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It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known. (Romans 15:20, NIV)

Is it wrong to be ambitious?

Ambition is defined in my Apple Dictionary as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work; a desire and determination to achieve success.”  We all know its pull: the ambition of the athlete to win, the business person to maximise profit, or the politician to become prime minister.  It is a formidable driver of human behaviour.

And the truth is that everywhere we see its ugly side: it was “vaulting ambition” which drove Shakespeare’s Macbeth to murder King Duncan; both in national politics and the politics of the workplace we experience the ruthless individual who will trample on others, or flatter, or lie, or cheat, in order to gain the top spot.

It can creep into churches, too, and so Paul tells the Philippian Christians that they should Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3).  James warns us that where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16).  Moreover, we are aware, if we read the Bible, how many warnings there are against idolatry: putting other things in the place of God.  We can set up idols in our hearts.  So isn’t ambition always wrong?

The answer is that ambition itself is not the problem: it’s what we’re ambitious for.  You’ll note that the kind of ambition Paul and James speak against is selfish ambition.  But there is such a thing as godly ambition.  If my ambition is for God’s interests, then that is a glorious thing!  In fact, it is something we should positively encourage in ourselves, given that our ambitions influence us so much.

This is the way the Apostle Paul thought, as he told the Roman Christians in the part of his letter to them quoted above.   It was this ambition which drove him to travel as he did, and which sustained him through imprisonment, riots, beatings, shipwrecks and more, as we read about in the book of Acts.  It was this ambition which led him to live such a useful life, and which meant he didn’t just waste it in complacency.

Ambition of this kind suggests that a person is gripped by a strong desire to please God, which drives and informs all they do.  Not for them the cool complacency that just accepts the status quo, or waits for a bolt from the blue to do anything about it.  No, rather, they burn with longing for God’s glory.  This is the ambition that says, “My utmost for His highest”.  This is the ambition of the kind of useful Christian who’s a self-starter, and who gets on (with others) usefully serving Jesus.

Oh, for more ambition like that!

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