Ambition

W Threadgold, Purley

One of the tragedies of our day is the spectacle of so many young folk leading aimless lives - lives with no direction and without any stabilising influence. Such were not the lives of the Christians portrayed for us in the Scriptures, and we should profit immensely from a careful study of the records of the fives of both men and women in the Bible. The way in which human personality may be transformed whilst still maintaining its characteristic features is clearly pictured for us in these narratives.

Let us consider Saul of Tarsus as an example. We are impressed immediately by

Saul’s Earnestness

He was a highly educated and versatile man. He had instruction from Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the renowned teachers of the time, and he made the best use of his opportunities. He tells his Galatian friends that he ‘profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers’, Gal. 1. 14. To the Philippians he writes, ‘of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless’, Phil. 3. 5-6. Surely here is evidence of earnestness of purpose in the realization of a life ambition.

Later he could give advice to young Timothy to ‘give attendance to reading’, further revealing the secret of his own interests in this direction by exhorting him to bring the ‘books, but especially the parchments’ which he had left at Troas, 1 Tim. 4. 13; 2 Tim. 4. 13. How we should like to know what was in that parcel of books! There are hints enough in his writings and his sermons to indicate where his interests lay, but we just do not know exactly what he had in his mind at that time.

We do know that his desire for reading and study and his habits of mind were carried forward into the life of Paul the apostle after his vision on the Damascus Road. See him going off into Arabia after his conversion and note his complete obedience to the Lord’s will concerning the way before him. He was not to be turned aside nor was he instructed or persuaded by the other apostles. In the quietness of the Lord’s presence he was shown the way and initiated into divine revelation, Gal. 1. 16f.

We may notice how

His Ambitions were Redirected

Writing of this, he says ‘But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ’, Phil. 3. 7. Ponder the verses of Philippians 3 and try to assess the tremendous transformation indicated in this passage. In 2 Corinthians 11 we get some idea of the physical consequences of this new direction in the pathway Paul had to take. Here we see a man endowed with a fine mind, a man of steadfast purpose and invincible courage, a man with a revelation from God (see 2 Cor. 12), with a new life spreading out before him into which he carries the fire and determination of the old Saul. The change is complete and irrevocable, the qualities of character the same.

What, we may ask, has become of his ambitions now? In Romans 15 we read, ‘Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation’, v. 20. The Revised Version margin translates the word ‘strived’ by ‘being ambitious’. As already suggested his ambitions have been redirected. He is now

Ambitious to Preach

the gospel in the regions where its sweet message had not been heard. Note the outreach via Rome even to Spain, Rom. 15. 22. 24. This is the steadfast desire of the one-time destroyer of the church!

In 2 Corinthians 5, another of Paul’s ambitions is brought to light. He is writing about the ‘tent’ in which he lived and the ‘house’ that awaited him when he put off his mortal body. He is debating whether it is better to continue in the ‘tent’ and thus to continue in his ministry to the Corinthians or whether to be absent from his body and present with the Lord. He does not answer this here, but he does settle another matter. We read, ‘Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him’, v. 9. The word ‘labour’ is the same as that translated ‘strive’ in Romans 15. 20. The Revised Version margin again translates it ‘we are ambitious’. Here the apostle’s aim is that ‘whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him’. He was

Ambitious to be Accepted

The context concerns the appearing of Christians before the Judgment Seat of Christ, the day of manifestation, the day of reward or loss, of praise or blame. 1 Corinthians 3. 10 to 15 and Romans 14. 11f amplify what is stated in this passage and confirm that the power of this ‘day’ was the driving force behind Paul’s life of devotion and service. Is it the dominating factor in your life and mine? We shall do well to re-examine our ambitions in the light of this great day to which we are all surely journeying.

Paul also has something to say concerning ambitions in his advice to the Thessalonians. We read, ‘we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase (in love) more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you’, 1. Thess. 4. 10, 11. Here the word ‘study’ is again rendered ‘be ambitious’ in the Revised Version margin. He is saying, in effect, ‘be

Ambitious to be Quiet

and attend to your own affairs’. The word translated ‘quiet’ here is used also in Acts 21. 14. The company who met Paul were trying to turn him from his purpose to visit Jerusalem, but when he would not be persuaded we read of his friends, ‘we ceased’; that is ‘we were quiet’. They would not deflect the servant of the Lord from his path. It also occurs in Acts 11. 18 in the context of which is found Peter’s explanation of his visit to Cornelius. When he had concluded, the objectors ‘held their peace’. In both of these contexts, ‘being quiet’ has the meaning of refraining from hindering the purpose of the Lord in the lives of His servants. At Thessalonica, some folk had stopped work, possibly because of the imminence of the Lord’s return, and apparently other believers were being encouraged to do the same. This gave rise to the apostle’s words of instruction that they should make it their ambition to be quiet and to mind their own affairs and to work with their own hands. It is noteworthy that in the immediate context there is the disclosure of the ‘word of the Lord’ given to Paul concerning the second coming of Christ.

Young Christian friend, with life opening before you, be sure to give time and prayer to your course through the world’s maze. Allow the light of God from the Scriptures to shine on your path. Dedicate your talents to Him and you will find satisfaction of soul that can come in no other way.