The Good And The Excellent

A couple of months ago, Donelle and I had the privilege of having our dear friend Phil over for a dinner. Phil was out in San Diego visiting those he has known and impacted over the years. While he was with us he made a comment that was exactly what he told us over 45 years ago when he was the college pastor at First Baptist Los Altos, when Donelle and I were students under his ministry. His statement was that the good is the biggest enemy of the excellent. That is a concept that is very true, but it is easy to forget in the midst of day to day activities and all the distractions that modern life throws in our way. It is a concept I have always remembered and thought about, even though I haven’t always lived by it. It is also a concept that pops up at various times throughout the New Testament.

In Revelation 2, Jesus gave instruction to the Ephesian church. He commended them for their good deeds and how they have not grown weary in the pursuit of those good deeds. However, he did have correction for them. He reminded them that they had forgotten their first love; we could say they had forgotten that which was excellent in their pursuit of the good. Therefore Jesus called them to repent and return. So what is to be our first love? What is it that is excellent?

I believe Jesus revealed that to his followers toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus warned his followers about false prophets and how they would know them by their fruits. We often assume that Jesus is referring to their deeds or behavior, but what follows reveals what Jesus is talking about. He referred to those who claimed Jesus as Lord, but were not part of his Kingdom, even though they did great deeds such as healing, casting out demons or performing powerful deeds. Jesus informed them that even though they had done all these things, he did not know them and in fact they were workers not of good things, but of lawlessness.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 reveals the great chasm that exists between Jesus’ definition of “good” and our definition of “good”. We define good in terms of what is moral and produces results that we also categorize as positive. While Jesus does call for moral behavior, he has a further requirement of the good, that it is the result of living in relationship with him. That which is done outside of relationship with him, he actually views as lawless. This is very difficult for some to accept because they are so tied to man’s definition of good. It challenges their own perspective of themselves because most everyone defines themselves as “good” merely because they have done some good things. Yet Jesus declares that this is not so. To be truly good and to do truly good deeds is to be in relationship with him, to know him be known by him, to hear his voice and follow him as he mentioned in John 10.

Like the Ephesians, Jesus reminds us to return to our first love, to not let that which is good distract us from that which is excellent.

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