The right ambition

2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

The Amplified Bible says it like this: We are constantly ambitious and strive earnestly to be pleasing to him.

What does it mean to be ambitious? Here are some dictionary definitions:

Having a desire to be successful, powerful, or famous.

Having a desire to achieve a particular goal

There was a time in my life when I was very ambitious in my career. I worked extra hours and took on new responsibilities. I took on hard projects and learned new things that made me more valuable to the company. I disregarded normal activities that I enjoyed because there wasn’t time for them if I was going to be devoted to work responsibilities. I would work until I was physically exhausted.

Many people have had this same experience in their work life. But how many of us have had this experience in our spiritual life?

Rarely have I pushed myself this hard in the things of God. It’s been more common for me to go to sleep then to stay up late and pray. To indulge my appetite rather than fast. To zoom through my Bible reading rather than digging in and studying to learn something new, to receive some new revelation of the glory of God.

Being ambitious has gotten a bad reputation because we often find ambition in connection with selfish and self-promoting things. But the word of God commends it when it’s directly rightly.

Beloved, let’s be ambitious in our pursuit of God and our desire to please Him in all things. Admittedly, it can sometimes be very difficult to deny ourselves the things our soul and flesh desire. But once we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good those other things will lose their savor and our ambitious pursuit of Him will be fueled by the expectation that we will taste and see even more.

No ambition but Christ

1 Samuel 23:16-17  “And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.  And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.”
This is an amazing passage.  Jonathan should have been the next king.  Certainly he had been raised with this expectation and trained to fill that position after his father Saul.  Yet he was aware who God had chosen for that role and it wasn’t him; and that was okay.  He was able to see the bigger picture – who God had chosen and anointed.  He didn’t feel threatened.  He knew that he would be near the king and that was enough for him.
Saul on the other hand, although he also knew God had chosen David to be king, was tireless in his efforts to hunt down and kill David.
I have heard a term used for what there seems to be so much of in the church these days – “spiritualized ambition”.  So many people are waiting for their world wide ministry to materialize.  Not content with the ordinariness of now, we waste today by always looking off into the dreamed of tomorrow.  Oh that we would turn our focus on what is truly important – not our ministry, but our King – Jesus.  Whatever our role is to be in serving Him on this earth, it is enough that we shall be next to Him.

Selfish Ambition and Vain Conceit

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Philippians 2:3

My study of Philippians today included this verse.  Of particular interest to me was that the word “Do” was not in the original Greek, but was supplied by the translators.  Several commentaries agreed that in keeping with the context of the verses before and after, it would probably be more accurate to have supplied the word “Think”.  This certainly increases the intensity of the verse, extending it beyond our actions and into our thought life.

The following passage is from the Albert Barnes commentary.  See if you can read through it without seeing yourself.  I couldn’t.

The idea seems to be that of mere self-esteem; a mere desire to honor ourselves, to attract attention, to win praise, to make ourselves uppermost, or foremost, or the main object. The command here solemnly forbids our doing anything with such an aim – no matter whether it be in intellectual attainments, in physical strength, in skill in music, in eloquence or song, in dress, furniture, or religion. Self is not to be foremost; selfishness is not to be the motive. Probably there is no command of the Bible which would have a wider sweep than this, or would touch on more points of human conduct, if fairly applied. Who is there who passes a single day without, in some respect, desiring to display himself? What minister of the gospel preaches, who never has any wish to exhibit his talents, eloquence, or learning? How few make a gesture, but with some wish to display the grace or power with which it is done! Who, in conversation, is always free from a desire to show his wit, or his power in argumentation, or his skill in repartee? Who plays at the piano without the desire of commendation? Who thunders in the senate, or goes to the field of battle; who builds a house, or purchases an article of apparel; who writes a book, or performs a deed of benevolence, altogether uninfluenced by this desire? If all could be taken out of human conduct which is performed merely from “strife,” or from “vain-glory,” how small a portion would be left!