A Goal Worth Pursuing
* * *
So that you may approve the things that are excellent,
in order to be sincere and blameless until the
day of Christ.
Before studying the book of Ruth, whenever I heard the word excellence
associated with another person, I usually thought that they
were probably perfect, that they were high achievers, and that their lives
were generally good. So I was taken by surprise when I read Ruth's kinsman,
Boaz, respond to her by saying: "all my people in the city know
that you are a woman of excellence" (Ruth 3:11). I was surprised because
Ruth's life did not illustrate my understanding of excellence. Her husband
had died; she had left her own family, country, and future to move to a
foreign country and live with an unhappy mother-in-law. Her work was
foraging for leftover grain in a field. Yet, apparently, as she went about this
lowly task, those who knew her said, "Oh, Ruth, she has noble character,
she is strong, she is worthy."
In our world, beauty, ability in the marketplace, and independence
are major issues for women who search for meaning and excellence in
their lives. We are under pressure to choose the right clothes, the latest
décor, and the most fashionable jewelry in order to establish our value
as individuals. In our comparison shopping for material things, we often
end up comparing ourselves with society's models of success and feel that
no one would ever say to us, "I want to tell you that all my friends know
you are a woman of excellence."
The Search for Excellence
1. What words or thoughts would you use to define excellence?
2. In today's world, how is excellence defined?
3. It is fairly easy to sense the world's view of excellence, but how would
you describe or define the church's concept of excellence?
The church is in almost as much trouble as the culture, for
the church has bought into the same value system: fame,
success, materialism, and celebrity. We watch the leading
churches and the leading Christians for our cues.
A Biblical View of Excellence
The Greek word translated "excellent" in the New Testament comes
from diapherõ, which literally means "transport" or "differ." In addition
to "excellent," Scripture translations also use "best," "vital," "the better
things," or "the highest and best."
The Hebrew word translated "excel" in Proverbs 31:29 is 'alah, which
means "to ascend."
Both these words are used to encourage us to ascend or transport
or carry above the norm-to differ through the qualities of virtue and
Webster's dictionary defines excel as "to be superior or preeminent
in good qualities or praiseworthy actions." Excellence is "the possession
chiefly of good qualities in an unusual degree; surpassing virtue, merit,
4. Three Scripture passages apply the concept of excellence to women.
For each one, write down the qualities mentioned. (If your version
doesn't use the actual term "excellent," write the equivalent phrase
alongside your answer.)
The Amplified Version of the Bible seeks to give full meaning to key words
in the original texts by suggesting a number of possible synonyms for a
given word. Here is how this version renders the verses listed above:
Ruth 3:11 - "a woman of strength - worth, bravery, capability"
Proverbs 12:4 - "a virtuous and worthy wife - earnest and strong
Proverbs 31:10 - "a capable, intelligent and virtuous woman"
5. Look up the following verses to see what they teach about our pursuit
of the "highest and best." For each reference, write down one specific
thought that should affect how or why we strive for excellence.
1 Corinthians 10:31
6. If the goal of our pursuit is not clear, we risk losing sight of what it
is we're striving for. The following Scripture passages give us specific
guidelines for how we should pursue growth in our walk with God.
What does each passage tell us to do?
2 Timothy 2:15
7. From the verses you've studied so far, how would you explain the biblical
view of excellence to a friend?
A Personal Goal of Excellence
AUTHOR'S REFLECTION-As a young girl I remember my mother telling
me many times, "If you are going to do anything, do it right!" This
admonition was applied to setting the table, ironing a dress, or washing
the dishes. My mom did not expect perfection, but her thought was that
if I were to undertake a task, then I should do it to the best of my ability.
I didn't realize it then, but early in my life I was being taught the value
of doing things well.
When I reached my fortieth birthday, I realized that my life was probably
half over! As I considered my past, I remembered my acceptance of
Christ, college graduation, marriage, teaching English, several moves, and
cooking, cleaning, and carpooling for four children. I felt that I was right
where I needed to be, but somewhere over the years I had settled for a goal
of mediocrity. I could identify with the secretary who had this sign over
her desk: "Today I think I'll try to accomplish something . like getting
through it!" At this stage in my life, I wanted to be sure that I was open to
embrace all that God might have for me in my remaining years.
As I read through the Scriptures that year with this new perspective,
I was able to see for the first time Boaz's comment to Ruth about her
excellence. I immediately realized that she trusted God with her life and
she did not allow her circumstances to dictate her behavior or responses.
As I contemplated the qualities she had that made her a woman of noble
character, I silently prayed, "Lord, I don't know how many years I have
left to live, but I don't want to miss out on anything You have for me. For
the rest of my life I want to be in the process of becoming a woman of
excellence, a woman of noble character, for Your glory."
8. Take a few minutes and reflect on your life. Write down the ways you
were encouraged to excel in life. Were these ways more help or hindrance
to your understanding of excellence?
9. From each of these Scripture passages, select one important truth
you need to grasp in order to have God's best for your life.
Throughout our study we will be exploring not only God's call to excellence,
but His provision, patience, and assurance that His power is perfected
in weakness. From the beginning we need to realize that excellence
is not perfection, but essentially a desire to be strong in the Lord and for
the Lord. As Oswald Chambers wrote: "Do we so appreciate the marvellous
salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost for His highest?"
10. Review any insights from this chapter that were especially meaningful
to you in learning to become a woman of excellence. After thinking over
the Scriptures you've studied, write down a goal you'd like to set for
yourself in doing this study (for example, a possible goal might be, "To
understand how I can become a woman of excellence"). Establishing a
goal will help remind you of your purpose and commitment as you work
through the study.
A Heart for God's Word
Scripture memory enables us to keep our goals in mind and open our hearts
to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. David wrote, "I delight to do
Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8). Having
God's Word in our hearts is great motivation to obey and to grow.
I know of no other single practice in the Christian life
more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing
Scripture. That's right. No other single discipline is
more useful and rewarding than this. No other single
exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life
will be strengthened. Your attitudes and outlook will
begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant.
Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced.
Your faith will be solidified.
Charles R. Swindoll