Our Highest Ambition

Words carry connotations. The particular use of a term can cast a positive or negative light. Paul’s extensive negative use of the word “flesh” (sarx) creates a certain tone around the word, when in fact, our flesh is not always a bad thing. It may simply refer to the body, or functions of the body, without any moral reference.

Another word that may fall into this category is the English word “ambition”.   Ambition has always had a bad reputation. The noble Puritan writer Thomas Brooks wrote, “Ambition is a gilded misery, a secret poison, a hidden plague, the engineer of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy, the original of vices, the moth of holiness, the blinder of hearts, turning medicines into maladies and remedies into diseases. High seats are never but uneasy, and crowns are always stuffed with thorns” (cited in John Blanchard, Truth for Life [Welwyn: Evangelical Press, 1986], 179).

  • Certainly we can recognize that blind ambition causes people to compromise their convictions, violate their beliefs, and sacrifice their character. Ambition is often associated with words like “unscrupulous,” “self-centered,” “proud,” “driven,” “insensitive,” and “ruthless.”
  • The English word “ambition” derives from the Latin word ambitio, which comes from a verb that literally means, “to go around.” The word was used by the Romans to refer to politicians who went around canvasing for votes to get themselves elected. It was used to describe those with no convictions, who sought promotion at any cost, doing anything to achieve selfish ends. Thus, to describe someone as ambitious was to comment on his or her character in a decidedly negative way.
  • Expressing that negative connotation of ambition, Stephen Neill said, “I am inclined to think that ambition in any ordinary sense of the term is nearly always sinful in ordinary men. I am certain that in the Christian it is always sinful, and that it is most inexcusable of all in the ordained minister” (cited in J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, rev. ed. [Chicago: Moody, 1980], 14)
  • Philippians 2:33 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

I.    The Highest Ambition: However the Christian is called to be ambitious in a positive sense. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. What Paul describes here is certainly a legitimate ambition.

A.  The NKJV uses the word “aim” and NIV says “goal”.  In the Greek it is a compound word (love + honor) that means to “act from a love of honor”. Strong adds the comment that it means to be “eager or earnest to do something” – makes me think of the stories my uncle told of young men who left school and even their homes to enlist in the army in WW2 to defend their country.  They rose to act from a noble purpose. What is this noble purpose?

B.  “To be pleasing to Him” – Lenski paraphrases vs. 9 as “We love it as a point of honor , ever to be well-pleasing  to the Lord – not only to do what He says, but to have him take pleasure in us and in all we do.”

1.  This simple aim is foundational to the scheme of faithfulness. How much do you want to please God? There are few of us would acknowledge that we want to displease Him. Things are better if God is happy. But is it your highest aim?

a.  King Saul served God with some ambition. When the Philistines threatened, he wanted to seek God’s help through sacrifice. But when Samuel, the priest, delayed coming to Gilgal, Saul disobeyed the clear command of God and offered the sacrifice himself. He told Samuel he felt compelled to disobey (1 Sam 13:12). In fact. Obeying God’s command was not his highest goal.  Later Saul refused to destroy all the Amalakites according to God’s instructions. When confronted, he told Samuel that he had obeyed the voice of God. Samuel’s response:   1 Sam 15:22-23Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”

b.  The Christian is made complete in order to please God in all things:  Heb 13:20-21 – Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (NKJ) The Christian has no greater goal in life than to be pleasing to God. – This purpose transcends all other aspirations.

2.  This “aim” is all-encompassing. It must involve every part of our lives – without compromise. Col 3:17And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Jesus’ aim was tested with increasing intensity. He was tempted to not see it through to the end – and he realized that the disciple’s faith would be tested in the same way – Mark 14:38“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.” So often we compromise on this goal – I want to please God, but… (I would lose my job, I love her & she loves me, I’ve lived this way for so long..etc)

3.  It is a matter of deliberate choice – It requires settled convictions based on knowing God’s will. We must learn to discern what is right & wrong. Phil 1:9-11 “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” We must recognize that we will not accidently please God.

a.  Jesus as our example – John 4:31-35 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! (NKJ)

II.   The Clearest Motive:  “– Paul justifies his choice of purposes by referencing the coming judgment of God. 2 Cor. 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”. The purpose of our lives is also found in our own accountability – Accountability toward God. We are motivated to be pleasing to Him, because He holds us accountable for how we live.

A.  The term “judgment seat” means a tribunal or judicial bench.  We will all appear before Christ to be judged. Jesus stated in John 5:26-29 “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice “and come forth– those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

1. The word “appear” in 2 Cor. 5:10 means to reveal or make known. This references not only our personal appearing (no one will be absent from this appointment) but also all the truth about us that will be brought into the open when we stand before this judgment seat.  Nothing will be hidden. Heb 4:13 – 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. There will be no favoritism, but everyone will judged by the same standard. Albert Barnes says  “The good will have no wish to escape the trial; the evil will not be able.”

2.  Christ will judge us according to what we have “done in the body”, or in this life. Paul’s use of this terminology may have been to counter the popular idea at that time that what was done in the body could not taint a person’s inner spirit. This heresy is also seen in the view that a person’s intentions or belief is all that matters.

3.  But Paul’s statement certainly tells us that this life is all we have (while we are in this body) and then comes the judgment. Heb 9:27 – 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

4. We will receive according to what we have done, whether good or bad. There is an inherent morality in our choices. What you do is good or bad. The right of Jesus to judge us in the end implies His sovereignty over the matter of right and wrong now. His word is the final word on what is right and wrong.

Conclusion: That then is the purpose for which we live – our aim is to be able to appear comfortably before Him, and thereby bring glory to His name.  2 Pet. 3:10-12 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?”

  • Who can stand before the judgment of God?  Rom 3:10 – 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous , no, not one; Without Christ’s sacrifice I could never have this hope.
  • But because Of Christ I can have a true purpose to my life. I can be well pleasing to God. Matt 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to Me,’Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
  • He has shown me the way in His own life of obedience and covered my failures in His death.  “He that believes and is baptized will be saved”