When I was learning to be a carpenter, I would frequently cut corners in my work in an attempt to get finished quickly. I wanted to see the end of the project, not be bogged down in the middle of it. And just as frequently, my foreman would always require me to go back and do it again. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I was not allowed to call myself a carpenter until I could be excellent in my work. Anything less would be stealing from the customer and from the company owner.
Why is it, then, that we allow much less than excellence in the house of God? Why do we consider church to be the place where we give as little effort as possible, have no thought toward excellence, and frequently avoid it altogether? These are unbiblical attitudes. We know that Jesus gave His life for the Church, so He doesn’t disdain her. Why do we?
See a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings, not before common men.
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
Take away the dross from the silver, and a vessel will come forth for the finer.
As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the wits of another.
Solomon has already observed that we are made to work. We were given this one chance on the earth, and our time should be spent in the work that we were born to do. In keeping with that theme, he remarks, in 22.29, that one who is diligent in his work will stand before kings. “Diligent” is sometimes also translated “skilled,” which is perfectly correct. A person who is diligent enough to become skilled in his business—whatever that may be—is worthy of honor and respect. Excellence is a true virtue. He also observes the maxim “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (24.10). The word that I’ve translated “faint” is רפה, and means “to show oneself without courage.” The NASB translates this word as “slack.” The thought here is that when adversity comes, one should not become slack or lazy; one should not faint or retreat in the face of it. So along with excellence as a biblical virtue comes courage and grit. Adversity, after all, only serves to sharpen man’s ability to achieve the work he’s called to do for the Lord (25.4). Of course, it would be an exercise in futility to attempt this alone. Solomon observes that man was meant to live and be in community; the relationships between people serve to sharpen them (27.17).
We are in a time of transition—and therefore adversity—in our local church. We need to be reminded that God desires our “A game” in church. He likes excellence, and He created us to do our business with diligence and skill. Since the Church is a committed band of evangelists, that means that you have a job that you were created to do for your church, as well. You were not intended to sit it out; your spiritual growth is not merely vertical (only between you and God), but is also contingent on growing horizontally (collectively with the community of Christ—commonly called the church). What is your skill? What is your talent? Your ability? Your strength? If you’re not giving of it to your church, you have an unbiblical attitude concerning church, God, and yourself.
Sharpen one another in relationship. Encourage one another. This time of adversity is a blessing; it is a time in which we reboot our commitment to excellence in the house of God, and dedication to one another.