Ambition | Part 4: Stoking Godly Ambition
Topic: Topical Passage: 2 Corinthians 3:18
Ambition | Part 3: Stoking Godly Ambition
Becoming Like Jesus
I hope that by now you have a good idea of what selfish ambition is and looks like. But what is godly ambition and what does it look like? Is there even such a thing as godly ambition? Well yes, there is such a thing as godly ambition. We saw that in Romans 2:7. And we’ve talked about the fact that godly ambition sees God as ultimately glorious, worships Him alone, and seeks to get as close to Him as possible. But the big question that we have left to answer is this: “In what way does godly ambition seek to share in God’s glory?” Certainly not like Satan or Eve, as a rival to God’s glory!
Godly ambition seeks to share in Christ’s glory by becoming like Jesus.
For the Christian, there are two steps in the process of becoming like Jesus: sanctification and glorification. Let’s talk first about sanctification.
1. Sanctification is the Gradual Process by which Believers become more like Christ in this Life.
Paul describes this process in 2 Corinthians 3:18. He says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Notice how this passage brings in our three themes about the pursuit of glory. 1) “We worship what we perceive to be glorious”–in this case, Christ. 2) “We seek to get as close to the glory as possible”–for instance, by reading God’s Word. 3) “We desire to share in the glory that we worship.” Paul says that we share in Christ’s glory a little at a time as the Spirit transforms us into Christ’s image. That is sanctification.
Does that thrill you? It should! We must not lose sight of the beauty of sanctification! God is changing you into Christ’s image! But of course, we have a part to play in that process, don’t we? Paul told the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”–Philippians 2:12-13. We are to pursue holiness, to strive for Christlikeness! But what could be a noble ambition! I mean, what would you rather do or accomplish than becoming like Jesus?
But of course, we will never be completely Christlike in this life, so that is where the second step comes in.
2. Glorification Is where Christians Receive their Perfect, Sinless Bodies.
Listen to how Paul describes this even in Romans 8:16-18.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
We are going to be glorified together with Christ! We will finally be without sin, and we will have a resurrection body, just like His! I ask you again, does that thrill you? It should! Our bodies are so weak and decrepit compared to what we will be! And imagine being totally sinless! The book of Daniel says that we will shine “like the stars forever and ever”! The way that theologians have described it throughout the centuries is that we will be so glorious, even the angels will marvel! However, the greatest thing about glorification is that we will be perfectly fitted to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” without sin or our current physical limitations getting in the way. What higher ambition could there be?
So what does it mean to have godly ambition? It means that you see God as ultimately glorious, worship Him, and seek to get as close to Him as possible. Also it means that you seek to share in God’s glory by becoming like Jesus. But again, maybe that’s too conceptual for you. If so, then here are some symptoms of godly ambition.
Symptoms of Godly Ambition
1. A Desire to Please God | 2 Corinthians 5:9
2 Corinthians 5:9 is one of three explicit references to godly ambition in the NT. Listen to what Paul says.
“Therefore we make it our aim [or “ambition”], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”
How many times a day does pleasing God enter into your thinking? Paul says that he makes it his ambition to be always pleasing to God. That is what he dreams and strategizes about. That is what he works for. Do you grieve when you know that you have displeased God? How many times have you lain awake in bed at night wrestling with the question, “How can I please God more?” or “How can I please Him in this particular situation?”
2. Humility | Mark 10:35-45; Philippians 2:4-11
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They said to Him, “We are able.”
So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”
And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
James and John are very ambitious, aren’t they? They want the two places of highest honor when Jesus reigns in His glory! So how does Jesus respond? Does He scold them and say, “You shouldn’t be seeking that kind of a thing!” No! Amazingly, Christ doesn’t damp down their ambition! Instead, He refocuses it. What does true greatness look like, according to this passage? It looks like humble suffering. And Jesus is the example.
Another beautiful picture of the humility of Christ is found in Philippians 2:4-11.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Notice that vv. 9-11 of this passage describe the glorification of Jesus after His death on the cross. And remember, we will be glorified, too (though not in this same way, of course). But what is the path to glorification, according to this passage? The path is humble, self-sacrificial service!
I love the picture on the front of this book because I think it summarizes this aspect of godly ambition so well! Any fool can climb up the ladder. But godly ambition climbs down!
Is your life marked by humble, self-sacrificial service?
3. Contentment | 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
1 Thessalonians 4:11 is the second explicit reference to godly ambition in the NT. And it is a brilliant use of irony! Listen to what Paul says.
“But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”
One commentator calls Paul’s use of the word “ambition” in this passage “a splendid oxymoron.” In this passage, Paul is appealing to people who seem to be very ambitious, but their ambitions are carrying them in a wrong direction. So he’s using the word “ambition” to point them to pursuits that although sometimes underappreciated, are far more valuable than the things they are currently pursuing. He’s pointing them to the kinds of things nobody has ambition for. “‘Live a quiet life’? ‘Mind my own business’? That sounds like the opposite of ambition! But in reality, which is easier–to toot your own horn and be a busybody, or to be modest and work hard? So Paul says, “Why don’t you aspire to do something truly difficult? I challenge you to live a quiet, godly, selfless life!”
We must never underestimate the impact that a simple, unassuming, hard-working life can make. And we must value contentment.
4. Zeal for the Great Commission | Romans 15:20
This is the third and final reference to godly ambition in the NT. Listen to what Paul says.
“And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation…”
In this passage, Paul is describing his commitment to pioneer church planting. He says in the previous verse, “so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ”–not that he had preached the gospel to everyone living in that area, but that he had established churches in key locations throughout that whole region. Romans 15 is also the chapter in which Paul mentions his desire to go to Spain. So you could say that Paul’s passion was for unreached people groups. He wanted to establish churches that would serve as outposts for the gospel in places without a gospel witness.
Of course, Paul was just living out the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” But the question I have for you is why did Paul do it? What was his motivation? Was it a desire for wealth, fame, and power? How do you know?
Consider this: if Paul was after wealth, fame, and power, where would he go? I guess I don’t know for sure, but I would think he would go to the established big city churches, like those in Jerusalem and Antioch, where the Jewish believers would appreciate his extensive knowledge of the OT, and where he was likely to get more accolades and perhaps financial support! But Paul didn’t go to those places, did he? Oh, he stopped in to those places from time to time. But Paul spent most of his time travelling with just a few companions preaching the gospel to people who had never heard it before and discipling new believers.
So why did Paul do what He did? Because he loved God and people! And that being the case, he willingly sacrificed in order to advance the gospel.
What about you? Do you have a zeal for the Great Commission? Do you have a zeal for the spread of the gospel in your city or your neighborhood?
I love the third verse of the hymn, “Facing a Task Unfinished,” written by a worker with China Inland Mission, which was the mission started by Hudson Taylor. The hymn was written during a time of great persecution in China.
“We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers”
Are you fired by that ambition? I recently heard about some churches in China that were raided by the police. A pastor was taken to jail but later released with a severe warning. All of the church’s property was confiscated, and the names of all of those present were recorded. Would you continue to serve God in a context such as that? Christians have been doing so for the past two thousand years. It is one of the markers of godly ambition.
5. An Eternal Perspective | Hebrews 11:6
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
One of my favorite passages about maintaining an eternal perspective is Hebrews 11. What kind of rewards were the heroes of Hebrews 11 looking for? Was it earthly rewards? Drop down to vv. 8-10.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Abraham endured because he was waiting for a particular city. What city was he waiting for? Heaven! The New Jerusalem! Now, I don’t know how Abraham knew about that or how much he knew, but the Bible says he knew. It was clear to Abraham that human history was progressing toward a time when God would restore His creation and His people would live together in a beautiful city. And Abraham fully expected to be a part of that. Now drop down to v. 13.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
[Face plant illustration]
Is that what happened to these men and women? They put their faith in God… and face-planted? They died and never received the promises? Is that what v. 12 is saying? No! It’s just that the promises that they were waiting for were future. They were “not yet.” In fact, they still haven’t been realized!
You see, there are lots of people who are willing to put up with a little bit of pain now in order to experience lots of pleasure later in this life. But there are very few people who are willing to experience pain all throughout this life in order to experience pleasure in heaven. But that is what godly ambition does!
The men and women of faith described in Hebrews 11 obeyed and sacrificed in this life because from the bottom of their hearts, they believed that it was worth it. They did not recklessly throw away their lives. They very deliberately invested their lives, fully expecting to reap dividends in heaven.
6. Zeal for God’s Glory | Matthew 6:9
“In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.”
Do you care whether God gets the glory He deserves in the world at large, or are you content as long as you’re basically pleasing Him in your own little world? You say, “Pastor Kris, I can’t control what’s going on out there!” You’re right, you can’t control it, but you can pray about it to the One who controls all things. But if you’re truly zealous for God’s glory, you’ll do more than pray about it. You’ll defend His honor every chance you get. You’ll also praise Him as loudly and publicly as you possibly can! David said, “I will praise You, O Lord among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And Your truth unto the clouds” (Ps 57:9-10). David was zealous for God’s glory! He said, “I hope the Gentiles to hear me praise You because your mercy and truth are out of this world!” David’s zeal for God’s glory was what motivated him to go and fight Goliath! His was righteously angry that Goliath would dare to blaspheme God! Brothers and sisters, we need to be outspoken in the praise of our God!
Zeal for God’s glory is the highest motivation for evangelism. In his hymn, “For the Sake of His Name,” Chris Anderson said it this way.
“Go to the world for the sake of His name;
To every nation His glory proclaim.
Pray that the Spirit wise
Will open darkened eyes,
Granting new life to display Jesus’ fame.
In Jesus’ power, preach Christ to the lost;
For Jesus’ glory, count all else but loss.
Gather from every place
Trophies of sovereign grace.
Lest life be wasted, exalt Jesus’ cross.”
One of the symptoms of godly ambition is a zeal for God’s glory.
7. Love for God’s Church
We’re not going to go to a specific passage for this one, but it is written out all over the New Testament, especially from Acts to Revelation! When we were going through 1 Thessalonians 1-3, we saw Paul’s love for that church leaking out all over the place! Paul loved those people! But he didn’t even just love the people, he loved the church!
We have to remember that when Paul entered a new city, he didn’t just do evangelism; he planted churches. In the same way, when Paul wrote a letter, he wasn’t just after the spiritual well-being of individual Christians; he was after healthy churches!
Sadly, many Christians today want to downplay the significance of the local church. They think that they can be committed to some other Christian organization, like a camp or a school instead of a local church. Or maybe their church attendance is inconsistent, and they don’t really get involved. Maybe they try to substitute live streams and podcasts for their own physical attendance in a building. Maybe they don’t give generously and consistently. Maybe they are more committed to their favorite celebrity pastor than they are to the pastor of their own local church! All of these tendencies in our generation greatly weaken the testimony and effectiveness of the local church!
Do you love the church?
My favorite author outside of the Bible is C.S. Lewis. And one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis is this one from his book, The Weight of Glory.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
When Lewis examined mankind’s pursuits of glory, he concluded that the problem is not that our ambitions are too high; it’s that they are too low. It’s not that our desires are too strong; it’s that they are too weak.
How about you? Have you been fooling about with selfish ambitions when God has laid out for you something of infinitely more value? Are your desires far to weak? Let’s be ambitious for the most important thing–Christlikeness.
More in Ambition
July 21, 2019Ambition | Part 3: Practical Reasons to Forsake Selfish Ambition
July 7, 2019Ambition | Part 2: Symptoms of Selfish Ambition
June 30, 2019Ambition | Part 1: Defining Ambition