Are You Ambitious?

FFF 12:9 (Nov 1966)

Are You Ambitious?

W. Ross Rainey

The concept of ambition, or being I ambitious, is found three times in the New Testament (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Cor. 5:9; Rom. 15:20), and it comes from a Greek word meaning “to love or seek after honour, hence, to be ambitious” (G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 471). Some people are ambitious to do evil, but in the New Testament the exhortations to be ambitious are, of course, to do good.

A. T. Robertson, the celebrated Greek scholar, has said: “A preacher devoid of ambition lacks power” (Word pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 30). This statement might well be extended to embrace all Christians, not just preachers, for surely one of the primary reasons for powerlessness among so many of God’s people today is a lack of proper ambition — ambition to pray, to praise, to proclaim, yea, ambition to truly practise the revealed will of God as set forth in His precious Word.

The three New Testament exhortations to be ambitious are most timely and trenchant for the present hour. The first of these which we want to consider, all three having come from Paul’s pen, is Romans 15:20 wherein the zealous example of the great Apostle to the Gentiles urges upon all believers to be

Ambitious to Preach the Gospel

The Apostle Paul’s primary consuming passion was the spread of the gospel of the grace of God. Writing to the Romans, he says, “Yea, so have I strived (made it my ambition) to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” The word “strived” is actually in the present tense, so that we may freely, yet accurately, render the opening words as follows: “And so, being continually ambitious to preach the gospel…” The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible translates it, “Making it a point of honor to limit this mission to those regions where no one called on Christ.”

Even when in prison Paul’s supreme interest was not to get himself out of prison, but to get the gospel out while he was in bonds (see Col. 4:3-4), being assured that he was exactly where God wanted him, for in reality he was Christ’s prisoner, not Rome’s (see Eph. 3:1). If others waxed bold to preach Christ because he was in chains, in this he rejoiced, even when the message of saving grace was proclaimed out of envy and strife instead of love (see Phil. 1:15-18).

It is readily recognized that Paul’s ministry was unique (see Acts 9:15-16). There was only one Apostle Paul. Nevertheless, like the beloved Apostle, every true Christian has a definite responsibility to make the gospel known. But are we really ambitious to diligently fulfill our responsibility? Paul was particularly ambitious to preach the gospel where the Lord Jesus Christ had not been named. Thank God for those who, from generation to generation, have laid hold of the torch of the Apostle’s concentrated, consuming and costly ambition. Yet, not all of us can personally go to places where Christ has never been named, except as we do so by our prayers, gifts and any other resources open to us. However, we all can and should go to people who have never really heard the gospel message, people living right in our own neighborhood. True, such are without excuse before God, but this does not excuse us from carrying out our sacred commission to “Go … preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15; see also Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). What the Lord Jesus Christ told the healed demoniac of Gadara to do He has commissioned each of us to do, and that is, “Go … TELL” (Mark 5:19).

In one of his many writings Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse relates the account of an uneducated miner in Scotland who began to preach with great power among his fellow workmen. Soon his witness took him far beyond the confines of the mining towns. Someone asked him how he had received his call to preach. He replied, “Oh, I had such a burden on my soul for those who did not know the gospel, I argued with the Lord that I had no education and no gift. But He said to me, ‘Jamie, you know what the sickness is, don’t you?’ I answered, ‘Yes Lord, the sickness is sin.’ ‘And you know what the remedy is, don’t you Jamie’ I answered, ‘Yes, Lord, the remedy is the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And He said to me, ‘Jamie, just take the remedy to those who are sick.’ That is my call to preach.” This is God’s call to every believer (“Broadcast Notes,” Vol 2, No. 5, p. 5).

“O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
To tell to all the world that God is light!
That He who made all nations is not willing
One soul should perish, lost in shades of night.

“Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace,
Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

“Behold how many thousands still are lying
Bound in the darksome prison house of sin,
With none to tell them of the Saviour’s dying,
Or of the life He died for them to win.

“Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
That God, in whom they live and move, is Love:
Tell how He stooped to save His lost creation,
And died on earth that man might live above.

“Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;
And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.

“He comes again: O Zion, ere thou meet Him,
Make known to every heart His saving grace;
Let none whom He hath ransomed fail to greet Him,
Through thy neglect, unfit to see His face.”

—Mary A. Thomson

The second of the three New Testament passages centering upon the concept of ambition urges upon believers to be

Ambitious to Please the Lord

Writing to the Corinthian saints, the Apostle Paul said, “Wherefore we labour (make it our ambition), that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). As in Romans 15:20, the verb translated “we labour,” and conveying the Greek equivalent to ambition, is in the present tense. Here, Paul expresses that it is his continual holy ambition that, whether in the body or out of the body, he may be found “well-pleasing” or “acceptable” (see the following passages for the same word: Rom. 12:1-2; 14:18; Eph. 5:10; Phil. 4:18; Col. 3:20; Tit. 2:9; Heb. 13:21) to the Lord when He calls him to examination. In verse 10 Paul explains why we should make it our constant ambition to please the Lord, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

It is well and good to think about the rapture of the Church and the joyous possibility that we may be among that privileged number of believers who will be alive on the earth when Christ shall return to the air for His own (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). But so many of God’s people seem to lose sight of the fact that after the rapture we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give account, not of our sins, but of our service. If nothing else will motivate us to so live as to be approved by Him in that day, this sobering truth should.

Generally speaking, we all have a natural inclination to please ourselves. This is the bent of the old nature. However, all believers have a new nature, and not only a new nature but the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit within. He it is who enlightens and enables us to holiness of life, and as part of that holiness of life there is the important matter of being continually ambitious to please the Lord. Furthermore, it is the Spirit’s ministry to show us Christ who “pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3), and who could truly say concerning His voluntary and submissive relationship to the Father, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29).

If we have the smile of God upon our life and service, we need not be concerned about the frown of the world.

We come now to the third and final New Testament passage dealing with the subject of ambition. Though we have placed this passage last in our study, chronologically it stands first since it is found in the earliest of Paul’s letters, and in it the Apostle exhorts believers to be

Ambitious to Pursue Quietness

Having just exhorted the Thessalonian saints to “increase more and more” in divine love toward one another, Paul goes on to say, “And that ye study (be ambitious) to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thess. 4:11). Actually, the opening words of this verse, “study to be quiet,” present somewhat of a paradox, the idea being that of a restless striving after tranquility.

In their joint remarks on The Epistles to the Thessalonians, C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine have commented on this text, in part, as follows:

The ambition of the world lies along the path of emulation and strife toward the goal of personal distinction; this the child of God is to eschew, that he may lead a tranquil and quiet life (1 Tim. 2.2), and that in him Christ may be magnified (Phil. 1:20).

But though he may escape the excitements of social and political life, the Christian is exposed to the more subtle dangers of religious excitement always a chief hindrance to love of the brethren, for as fever prevents the due discharge of the functions of the body, so does excitement the healthy activities of the “spirit” (p. 124).

The word “quiet” means tranquility of mind (see Luke 14:4; 23:56; Acts 11:18). Alas, how few in this hurrying, hectic and harassing “jetomic age” really strive to be quiet! Many physical and spiritual ills existing among Christians would be cured if this precept were practised as it should be, but when selfish ambitions govern the life there can only be unrest. It is only when the Lord Jesus Christ is allowed complete control that there will be rest and the fulfillment of this exhortation to be ambitious to have no ambition of our own. The remainder of the verse reveals that such an ambition involves two things: the minding of our own business, and working with our own hands.

There was apparent restlessness among some of the Thessalonian saints because they foolishly believed that since the Lord’s return would be very soon there was no need to work. As a result, their idleness made them restless and their restlessness gave way to two things: meddling in other people’s affairs, and sponging off other Christians in the assembly. That Paul’s exhortations went virtually unheeded is indicated in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. The great purpose in the fulfillment of these exhortations in the lives of God’s people is that an honest or decent testimony might be exhibited before unbelievers. While Christians are admonished not to be conformed to the standards of the world, at the same time we must so live our lives in the world as to fulfill what unbelievers would reasonably expect of those professing to know Christ and be His followers. A godly life will exhibit to unbelievers the difference between idleness and diligence, confusion and order, sponging and honorable independence. All too often the truth is evil spoken of because of careless or indifferent Christians and, of course, because of those who say they are Christians and are not (see 2 Pet. 2:2).

Here, then, is what the New Testament reveals on the subject of ambition. Are you ambitious? Ambitious to preach the gospel, ambitious to please the Lord, ambitious to pursue quietness? How are you answering this question in your life?