Pursue Spiritual Excellence
Man, too, was created to become perfect. What exactly does that mean? And how can we learn to pursue that kind of excellence?

“God reveals Himself as Creator of perfection, light and beauty. Every reference in the Bible describes the condition of any completed phase of God’s creation as ‘very good’—perfect. … God is a perfectionist!” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages.

Man, too, was created to become perfect (Matthew 5:48). What exactly does that mean? And how can we learn to pursue that kind of excellence?

Perfection means not only that something is without flaw, but also that it is made of the finest materials. Famous English writer and critic John Ruskin once said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.” Becoming perfect requires much planning and hard work. True Christians are called to take on the mind of God, to think like Him, to meditate and plan the way He does. The imagination of the thoughts of mankind has led to some of the most fascinating, exciting and helpful creations. Given ample time, as well as God-supplied talents and resources, man has invented and produced marvels of technology, architecture, art, craft and science galore.

How come no animal ever did? Sure, beavers build amazing dams, but their design is fixed, unchanging. Sparrows build their nests, yet around the world they are the same. The song of the lark is a delight to hear, but no lark ever thought to change key or join in harmony with fellow birds. Only man has been given creative talents to express himself in an individual fashion. Only mankind was designed to reflect the Creator’s mind.

Made After the Creator’s Kind

When God created man, He made an express distinction between human beings and the animal realm. While all the animals were made after the animal kind, man was created with God-like creative powers, with a mind that can reason, plan and design. We were created after the God-kind (Genesis 1:24-27).

God also created man to be a success and to have a need and desire to be successful. In order to succeed, God placed the first humans in the garden where they had free access to the tree of life—to God-life. An existence founded on the tree of life would have made man rely on God to inspire and direct his decisions. It also would have made man strive for God’s standards in everything he set out to do. The pursuit of excellence would have become inherent to man, the way it is inherent to God. But Adam and Eve rejected that way of life, and mankind has degenerated ever since. They reject the pursuit of excellence—a choice that comes at great cost.

For those called out of this present world and imbued with His Spirit, however, God does expect that we pursue excellence. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). God wants us to give our all and strive for perfection in everything we do.

How God Teaches Man to Excel

From the day man was created, God charged him with responsibility over all of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28). God placed man in the most beautiful surroundings and gave him access to, and charge over, the finest materials He had created. They were man’s to use. God’s creation was beautiful beyond description—it was perfect, yet incomplete. Man was to put the icing on the cake by employing his creative gifts and, by learning from God’s creative example, pursuing perfection.

Without God’s mind, however, man always ends up settling for what will do for now. An example of that is the clothing Adam and Eve chose as opposed to what God would provide for them. They made aprons for themselves out of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God showed them a more perfect way, even in this physical example (verse 21). God’s apparel far superseded what man had been able to string together by leaning to his own understanding. God once more showed Adam and Eve what they had given up, what they had rejected: a mind that knows better and creates things perfectly.

Quest for Excellence

God drove Adam and Eve out of that most beautiful of environments because they didn’t appreciate the way of life that produces such beauty. God sentenced them and their descendants to 6,000 years of being cut off from God and from that mind that always strives for perfection.

Except for a select few, mankind cannot know the way that produces the finest in creation and in life. Those called out now are called out to prepare for a world where excellence will be expected in everything we do.

The most wonderful of man’s inventions are but a shadow of the creation that inspired them. Inventors and designers are inspired, even awestruck, by the beauty and perfection that is in nature. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Romans 1:20-25). Mankind will worship the creation and its perfect design, but they still reject the reason for its perfection—God’s mind-set.

God inherently thinks in terms of perfection. His plans are perfect, His preparation, His execution and the end-result of all He does reflect this mind-set. God builds to the highest, most exacting standards. That is why “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The end result matched the expectations that God had set out to achieve.

God’s Dwelling Place Exhibits Perfection

Whenever God decides to dwell with mankind, He expects the dwelling place constructed for Him to be of the finest quality, built with the best materials available.

In Exodus 25, God gave Moses instructions on the creation of the sanctuary. God had even shown Moses the design of it, the blueprints, we could say (verse 40). God asked the people to make offerings of the finest materials (verses 2-7). Then God proceeded to give the precise instructions for the construction of the various furnishings of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the shewbread table, the dishes, utensils, the candlestick, right down to the smallest item, and each one was to be exceedingly beautiful.

Using God’s designs, the craftsmen were able to make the tabernacle the most beautiful tent on Earth. The mind of God was reflected in that tabernacle. God then placed it in the midst of the congregation of Israel for all to see.

When King David began to prepare for building the temple in Jerusalem, he reflected God’s perfectionist mind-set. He said this house for God had to be “exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5). Long in advance of its actual construction, David began to select and gather the finest materials and craftsmen. He thought on the opulence this dwelling would exude, even in the details, down to the iron that would form the nails for the doors and for the “joinings,” or unseen fixings (verse 3). Whether the elements were exposed or not, King David knew every part of the temple should reflect God’s perfection.

Every building program God describes shows how only the very finest materials are good enough to reflect God’s character on a physical level.

Even the description of the spiritual city of new Jerusalem uses the terminology of high-quality physical materials—jasper, pure gold, precious gemstones, pearls (Revelation 21:10-11, 18-21). Here is the standard God sets for the building of a city that is fit for habitation by God the Father Himself. This city reflects incredible beauty. Why does God describe His habitations as excelling in beauty, in perfection?

The Magnificent Spiritual Temple

Why does God want man to behold that standard in His physical habitations? Is it a vain pursuit to show off His wealth?

No. Though God owns everything physical (Haggai 2:8), that is not the reason for these intricate descriptions. These materials remind us of the quality of building materials God demands for His spiritual temple.

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Apostle Peter also reminded the brethren that “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house …” (1 Peter 2:5). These similitudes teach us the standards God expects of His dwelling place. Should the beauty and purity of the spiritual building blocks be any less breathtaking in the spiritual temple that God is building in His called-out ones? Certainly not! As we prepare for our part in the spiritual temple, God wants us to be content with only the finest materials!

Excellence Fit for Royalty

God teaches us to think like He thinks. He wants us to know that His Family is a royal family that transcends all the royalty this world has ever known. “[Y]e are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). God already views us as His royal Family (Revelation 1:6), and He wants us to live like His royalty—physically and spiritually.

Herbert W. Armstrong often asked: Is it wrong to be a cultured individual? In an article by that title, he wrote: “Is it wrong—is it extravagant—to purchase quality things? [Some people] spurn good-quality merchandise, saying, ‘That’s too rich for my blood.’ They shop for bargain prices, condemning better quality as ‘extravagance’” (Good News, February 1981). Mr. Armstrong went on to investigate the origins of quality and wrote: “Just what is the difference between best quality and cheap merchandise? All merchandise comes out of the ground. Quality products are simply those resulting from more careful and conscientious selection of materials, which are made into an object with more thoughtful and more painstaking craftsmanship” (emphasis added).

Considering that God is selecting people now to learn to represent His thinking and His way of life, which consists of the finest quality, shouldn’t those people reflect that thinking?

How about you? Do you seek to buy the best quality you can afford? You should never buy items you cannot afford. Within your means, however, do you try to make a careful and conscientious selection in whatever you buy or make? Pursuing excellence is a mind-set—it helps us think like God.

Always striving for the highest quality reminds us of the royalty we are. Yes, it may take longer to get there. You may need to patiently save up to buy a quality item, but it shows God that you are thoughtful about your purchase. Quality items last longer and may prove to be better values for the money in the long run.

Mr. Armstrong continued, “Inferior merchandise comes from indifferent selection of materials and less conscientious and careful workmanship.” This careless attitude is often based on Satan’s get way. Our society promotes the desire to have it all and to have it now. Mr. Armstrong concluded that God’s way is the quality way!

Prosperity and Gratitude

God doesn’t want us to be excessive or wasteful, nor set our hearts on material goods (Mark 10:23-25; Luke 12:15). But, through the Apostle John, He shows us that He desires for us to prosper (3 John 2).

The Bible is filled with accounts of individuals God prospered as they sought Him first. Abraham, Joseph, Job and David were all examples of men who prospered at the hand of God because they diligently followed His way. Prosperity is a blessing—not a sin. But if we set our hearts on wealth, rather than on serving God, we make the material our idol in which we trust. And that is sin!

When God blesses us and gives us an abundance of good-quality things, He wants to see whether we’ll express our appreciation to Him.

Our royal Father wants us to learn to enjoy royal riches. If you can’t afford the best quality, then live within your means and be satisfied with what you have. But be industrious, and God will prosper you to where you can afford better. God wants you to be reminded that you are royalty and deserving of the best.

Lessons of Stone

Prior to His ministry, Jesus Christ was a carpenter, a builder of buildings. In His day, the finest buildings were made of stone. The top buildings were built of stones that were fitly framed together—stones that were crafted more painstakingly and precisely.

Today Christ still is a Builder. He revealed to the chief apostle that “… upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Christ said He would found His Church on a petra—or massive rock—referring to Himself. The Greek word translated build can mean “to be a house-builder” or “to edify, build or construct.” Christ is alive today and is actively erecting and beautifying a spiritual building—His Church. That Church is to become the Kingdom of God.

Knowing all about building with stones, Christ inspired the Church to be described as “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22). This holy temple God is building must be built with the highest quality materials—fitly framed stones. That is why true Christians must undergo test and trial (James 1:3-4; Acts 14:22). It chips away and smooths out any rough edges in our spiritual lives that prevent us from slotting in snugly in the building wherever God places us. Tests and trials perfect us; they make us the high-grade building material that God is looking for. God is not indifferent about His selection process, neither does He ever compromise with His conscientious and careful workmanship (Ephesians 2:1-10).

How to Achieve Excellence

Paul said that every man must take heed how he builds upon the foundation that is laid for us. We have a choice as to how we build, and building with excellent materials greatly improves our chances of withstanding the fiery tests (1 Corinthians 3:9-17).

It’s been said that you can only achieve excellence if you: 1) care more than others think is wise; 2) risk more than others think is safe; 3) envisage more than others think is practical; and 4) expect more than others think is possible. God wants us to give our all in our contributions to the most beautiful structure ever built—God’s Family. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Attaining perfection is a matter of what we do, repeatedly—our way of life. We need to be exercised through striving for excellence every day. That is what God does.

The Apostle Paul admonished the disciples that real spiritual growth can only come if we put into practice what we learn: “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). That requires persistence. Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of time; the other, a matter of quality. Every day we have opportunities to pursue excellence and to take on more of the mind of God.

Seeing our potential spurs us on to purifying ourselves, to eliminating every blemish, every imperfection that would cause God to reject us as an excellent building block for His spiritual temple (1 John 3:1-3).

Be sure to devote every intelligent effort to becoming perfect by setting your mind on the quest for excellence that is God’s!