Paul's Ambitions

The apostle Paul speaks of three ambitions. Would that you and I knew more of each of them in our daily lives!

To Preach the Gospel Where Christ Is Not Named


In Romans 15:19–20 Paul writes: “from Jerusalem, and round about unto
Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Yea, so have I
strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should
build upon another man’s foundation.” First, let me ask, Where is
Illyricum? We read of it in no other place in the New Testament. We
never hear of it in the apostle’s missionary journeys in the Acts of
the Apostles. It is not a city, but a large area, a province, northwest
of the Province of Macedonia. It is almost equivalent to Dalmatia,
where Titus went during Paul’s last imprisonment. (2 Tim. 4:10) You
will find it on the map about opposite Rome, on the other side of the
Adriatic. This gives some idea of the extent of Paul’s labors.

But, you will ask, What has this to do with Paul’s ambition? Just this,
the word translated “so I have strived: is philotimoumenon; which
literally means “loving honor,” hence “being ambitious.” Paul said, he
was “being ambitious to preach the Gospel of Christ, not where Christ
was named.” How few there are who have such an ambition! This ambition
almost surely entails hardship and dangers: it means sharing some of
the sufferings Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11. Read them for
yourself, and unless the love of Christ works in your heart mightily,
it will take away the kind of ambition that Paul had. Excuses are easy
to find. We should not go where we are deprived of remembering the Lord
in His death. We are called to preach separation: not the Gospel. I
think I can be more use attending a conference, than going to some
place far away from meetings. And so the excuses go. But rarely do we
hear of those who share Paul’s ambition, and sadly little do most of us
know of it.

To Be “Well–pleasing” to
the Lord

The next ambition Paul describes is in 2 Cor. 5:9: “We are ambitious,
that, whether present (with the Lord), or absent (from the Lord), we
may be well–pleasing to Him.” (Literal: See verses 5 to 8). What more
beautiful ambition for every true Christian,—to be “well–pleasing” to
the Lord: no matter whether it is in life or in death.  Worldly
ambition has wrought ruin with multitudes of the Lord’s soldiers and
servants. All around us we are beloved saints of God whose lives
proclaim their ambition for riches or honor or ease or learning or
fame. We know of Demas who loved this present world and Diotrophes who
loved the preeminence: and their descendents are with us today: but
rarely do we meet a man whose ambitions in life are to preach where the
Gospel is not known; and whether in life, whether in death, to be
well–pleasing to Him. Oh, that these two ambitions may be mine, and
your’s, my beloved reader: may our love be for the Gospel, where Christ
is not named: and ever, and always, to be well–pleasing to Him.

To Be Quiet, to Do Our Own Business, to Work with Our Own Hands

The third ambition of which Paul speaks is found in 1 Thess. 4:10–11.
The apostle beseeches his beloved Thessalonian brethren to “be
ambitious to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with
your own hands.” I sadly fear that most of the Lord’s people today love
the honor of working with their heads in a clean and honorable
position, rather than soiling their hands by using them in hard work.
They forget their Master worked with His own hands until He was about
thirty years of age. They forget that the one who exhorted us to this
ambition could hold out his hands, and say “Yes, ye yourselves know,
that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that
were with me.” “These hands” were probably worn and calloused with
making tents. And let us remember his words: “I beseech you to be
imitators (mimics: mimetes: always in a good sense in the New
Testament) of me.” (1 Cor. 4:6) And to the very saints whom he exhorted
to be ambitious to be quiet, and to work with their own hands, in the
very same Epistle, he wrote: “Ye became our imitators (mimics), and of
the Lord.” (1 Thess 1:7; See also 2:14) And in the Second Epistle,
Chapter 3, Verses 7 & 9, we read: “Ye know yourselves how ye ought
to imitate us…We…give ourselves as an example to you in order to your
imitating us.”  (See New Translation)

May God help us to learn the lessons that Paul’s ambitions would teach us:—  Ambitious

  • to preach the Gospel where Christ is not named.
  • whether by life or death, to be well–pleasing to the Lord.
  • to be quiet, to do our own business, to work with our own hands. (Ed: At least to work!)