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A NOBLE AMBITION
by Philip Owen

 

Many an errant saint has been hoist on the petard of his own ambition. Ambition can be a positive force that motivates us to accomplish necessary and valuable tasks, but it can also be a harsh taskmaster that drives us to selfish and temporal ends. Little of value is done without some measure of ambition, but much by way of harm may be done through unrestrained or misdirected ambition. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul offers simple instructions providing saints with a proper focus for ambition. To put it another way, he gives us a failsafe measure to test whether our ambition is selfish and carnal or godly and spiritual. And though his specific frame of reference has to do with the ministries of prophesying, preaching, and teaching, his instruction remains a bellwether for all ambitions. With regard to ambition then, Paul says, “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Cor. 14:12).
 
The activity of ambition. “Seek,” Paul writes. And it will not surprise the ambitious to learn that the Greek tense Paul uses conveys the ideas of committing to a long term way of doing something or commanding to keep on doing an action in a habitual manner. The ambition that should motivate a believer is not to be one that blows hot and cold. It is not one that waxes and wanes depending upon the ease or difficulty required to fulfill it. This ambition is to be a constant driving force carrying us over the varying vicissitudesof life. There is to be an ongoing “search” and “hunt” for and “pursuit” of the object of this ambition. A generally self-centered life is not to be punctuated by occasional bursts of seeking; rather, a selfless life is to be characterized by continual seeking. And for what should we be seeking?  
 
The aim of ambition. “The edification of the church,” Paul declares. The ambition of all of us who know the Lord should be to edify our Christian brethren. “How can I be useful today?” “Who could use my help?” “Who is in need right now?” “What needs to be done that no one seems to be doing?” These and similar questions should be on our hearts and at the forefront of our minds. The ambition of some of us is to avoid devoting any more time and energy to the things of the Lord, the work of the church, the service of the saints as possible. But Paul says it ought not to be so. The building up of the church to the glory of God should be the engine that drives those whom Christ has redeemed. Paul wrote in a similar vein to the church at Rome: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (15:1-3). And to what degree should we pursue this ambition of edifying the saints?
 
The abounding of ambition. “That ye may excel,” Paul writes. Who wishes to be mediocre at anything? No one, if we do something, we want to do it well. And yet how frequently are we satisfied with mediocre service to the Lord, with unexceptional ministry to our Christian brethren? The word translated excel means to “superabound.” We are to be A+ students in the subject of Edifying the Brethren 101. The Lord does not ask for the leftovers of our time, the scraps of our ability, or the remnants of our energy. He calls upon us to seek to excel in edifying the brethren.  That is not a call to compare our service with what other brethren have given but with what we have received by grace from the Lord. And if we properly assess the wealth of that blessing, we will be prompted to give our all as a consequence of our gratitude and love. Nothing less is sufficient. But what richness of blessing will attend the lives of those who obey the Lord’s will with regard to ambition.

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