This month’s core value contains a word that precedes excellence, and that word is strive.”

Striving for excellence is not a caveat whereby we can justify a lack of excellence by saying, “Well, we were striving for it anyway!” While we recognize that sometimes we fall short of excellence, the word striving is not an excuse for such shortfalls. Rather, we included the word in our core values document because excellence is usually a result of struggle.

Most Old Testament uses of the word “strive” have negative connotations like fighting, quarreling, rebelling, etc. Yet we do have an example of righteous striving in the Hebrew Bible: “And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years'” (Genesis 6:3).

In this case, according to Strong’s Concordance, the word strive is derived from the Hebrew word pronounced din. This has the connotation of judging, contending or pleading. That judging, contending and pleading of the Spirit of God with humanity is based on His desire for us to reach the potential for which we were created. If God did not care, He would not strive with us.

Don’t you find that there are times when the struggle to rise above mediocrity—the struggle to press beyond what is acceptable or even good—requires you to enter into some kind of conflict?

At times, striving for excellence will cause us to be misunderstood. Even within our own Jews for Jesus organization there can be misunderstanding; some may feel they are continually being criticized each time someone points to a more excellent way. From without, our striving for excellence has at times been viewed as a matter of pride or unreasonable expectations. It behooves us to guard our hearts and to work at making sure that these things are not true of us, but we have to continue striving for excellence even if it means being misunderstood now and then. We should not beat ourselves up for our failures, but we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with less—we would not be Jews for Jesus if we did.

We have several biblical examples of godly striving in the New Testament. Here are three Scriptures that use three different Greek words for striving, each with its own nuance:

The word pronounced agonidzomai conveys the sense of struggle one would have when competing for a prize, contending with an opponent, as well as fighting or fervently endeavoring to accomplish something. For example: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:27-29).

The second word, pronounced antagonidzomai, is more specifically to struggle against: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:3,4).

The third word is pronounced sunagonidzomai. It means to struggle in company with; to be a partner: “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me.…that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:30,32).

Whether or not you have studied Greek, if you’ll pronounce those words aloud, you will discover that parts of them sound familiar. To strive for excellence sometimes does involve agonizing, and even antagonizing. (We hope that the antagonizing is, as in the Hebrews passage, against sin and the powers of darkness!)

Dear friends, please pray that striving for excellence will always be a Jews for Jesus core value. And as you stand with us in prayer, perhaps contributing in other ways as well, we thank you for “sunagonidzomai-ing” with us. Your partnership enables us to keep striving for excellence!