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“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 ESV

During his service in the Navy, former President Jimmy Carter applied for the nuclear submarine program. A legendary admiral interviewed him for the job. Toward the end of the interview the admiral asked him, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” Carter proudly answered, “Sir I stood 59th in a class of 820.” Carter expected congratulations from the admiral but got a much different response. The admiral asked him, “Did you do your best?” Carter started to say, “Yes sir,” but when he took a moment to reflect, he had to admit there were times when he had not given his best. He finally replied, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.” The admiral looked at Carter for a long time, then asked one final question, “Why not?”

Are you committed to doing your best? Are you giving God your best? If not, the admiral’s “Why not?” is a question we all should ask of ourselves.

The two epistles to Timothy were addressed to a young pastoral protégé of the Apostle Paul. From this second epistle, we understand that Timothy was having to contend with false teaching, which if accepted could overthrow one’s faith (2 Timothy 2:17, 18). To counter this attack, Timothy was to do two things: preach the word aright (2 Timothy 2:15), and pursue the right things (2 Timothy 2:22).

Specifically, Timothy’s objective was to obtain God’s approval. This approval would be determined by the way he handled and presented the word of God; either correctly being a conveyer of truth, or corruptly as a peddler of falsehoods for his own personal gain (2 Corinthians 2:17).

To obtain God’s approval, Timothy was being instructed to apply himself, be diligent, to do his utmost best to present himself as someone who doesn’t have to be ashamed for doing bad work, or work done hastily and carelessly. The emphasis is on how he executes the work.

The goal for Timothy is the same for us in life. We are to do our best to please God in all that we do. How you do your job is more important than just showing up to the job.

In doing your best, whether it’s in school, on the job, your service for the church or any other endeavor, the crucial element in doing the best you can is to strive for excellence. Strive means to make great efforts to achieve, accomplish or obtain something. Excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

The concept of excellence isn’t foreign to the scripture. That’s exactly what God is and does. The Bible states God is excellent in power (Job 37:23), excellent is his loving-kindness (Psalm 36:7), excellent is his greatness (Psalm 150:2), and that he has done excellent things (Isaiah 12:5). It was said of Jesus by his critics that, “He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37).

Excellence is a commitment to doing and giving your best no matter what, whether or not anyone will ever notice. Striving for excellence means you won’t settle for mediocrity. One reason for not having an “I’ll just do the minimum, just enough to get by” attitude is you never know who might see you or what you’ve done.

Excellence is not achieved by comparing yourself with anyone else. Comparison can stymie your confidence and progress because of someone else’s standard of approval or acceptance (2 Corinthians 10:12-13, 17-18). In striving for excellence always remember: doing your best is more important than being the best.

By doing your best you can receive God’s approval, not having to be ashamed.

Rev. Johnson A. Beaven III is pastor of Citadel of Faith Church of God in Christ. Contact him via email at jabeaven@gmail.com or Twitter @jbeaven.

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