Whatever Is Excellent – Think About These Things
Do you see whatever is excellent as getting a good grade in school or a good review at work? Throughout our Think About These Things study, we have endeavored to expand our thoughts beyond our limiting routine. So let’s dive into a deeper analysis of whatever is excellent.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:8 NIV
What Ever Is Excellent?
That’s a question. What ever IS excellent? Before you studied Philippians 4:8, you may have described many of the virtues listed as equivalent to excellent. Following the dictionary definition of excellent: very good, extremely good, that may be true. But let’s refine our thinking a bit more.
It’s All Greek to Me!
The Greek word translated excellent in Philippians 4:8 looks like this: ἀρετή and carries the idea of “uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue (a term denoting consummate ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’ within a social context.) Exhibition of ἀρετή invites recognition, resulting in renown or glory.” 1
Strong’s Lexicon puts it this way: ἀρετή [arete /ar·et·ay/] 1 a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action. 1a virtue, moral goodness. 2 any particular moral excellence, as modesty, purity. 2
Did any of that translate for you? Reading Greek lexicons (think dictionaries) concerning arete is even more confusing! Here’s my theory: When you are describing excellent, you are describing God. How is it possible to be comprehensive in describing an excellent God?
For who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord?Psalm 89:6 NKJV
Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the Lord?
Only as we diligently seek to think whatever is excellent may we begin to see a glimpse of His glory.
Open my eyes, that I may seePsalm 119:18 NKJV
Wondrous things from Your law.
Wonderously “… 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 NASB).
Because of God’s excellence, we are to supplement our faith with a generous provision of moral excellence.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.2 Peter 1:5–7 NLT
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9 ESV
Jonathan Edwards on God’s Excellencies
[Jonathan] Edwards preached his sermon, “God’s Excellencies,” in the summer of 1722. It was based on his meditations on Psalm 89:6, “For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord, and who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?” Edwards decided to take up the challenge and do precisely that: compare things in heaven and earth with the Lord, thereby demonstrating the inferiority of the former and the foolishness of yielding our hearts to them.Sam Storms
“Don’t be afraid of diving into the deep end of the knowledge of God. It is, says Edwards, “a bottomless ocean of wonders that we can never comprehend, but yet may with great pleasure and profit dive further into” (417). Although we are profoundly unworthy of such knowledge (Edwards describes us as “worms and insects, less than insects, nothing at all, yea, less than nothing,” but I’m trying to be a bit more politically correct about it), yet “so has God dignified us, that he has made [us] for this very end: to think and be astonished [at] his glorious perfections” (417).Sam Storms
“Edwards’ approach is “to show how vastly God is exalted above all the highest and most perfect of created being” (418) in regard to seven things.
First, “God is infinitely exalted above all creatures in duration” (418)….Sam Storms
Second, “God is infinitely exalted above all created beings in greatness” (419)…
Third, “God is infinitely exalted above all created beings in excellency and loveliness” (420)….
Fourth, “…in power” (421)…. Fifth, “… in wisdom” (422). Sixth, “… in holiness” (423) and, seventh, in his “goodness” (424).
I’ve been necessarily brief in my summation of Edwards. I agree with him that “all that we can say is but clouds and darkness to the reality: the attributes of God, these infinite perfections, cannot be set forth by the eloquence of an angel, much less by mortal tongue. How much too little is the space of one sermon, to speak of that which angels spend an eternity in! . . . So glorious and so excellent is our God; such a being is he that made us, that made these bodies and these souls, and continually upholds us, that keeps us alive, keeps our breath playing in our nostrils; that continually sees us, is present everywhere, is present here now, and sees all our thoughts and knows whether we have any fear of him or love to him, and how we are affected by the consideration of his glorious perfections and wondrous works, and whether or not we regard his holy commands, or are moved by his gracious promises, or terrified by his dreadful threatenings” (424-25).Sam Storms
In Part 2 of Sam Storm’s sermon on the Excellencies of God, he quotes Jonathan Edwards:
How hath he honored us, in that he hath made us to glorify and enjoy him to all eternity; how are we dignified by our Maker, who hath made us for so high and excellent an end! He has made other creatures for his own glory, but they are passive in it: the sun glorifies God by shining, and the trees by growing, and all things by performing the laws of nature which God has given them. But God has made us actually to glorify, to behold his excellencies and to admire them, and to be made forever happy in the enjoyment of them (427).Part 2 of Sam Storms sermon
If you ask the average Christian, “How do you know God loves you?” they will often be heard to say something along the lines of: “Because he goes to such great lengths to make much of me. He enhances my sense of self-esteem;” etc. This is the typical notion of love: you are loved when someone makes much of you, when they make sacrifices or toil to elevate you and honor you.
“But listen again to what Edwards said. Let me paraphrase it. ‘Here is how God has honored us: he has made us and gone to indescribable lengths with great pain to himself to enable us to enjoy him forever. This is the dignity God has bestowed on us, not that he makes much of us but that he graciously supplies us with all things necessary so that we might find unending delight in making much of him!'”Sam Storms
To wrap it all up, when you are describing excellent, you are describing God. Therefore, when we think and proclaim whatever is excellent, we easily move to think and proclaim whatever is praiseworthy.
This blog post is part of a series on Philippians 4:8. Dig into each description to determine how to think about these things from God’s perspective.
- Think About These Things from God’s Perspective
- Whatever Is True – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Honorable – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Right – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Pure – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Lovely – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Admirable – Think About These Things
- Whatever Is Praiseworthy – Think About These Things
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1 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 130.
2 James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).