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Seeketh to Excel.-Religion paper, D&C
When I was in High School, I often had the opportunity to attend various award ceremonies, either for academic achievements or with my brother for sports achievements. A common theme of many of these ceremonies was excellence. Student athletes were praised for their long hours of practice and for helping their team excel on the chosen field. The academics of the school were praised for their ability to excel in the classroom, and many speakers were so bold as to promise excellence in college. This theme also carried over to many graduation ceremonies, where the senior class was told that they had every chance to excel in their chosen occupation or future academic experience. In every one of these addresses, the word “excel” was something of a keyword for how great the student was.

In D&C 58:41, however, the Lord puts the word excel in a slightly different light: ”And also he hath need to repent, for I, the Lord, am not well pleased with him, for he seeketh to excel, and is not sufficiently meek before me.” According to this scripture, excellence is in direct opposition to meekness. I had never thought that an attempt to excel negated any attempt to be meek, but a careful second thought on the subject agrees with this conclusion.

Referring to the definition for “meek” and “excel” clarifies the difference between the Lord’s opinion of “excel” and the world’s opinion of “excel”. According to Webster, synonyms for “meek” include mild, submissive, and moderate. In addition to the Lord’s declaration that the meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matt 4:5), the Lord often expounds on the importance of being mild and submissive. Again referring to Webster, we find that a popular definition of excel is to “surpass others.” Surpassing others would definitely not be in the attitude of submissiveness that the Lord would desire from his servants. This is probably also the key to what William W. Phelps was doing wrong. The problem was probably not in his attempt to be good at his work, but rather in his attempt to be better than others. Such an attitude would not promote the peace and unity that the Lord is trying so hard to establish in the Doctrine and Covenants.

For a personal application, I think it is important to not confuse an attempt to do things right with a need to excel. The key is in how we look at ourselves in relation to others. We need to be sure that we are not doing a good job simply to get the praise of the world or to lift ourselves up above others. In other words, we must be careful to not seek to excel.

uploaded Sat December 13 2003 at 3:50 PM
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