excellence“Good Christians will never excel in the worlds of business and the professions. There is something in the Christian spiritual DNA that handicaps their ability to compete and come ahead in the real world.”

I have encountered the above sentiments again and again. Apparently many non-Christians believe them to be true. What is more surprising is that many Christians do too.

This has a number of unfortunate results. It inhibits some from following Christ. And it causes some Christians to forego Christian ethics at work, believing it is the only way to get ahead.

Is it true? Are Christians doomed to forever miss the boat in search of excellence? The beginnings of an answer may lie with another question: “Why excel?”

If we want to excel because our sense of self worth is rooted in performance, accomplishment, and/or recognition, then we are clearly deifying success. The quest for a sense of self worth is a very serious matter. This universal and powerful drive for significance is another reminder that we lost something in the garden of Eden.

However, true self worth cannot come from performance success. It can only be found in the realization that we are children of God, loved unconditionally by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” was an affirmation that Jesus received before He embarked on His public ministry (Luke 3:22 NRSV). It was not a reward given to Him after His supreme sacrifice on the cross.

If we want success because we want to be somebody then success has become a god, a false god at that who will fail us sooner or later. If you belong to God you are somebody already and forever. You are somebody because God loves you unconditionally eternally.

Then why should we seek to do well? I believe every Christian should seek to do well because it is our duty to maximize our God given potential for God and His kingdom.

The parable of the talents gives us the biblical basis for a Christian theology for pursuing excellence (Matthew 25: 1-30). God has given all of us potential to invest in His purposes. We are not to compare our potential to the potential of others. God sovereignly gives to each person as He sees fit.

Instead of comparing our potential to the potential of others, we are to invest our potential to the best of our abilities for His sake. We are to “be all that we can be” to glorify God and to bless our neighbour.

For some, being the best that we can be may not bring us recognizable success in this life. But our faithful Master in heaven will recognize and reward us at the appropriate time (Colossians 3:22-24). For others, being all that we can be does lead to levels of success recognizable by the categories of this world.

For example, of the three members of the Grace@Work Malaysian board of reference, one is a regional director of a major international discipling movement, one is a director of the leading merchant bank in the country, and one is a founder and senior partner of a successful law firm.

They all struggle to find a healthy work/life balance. They all strive to lead their lives within the ethical boundaries of Scripture. It has not been easy. But clearly, for them, being all that they can be has also resulted in levels of success recognizable in the currency of this world.

No, being a Christian does not automatically exclude one from success in the worlds of business and the professions. What we need to struggle with is, why we want success. And how we define success. These are dark times. We need all followers of Jesus to be “successful”, faithfully investing their lives to the max for GodÊ
and for neighbour.