But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
In baseball, a complete player who excels in all aspects of the game is a five-tool player. A five-tool player hits the baseball for average, for power, has good speed and base running skills, fields his position well, and throws well. There have been many great players in baseball history, but only a few could be called five-tool players. There is a consensus that Willie Mays was the greatest five-tool player of all time, along with Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. Mike Trout of the Angels is perhaps the best five-tool player today.
In 2 Corinthians 8:7, Paul lists attributes of complete Christians. In baseball, it takes natural ability and talent, and hard work to possess the tools to be a complete ballplayer. However, there is no reason why anyone cannot be a complete Christian. Here, Paul lists not five but six attributes to excel in as Christians:
Excel in Faith
Because Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, “…without faith it is impossible to please God,” we can accept that faith is fundamental to excelling in Christ. The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.” Luke 17:5 (NLT) It does not take a lot of faith (i.e., mustard seed), but we must exercise and even stretch in faith. One of my favorite books is “Ever Increasing Faith” by Smith Wigglesworth. He wrote, “You have promised it, Lord. Now do it.” God rejoices when we manifest a faith that holds Him to His word.” Faith is necessary to be a winner. “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.” 1 John 5:4 (NLT)
Excel In Speech
You do not need to be an outstanding orator to excel in speech. It is better to have “gracious words seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) or “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24 (NIV). We should “always be ready to give an answer as to why we have hope.” Yes, words can tear people down, but they can also build them up. Excelling in speech means encouragement and comfort and, at times, exhortation and challenge. Substance matters more than style.
Excel In Knowledge
Knowledge is more than acquiring and utilizing information. In the age of the Internet, it is easy to accumulate information about things or people. Knowledge in a scriptural context is more about intimacy. The Greek word for knowledge in our text is the same word that Paul uses in Philippians chapter 3 when he talks about “counting all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.” We become “excellent” followers of Christ when “we grow in the knowledge of Christ.” Actual knowledge leads to maturity (Ephesians 1:17, 4:13).
Excel In Complete Earnestness
Life is not always easy, and to excel in this area calls for dedication in difficult times and circumstances. Other translations interpret this phrase as enthusiasm, eagerness, or passion. Any of these interpretations will convey a single-hearted purpose and commitment to Christ. Those who excel as Christ-followers do so with joy even during times of trial and testing. (James 1:2-3)
Excel In Your Love For Us
Paul commends the Corinthians because of their love for him. Even though he had challenged them and rebuked them in loving discipline, they still loved him. Not despite his correction and discipline, but because of it. Like the Corinthians, we make many mistakes. But if we recognize that those who instruct us and lead us are doing it for our benefit, even when they challenge us in areas that might not be comfortable, we must excel in our love for those who lead us. To excel as a follower of Christ, we must love others, especially those who have invested him in our lives.
Excel In The Grace Of Giving
And finally, Paul adds one more to the five previous attributes, challenging us to excel in the grace of giving. An excellent follower of Christ does not give because of coercion but because he has received grace from God. We do not give to get more. We invest because we have received so much already. (2 Corinthians 8:2-5)
Putting It All Together
Listen to what Peter says in conveying a similar message of excellence. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8 (NIV)
A baseball player who excels in the five tools builds on natural talents and abilities. The Christ-follower who excels recognizes that everything she receives is from God, and this is the motivation to press forward. The follower of Christ who excels is not content with staying the same but continually attempts to grow in each of these categories as they seek to win the prize and to one day hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4 (NIV)