Posts Tagged ‘excellence’

arete

This idea of excellence has been dogging me for some time now.  When I first began to explore the idea of biblical excellence the Greek word arete was the first to come into view.  Such a short word for such a big concept.  While arete can refer to general excellence it carries with it a strong moral component.  It is only used five times in the New Testament, once by Paul in Philippians and the rest by Peter in his two letters.

Peter designates arete  to be an attribute of God.

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter then calls the people of God to pursue this very excellence that we find as a aspect of God’s character.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 1 Peter 1:5

While arete is a Greek word that denotes moral excellence, I believe that as Peter uses it arete is found only in the expression of God’s divine power (through the Holy Spirit) in his people as they diligently through faith function in that divine power.  Let’s look at this passage all together.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 1 Peter 1:3-7

Paul also uses arete in his final charge to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul here gives a break down of Peter’s attribute of God.  It is pure, lovely, of good repute and praise worthy.  This weekend Levi Elarton (our pastor’s youngest son) spoke on loving people well as a quality of Jesus and by extension a quality that should be a basic part of any Christian’s life.  As a part of that he stated that sinners liked to be around Jesus.  Jesus managed to be attractive to sinners without compromising his arete in any way.  In fact I am going to step out and say that His divine moral excellence (and I would suggest that there is no other kind of true moral excellence) was the very thing that drew people to Him.  You can see this moral excellence in operation in the call of Levi the tax collector (Levi’s text for this Sunday), in His encounter with the woman at the well, in the many times the religious rulers of the day attempted to trip Him up.  You can see this moral excellence in operation as he was beaten, abused and hung on a cross.  You can see this moral excellence being made available to you and me through the power of the Holy Spirit when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to His place at the right hand of the Father and when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost.

Arete is not a philosophical or theological concept, it is a practice of life that requires diligence and participation in the very nature of God.  It requires what Peter Scazzero in his series of books calls “loving union”.  It requires both the mindset spoken of by Paul and the action that Peter calls for. Arete is the fulfillment of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the natural result of the Hupomone lifestyle.

 

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I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.  Philippians 1:12

Hupomone

steadfastness, constancy, endurance;
in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings;
patiently, and steadfastly;
a patient, steadfast waiting for;
a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance

Hupomone living frees us from the circumstances of life.  We are no longer bound to react to circumstance after circumstance.  Instead as Brother Lawrence would say, we are free to “practice the presence of God”.  We are able to make our relationship with Him our total focus.  Nor can we make our circumstances the foundation of our faith, that too will distract from the singular purpose of pursuing God and results in a faith that is blown here and there by the situational waves of life. (Ephesians 4:14)

“Are they servants of Christ?- I speak as if insane- I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep….

2 Corinthians 11:23-26

Paul goes on to list the circumstances of his life as a missionary and even the intense times of communion with God as well as the “thorn in the flesh”.   Paul could boast in his hupomone lifestyle, that he endured all these things and was graced by intense visions from God.  In the end analysis Paul understood, perhaps along with the author of Ecclesiastes, that this too is vanity.  It is better to boast in weakness and recognize that the important thing is that the power of Christ dwells inside.  Paul understood that when he rejected circumstances as the guides and measure of his life and practiced the presence of Jesus Christ in every situation that whatever happened to him would “really serve to advance the cause of Christ.”  This is the result of the hupomone lifestyle.  It is the goal that transcends our individual personalities, situations, callings, theologies, denominations, socioeconomic status etc.

When we enter into the hupomone life we are freed not only from circumstances but from results as well.  It is a natural result of who we are as children of God and the natural excellence that occurs when we focus pursuing God.  This is the natural conclusion of Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called to His purpose.”  However we are not freed from the need to pursue all that we do with excellence.  Scripture calls for Christ followers over and over to reach for excellence.  I have actually heard intentional incompetence lauded as a way to encourage the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  This is directly contradicted in Scripture.

 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 2 Peter 1:5

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.                        1 Corinthians 10:31

The fact that we are freed from the constraints of results allows us to focus our pursuit of excellence where it belongs, on our relationship with Jesus Christ and our desire to bring our heavenly father glory.

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