Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Goal Is Progress, Not Perfection

Hey folks! Today is the Richmond Marathon. I decided to pass this year. It's a great course, but I've run it three times already and I feel like I'm getting stuck in a rut. I'm seriously considering the Honolulu Marathon next month instead. Stay tuned. 

You'll never guess what I did this morning instead. I lifted! I'm *sure* that surprises you. As I do every Saturday, I take a number of "progress pictures" to help me see where I might be making improvements. 

Lifting is about progress, not about perfection. Interestingly, this theme meshes well with the wonderful passage I spent an hour and half studying this morning in preparation for a talk I'll be giving soon, namely 1 Thess. 4:1-12. 

The theme is "A Life That Pleases God," and the section can be divided into three parts:

How to please God in your personal life (4:1-8).

How to please God in your church life (4:9-10).

How to please God in your community life (4:11-12).

As usual, something always sticks out to me when I study even a very familiar passage of Scripture. Today what struck me was one Greek word in 4:1, the word dei, usually rendered "must." 

Paul's point is that pleasing God is not an option for the Christian. Oddly enough, English translations, for some reason, seem to water down the idea of "must" in verse 1. Here's what the NIV has:

"how to live in order to please God."

The ESV is better:

"how you ought to walk and to please God."

The CSB has:

"how you should walk and please God."

But Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they MUST live and please God. Here's how I'd translate this verse:

"Furthermore then, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you have received instructions from us how you must behave in order to please God, you do so more and more."

In other words, stagnation is not an option for an authentic Christian. The same thing is true of the bodybuilder. Muscle building is a slow and steady process, not a state. It requires dedication, self-control, and effort. Your progress is determined by several factors:

  • Your age
  • Your starting point
  • Your nutrition
  • Your sleep and recovery
  • Your exercise selection

But the most important factor is consistency, not only in terms of frequency and duration of your workouts, but also in the quality of your exercise sets. By staying consistent, you'll be on your way to building the strong and healthy body you've always wanted. In short, bodybuilding is a long term process that requires hard work and determination. And what is true of our bodies is true of our spiritual health. In 1 Thess. 4:1-12, Paul gets straight to the point. To please God, you have to make consistent progress in your walk with him. There's no standing still. You're either moving forward or you're moving backward. Consistency is paramount. It's actually the key to unlocking your full potential. 

Consistency is the fundamental ingredient for long-term progress in our bodies as well as in life. Bodybuilding, like the Christian walk, is a marathon, not a sprint. Imperfect progress is better than perfect stagnation. We will never reach perfection in this life, but we can -- no, must-- make progress on a daily basis. It's easy to evade the truth of this passage. Christianity that does not change a man is a very imperfect form of Christianity. Change is essential. But this change is progressive. It is a continual renewal. It is growth in grace and knowledge. As an old Latin proverb puts it, "He who ceases to be better, ceases to be good."

The goal is progress, not perfection.