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Friday, August 7, 2009

Biblical Excellence

Excellence. We often hear that term in Christian circles as an exhortation on the standard we should strive to attain as we face the tasks before us. Indeed, Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men” (NKJV). Certainly as Christian lawyers and law students, we want to “stand before kings” and be people of influence. But what does it mean to “excel”? Or more to the point, what does it mean to be “excellent”?

Our world is constantly concerned with assessment. From kindergarten to the bar exam and beyond, our society is consistently assessing us to see how we perform along some objective scale. From these influences, we may began to think that our value is based on how well we perform on these tests in life or how well we perform vis-à-vis our peers. Is it therefore true that biblical excellence in our world means, in part, performing well on these various tests given us in life?

I have thought a good bit about this issue because I believe that many of us in the legal community, including myself, tend towards being externally motivated. We tend to measure ourselves—and our worth—by some external standard. Furthermore, my sense is because many lawyers and law students are “Type A,” we tend towards being perfectionists. I know that I have struggled with that in my life.

I am thankful to report that biblical excellence, however, has nothing to do with how well we stack up to others. It is not based on whether we are “perfect” in terms of getting everything right. It is not even based on whether we got an “A” on that important test we just took.

Colossians 3:23 reads, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (NIV). Notice that the emphasis in this passage is not on achieving some external standard; rather it is on working heartily at the tasks the Lord has set before us. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul similarly charges Timothy to “[d]o your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (NIV). Thus, our mother got it right when she encouraged us in first grade, “honey, do your best.”

As I like to say to law students, excellence is “maximizing the gifts that God has given you.” God has created us as unique individuals; we cannot all make “A’s” on every test we take. But we can all pursue excellence by doing our best and working diligently at the tasks before us.

Let’s strive to do our best as lawyers, law students, believers in Christ. And let’s be thankful that we have the pleasure of working for the wonderful, loving, holy, gracious, and perfect boss—the Lord.

~ Associate Dean Natt Gantt, Regent University School of Law

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