Summary: Mediocrity is NOT an option!

Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, April 17, 2016

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

The Pursuit of Excellence: “Finishing Life Well!” [Part Two]

Philippians 3:12-21

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Seibing, was a real taskmaster! But as I look back on those days so long ago, she was an exceptional teacher; who was devoted to her students. Halfway through that school year, she asked me to stay after class. Oh, how I dreaded those occasions. Intuitively, I knew she wasn’t going to compliment my school work!

But, to my amazement, she began by complimenting me on the few things I excelled in like: my penmanship, spelling, and athleticism. But then she asked, “Cooper, why do you insist on being an average student? You’re more capable than your grades indicate.” As best I can remember I told her that making friends and being popular was my main objective. And besides my older brother was much smarter than I was; he even told me so!

Mrs. Seibling explained that school was a place for learning. It’s where children develop their skills and interests. She went on to say, “But how are you going to know what you can do, if you don’t apply yourself? Cooper, mediocrity is not an option!” The upside was that my dad once said to me, "Well, at least I know you're not cheating!"

I wish I could say that I took her advice to heart. But I did not. That is not until I attended seminary. At the age of 44, older than some of my professors, I finally excelled in studies. I became a diligent student of God’s Word!

But no matter how young, or how old we are, we’re always in a learning phase. In a sense, we’re always be in the “sophomore” year of our lives. The word “sophomore”, or “sophomoric” is derived from the Greek word “sophism” (sophos meaning “clever” or “wise”; and moros meaning “foolish” or “dull”).

Our classroom setting is aptly called the ‘school of hard knocks’! In this classroom, we call ‘life’, we’re constantly being evaluated. However, in this classroom there is no ‘grading on the curve’! The Lord assesses each of us individually. And the only marks that really matter are His marks…not ours!

He bore the marks that were intended for us. This is where the word ‘mercy’ is played out. Mercy means we’re not receiving that which we justly deserve! He gave up His life, so that we might have new life in Him. Alas! His high marks have now become ours! And because of His surpassing greatness, Christ Jesus expects…no, strike that…He demands doing our level best! He demands our attentiveness, our availability, our willingness to strive for excellence.

Last week we alluded to a few prominent people in the Bible who exemplified great faith. And yet, many of these people failed miserably in their twilight years. And because most of us here, today, are either in the fall, or winter of our lives, it’s important for us to know how to “finish life…well”.

In this passage, Paul looks upon: THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE AS AN: OBJECTIVE (repeat).

Before we can do anything, we must establish goals and objectives. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way: “Without consultation, plans are frustrated” [Proverbs 15:22]. Once we set our minds on our objectives, we must then ‘weigh our options’. We must find the best ways to achieve them.

It becomes clear that Paul’s eyes were riveted upon his calling of God and by following in the footsteps of his Lord, Christ Jesus. For Paul, pursuing Christ was above all else the coveted prize. But notice Paul’s wording. It’s not just about seizing the prize. It involves how best we should run the race; a race that must be run during “the living years”.

Paul likens our time here on earth as that of an Olympic event. A race that will ultimately determine our eternal destiny. However, this race is not a sprint to the finish line. Rather, it’s more akin to a long-distance marathon.

The upside is that the benchmark, or standard, has already been set by our pacesetter, Jesus Christ. The downside is that His standard requires absolute perfection! But because we are prone to stray off course, how can we possibly achieve the goal set before us?

If we rely solely upon our own strength and endurance, we will surely fall short. No, the only way for us to compete and cross the finish line is for us to be ‘carried’. Yes, we must literally be carried along by the Holy Spirit! In this regard, Paul writes: “…who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”

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