Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement International, well-known lecturer and conference speaker, and author of over sixty books. In this brief study on the word “ambition” in the Greek XT., we are reminded of what the ultimate test of a man’s life really is.
Until the present century, it was comparatively rare for parents to consult their children about the latter’s future. Unless they were fortunate enough to have the opportunity of further education, as soon as they were old enough, they normally followed the path trodden by, their parents. If the father was a miner, the son usually became one too; if he was a sailor, the son also went to sea. If the mother had been a shop assistant, a mill worker or a clerk, her daughter usually followed the same course.
It is only within the last few decades that it seems to have been realized that young people are individuals and have a right to have their own views taken into account. Out of this has sprung the idea of careers masters and mistresses, vocational guidance centers, etc.
Regard is now paid to the qualifications, ability and special aptitude of individuals, so that they may be guided into the profession or industry in which they can be most effective and find the greatest satisfaction. In most cases the object is the securing of a post in which any special ability can be used most profitably or, in other words, where the financial reward will be greatest, or the possibilities of advancement seem greatest.
Quite early in life, young people decide how their sails are going to be trimmed and the course they are going to set. There is nothing wrong in principle in this. Ambition is a perfectly natural, instinct, but the character and motivation of the ambition does need consideration. Wolsey was justified, for example, in counselling Henry VIII to “fling away ambition; by that sin fell the angels.”
Ambition is essentially a desire to achieve. It may be directed at the securing of a certain income, or the attainment of a certain status, or the achieving of some success which others have failed to gain. However legitimate such ambitions may be the Christian cannot ignore the fact that life is lived on two levels and that the spiritual nature also demands satisfaction (Matthew 4:4). Nor can he lose sight of the repeated injunctions of the New Testament that his aim in business should be to please God rather than men (Ephesians 6:5-7; Colossians 3:22-24).
The word ambition is used three times in the Greek New Testament, the occurrences covering the main facets of the Christian life.
The Guiding Principle
In describing the life which pleases God, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonian Christians to make it their ambition to live quietly or calmly, to mind their own affairs and to work for their own living, and not to be dependent on others (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Here surely was the guiding principle for life.
The apostle’s teaching was in complete conformity with the general principles of Scripture. The modern welfare state has rendered it unprofitable, in certain circumstances, for a man to work. If he has enough children, he may receive more from social security payments than he would receive as wages for working. Without any real incentive, he may decide that there is no point in working. This is entirely foreign to Biblical teaching. The Biblical view is that, if a man will not work, he is not entitled to eat.
The injunction to mind their own affairs is also a pertinent one for today. Observance of it might save a lot of trouble.
To live quietly or calmly is set out as the ideal for the Christian. This should be his ambition — not disturbed by current circumstances or by the difficulties and perplexities which are always present, but in peaceful calm, knowing that his times are in the hand of God.
As he concluded his masterly exposition of the gospel in the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul declared that he had made it his ambition to preach the gospel where Christ had not already been named, so that he did not build on another man’s foundation (Romans 15:21). He was not concerned with those to whom the gospel had been repeatedly preached, but with those who had never heard it. For this he was prepared to sacrifice everything. A burning passion for souls had seized him and he saw the need of those in darkness.
The true believer in Christ is imbued with the same spirit. His desire is not to be immersed in a lifeless formality but to reach out to others who have never realized the claims of Christ. It is easy to sit as a passive church member in a comfortable pew, but that will not reach the unconverted man in the street. Is this our ambition?
In the light of the judgment seat of Christ, when life is to be assessed and rewards bestowed on the basis of the assessment, the apostle declared that it was his ambition to be accepted of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9). This seems to have coloured the whole of his thinking: it was his philosophy of life. He did not seek the approbation of men, but was concerned only with the final evaluation by his Master. He counted everything else as worthless. His only desire was to be found well-pleasing to his Lord.
This is the ultimate test of a man’s life—not the position he has attained, the honors he has accrued, the wealth he has acquired, but the value of his life to Christ. To be accepted of Him far outweighs all the advantages which life can offer.