Is Ambition Okay?

Is ambition godly? Here is a question I have struggled with throughout my public ministry. Starting out, my ambitions were selfish. I came to a point in ministry, 2018, where I gave up on all my ambitions and settled down. In 2019, doors started opening that had never been open to me before and I struggled to find the motivation to do what I thought God wanted. Well, at the end of 2020, I had an overwhelming excitement overtake me and an unexplained ambition indwell me that never had before. I decided to take a fresh look at the Scriptures concerning godly ambition. Is it okay for me to have such an intense drive to build what hasn’t yet been built? 

Romans 15:18-21

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written,

“They who had no news of Him shall see,

And they who have not heard shall understand.”

Paul’s calling (v. 18-19)

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; 

Ambition is not license for malcontent. Paul, here, establishes the baseline for his work—the gospel of Jesus Christ. He recognizes that all the work he is able to do and everything for which he otherwise might boast has been accomplished by Christ even though he is the one working—which is why he finds reason for boasting (v. 17). Christ’s work through Paul is the thing which results in the obedience of the Gentiles, to whom Paul was made a missionary (cf. Acts 9:15). By Christ’s work through Paul, the Gentiles were becoming obedient by their words and deeds and in the power of signs and wonders that were being done through them by the power Holy Spirit.

Anti-ambitionism is, then, unbiblical. Those who are called by God are called for a purpose and given a job in Christ’s kingdom so that, through them, Christ’s church may be built up. Christ and the Holy Spirit are accomplishing the work through those Christ has effectually called. We will not all be career missionaries and church planters like Paul, but every person has his or her place in the kingdom. We live according to our individual callings in Christ.

…so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

By the command of Christ and movement of the Holy Spirit, Paul was fulfilling the Great Commission, preaching to the whole world from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum. Such is his calling as God’s apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is content in his specific calling. So, biblical ambition is not selfish ambition. Instead, biblical ambition pushes each one to pursue God’s specific calling—according to the gifts God has given and circumstances God has created around each one.

Paul’s ambition (v. 20)

And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation…

Ambition follows calling. Christ called Paul for a specific purpose. Paul operates by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul aspires, or makes it his ambition, to preach the Gospel to those who have not yet heard it. His ambition is to fulfill the calling of God on his life. Christ did not call Paul to pastor a church for a long time. He did not call Paul to build a large audience for himself. He did not call Paul to the preaching circuit. He called Paul as a life-long career missionary, laying local church foundations for others to build on. Because God called him so, Paul dedicates his entire self to that by making it his ambition.

Paul’s vision (v. 21)

…but as it is written,
“They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard shall understand.”

Ambition is not a license for self-promotion or workaholism. Paul quotes Isaiah 52:15, showing that the work Christ was accomplishing through him is the work God was interested in doing—closing the mouths of the nations and causing them to understand Him according to His own revelation. If my vision is to advance my own ministry, career, or status, my ambition is ungodly. If my vision is to advance God’s work through the Gospel, my ambition is godly and biblical.

If we are passionate about the Gospel, we will have godly ambition. Our ambition, though, will not be self-promoting. Christ will build His church through His workmen. So we:

  1. work hard,
  2. take calculated risks,
  3. don’t fear failure,
  4. do big things, and
  5. pursue God’s vision for His world.

We do not:

  1. grow discontent,
  2. stay complacent,
  3. do more than we are called to do,
  4. promote self,
  5. become workaholics, or
  6. pursue our own visions for God’s world.

…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

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