Written and preached by David P. Nolte

2 PETER 1:5-11

We often say of that which we find enjoyable or beneficial, "That is excellent!" We may say, "That was an excellent dinner or movie or concert." As we continue to add building blocks of character, we come to the third building block which is "moral excellence!" Peter calls for excellence in our moral character. The Greek word for "moral excellence" or "virtue" is "aretes." It was used in 3 ways; it referred to "fulfilling a purpose" and "choosing a virtuous course" and "showing courage." Understanding how the word was used helps us understand how we might possess moral excellence and how we may thereby add another building block of character.
    1. The word was used to describe anything that did what it was created to do, that performed its intended function, or that fulfilled its proper purpose! In short that which does what it ought to do is termed "aretes" or "excellent!"
      1. A field was called "aretes," "excellent" if it was fertile and productive!
      2. A knife was called "aretes," "excellent" if it cut well and didn't simply hack things up!
    2. In reference to serving our purpose, George Bernard Shaw said, "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one." Now, the question is "For what purposes have we been created?" To be "aretes" or morally excellent, we need to find and fulfill those purposes.
      1. One purpose is glorifying and bringing pleasure to God:
        1. God said, "All who claim Me as their God will come, for I have made them for My glory. It was I who created them." Isaiah 43:7 (NLT).
        2. The 24 elders in the Book of Revelation said, "You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for Your pleasure that they exist and were created." Revelation 4:11 (NLT).
        3. Paul wrote, "Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts." 1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT).
      2. Another purpose is loving and helping and serving others.
        1. Paul wrote, "For you have been called to live in freedom - not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love." Galatians 5:13 (NLT).
        2. And Peter enjoins, "All of you, serve each other in humility." 1 Peter 5:5 (NLT).
      3. A third purpose is to bring others into relationship with God through Christ.
        1. Jesus commanded, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16 (NLT).
        2. Paul reminds us that "We are Christ's ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ Himself were here pleading with you, 'Be reconciled to God!'" 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NLT).
    3. Sometimes we are like the giraffe and the leopard. The giraffe said to the leopard, "Man! I hate leaves. All I ever get to eat is leaves! I wish I could have a nice chunk of cadaver for a change!" The leopard said, "Well, I get sick of eating dead stuff. I'd love a good leaf salad for a change." So, they decided to swap diets. The giraffe would eat dead meat and the leopard would gobble up leaves from the tree. It didn't take them too many meals to discover that the giraffe had not been created to eat dead zebras, nor had the leopard been created to eat leaves. So they both wisely decided to eat the things they were created to eat. Good thing they did, too, or they both would have starved to death in futility trying to fulfill a purpose other than the one for which they had been created. And how many of us fail to fulfill the purpose for which we are created and live our life in utter frustration and futility. A good question to consider is: "What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of and were created to do?"

In order to attain to moral excellence, we need to serve the purpose for which we have been created.

    1. The word "aretes" refers to choosing and following a virtuous, righteous, moral course, a course of life consistent with the revealed will of God in the Bible!
    2. We are all confronted with myriad choices: not all moral but some are intensely moral! To be "aretes," "excellent," we must choose the best from all the options. The world sets before us its course, God sets before us His - we must choose.
      1. James says, "Don't you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can't be a friend of God." James 4:4 (NLT). To shun friendship with the world is to follow the virtuous course.
      2. Peter wrote, "You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy - their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols." 1 Peter 4:3 (NLT). Avoiding the immoral life is to pursue the virtuous course.
      3. Paul said, "I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns." Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT). Pure and blameless lives - that's the virtuous course.
      4. "So now the Lord says, 'Stop right where you are! Look for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT). The old, godly way: that's the virtuous course.
      5. Psalm 23:3 (NASB) says, "He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." That's the virtuous course.
    3. To choose the virtuous course we must drastically refuse all choices which strip us of dignity, ruin our testimony, harm others, enslave us, destroy honor, integrity, purity and morality.
      1. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do. Avoid all perverse talk; stay far from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil." Proverbs 4:23-27 (NLT).
      2. "You must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven." Philippians 1:27 (NLT).
      3. And as the poem says: "If you have some worth while plans You've got to watch your can'ts and can's; You can't aim low and then rise high; You can't succeed if you don't try; You can't go wrong and come out right; You can't love sin and walk in light; You can be great if you'll be good And do God's will as all men should; You can be honest, truthful, clean, By turning from the low and mean; You can uplift the souls of men By words and deeds, or by your pen. So watch your can'ts and watch your can's. And watch your walks and watch you stands, And watch the way you talk and act, And do not take the false for fact; And watch the things that mar and make; For life is great to every man Who lives to do the best he can."

To attain to moral excellence we must choose the virtuous course in life.

    1. in Greek usage, the word, "aretes," referred to courage, fortitude, and valor!
    2. That's what it takes to have true godly character. Listen: any old dead salmon can float downstream! Anybody can get drunk and do drugs and cheat and commit adultery and on and on - but it takes "aretes," courage, to buck the current and to stand alone! It demands courage to say, "Others may, I may not!" It demands courage to take C.E.'s out and out stand: "I hereby take an out and out stand for Christ, surrender to Him and purpose to do His will in all the affairs of my life." It takes courage, but that's the meaning of "aretes," "moral excellence!"
    3. Consider some who demonstrated "aretes"
      1. The Egyptian midwives in Exodus 1 who refused to kill the male Israelite infants, defying Pharaoh's order showed "aretes" or Godly courage.
      2. Daniel who continued to pray to God in spite of the decree of king Darius which forbade it and who braved the den of lions showed "aretes," Godly courage. Daniel 6.
      3. The Apostles who preached Christ though beaten for it showed "aretes," Godly courage. Acts 4:18-20.
      4. General Von Zealand who spoke up for the faith when the Prussian king Frederick the Great began making crude jokes about Christ. Von Zealand arose and addressed the king: "Sire, you know I have not feared death. I have fought and won 38 battles for you. I am an old man; I shall soon have to go into the presence of One greater than you, the mighty God who saved me from my sin, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are blaspheming. I salute you, sire, as an old man who loves his Savior, on the edge of eternity." The place went silent, and with a trembling voice the king replied, "General Von Zealand - I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!" And with that the party quietly ended.  Von Zealand had shown moral courage, he was "aretes."

No one was ever as morally excellent as Jesus.  He came to fulfill the purpose of God in saving man! He chose God's way, the virtuous way! He manifested courage in facing death on the cross! He Who was "aretes," "excellent" in every way demands moral excellence in all of us! That means that we must come before Him and allow Him to cleanse us of all moral defects, of all failures, of all sins. We have not been 100%, consistently, always morally excellent! We all stand in need of forgiveness, healing and cleansing! "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8-9 (NASB). "Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete purity because we fear God." 2 Corinthians 7:1 (NLT). Even as I speak, The Holy Spirit invites each of us to come to Jesus for cleansing and renewal. Those who come will find the power which transforms us and works in us to create moral integrity, moral excellence.. Moral excellence is not something we put on; it is not mere behavior. It is the product of the Holy Spirit in the yielded life. It is the result of a changed heart. He stands ready to work that change today; a change of heart; a heart of moral excellence. (Change my heart / Search me)

Giraffe from unknown source; Poem from unknown author; Von Zealand from Today In The Word, August, 1989.

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