think of the grace we ought
to be offering them.
Consider the point Paul made to the Corinthians in II
Corinthians 8:9. Jesus became poor that we might be rich
through His grace. Why are so many of us so afraid of being poor
that we do not excel in grace through personal generosity and
congregational giving? We must ask, “What would our lives be
like if Jesus handed grace to us in the same way we offer it to
others through our generosity and our giving?” Before we talk
about all our obligations to our family and putting food on the
table, let’s have a moment of honesty and admit that few of us
have ever gone without. Some of us may be struggling because we
have improperly managed our material goods, but none of us are
because we lack God’s blessings. Further, II
Corinthians 8:1-2 provides the great example of the
Macedonians who excelled in grace even though they dealt with
their own poverty. No matter our situation, Paul encouraged the
Corinthians and us to excel in grace. We must offer grace enough
and to spare.
“Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before
kings; He will not stand before unknown men” (NKJV). If we
excel, we will stand before the King. Let’s band together and
excel together, serving the Lord and His people in excellence. Let
us not settle for mediocrity. Let us not wait to get around to it
someday. Let us excel today and everyday in faith, speech,
knowledge, earnestness, love and grace. By the strength of Christ
Jesus, we can excel (Philippians
4:13). This week, strive to excel.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ