by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Managing Editor
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. 1 Thessalonians 1:11, NAS
Be honest; read today's verse and then try telling your children that such is all they should aspire to; that, essentially, unheralded, nose-down, mouth-shut, blue collar work should be their ambition. Aim high? Sounds more like settling for anonymity.
What could Paul be getting at? Sure there are times we all grow tired of the rat race and perhaps dream about a scenario where we forsake the city and a high-pressure job for a more pastoral setting, crafting furniture and knick-knacks, living in harmony with nature and all that. Is that what this verse is suggesting?
Let's look deeper.
The Greek word philotim means to labor, endeavor, strive, study to become. It is used in three places in the New Testament. The first is quoted above, regarding ambition, which we’ve already noted sounds not much like what we typically imagine when we think of things about which to aspire.
Another place the word appears is Romans 15:20, where Paul writes, "And thus I aspired to preach the gospel..."
And in 2 Corinthians 2:9 we read, "We have as our ambition... to be pleasing to Him."
Now let’s contrast these goals with the first definition under "ambition" on Dictionary.com:
1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.
I thought so. The more I study, the more I philotim to know God, the more I understand how different the Word and the world really are. Perhaps folks who live in other parts of the globe are less shocked to learn such lessons. For me, born, raised, working, and raising children in these United States, the lesson is always one of dichotomy, paradox, and sadly wondering if I'm handicapped beyond repair from truly following.
One of my bosses is fond of saying that in business, it's crucial to determine early on whether a person you are dealing with is a "make me rich" or a "make me famous" person. Everyone, the story goes, is either one or the other at heart. And truly, according to the world's definition of ambition, that makes sense. We all have something we want that drives us.
Lately I've been wondering a lot at where this has gotten me. Everything I have done, accomplished, purposed, learned, studied (i.e. "philotim-ed") in life has led to... what, exactly? What goal? When I pray that the Lord would make my life useful and provide for me and let me know His will and keep me safe it's all so... what? So I can watch my TV programs every night without acid in my stomach and with an easy feeling in my chest? As opposed to having to really live by faith?
Today I read this quote by the English poet Samuel Johnson: "To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition." Instantly my face fell. I knew that feeling all too well. All my aspirations only lead to the place of comfort, happiness, the path of least resistance. What's wrong with that? It quickly becomes a place that feels too far from God, too self-centered, too out of the loop, too air conditioned… too far removed to be making a real difference.
So then, what is the ambition of the Christ-follower? Let’s recap from the verses we’ve looked at today:
- Lead a quiet life
- Attend to your own business
- Work with your hands
- Preach the gospel
- Be pleasing to Him
In other words, don't stress yourself with fame, or getting and spending, always climbing, making more more more. Don't bother with being a busy-body or a gossip. Be creative; let God work through you. Tell others about Him. And live by faith.
It's so simple, almost too simple. Ambition isn't something far out there, some unabashed worldly success beyond our dreams, though that's where God may take us. It all goes back to the very reason God made man in the first place - to have someone to know Him.
And there's just not anything quaint about that.
Intersecting Faith & Life: The bulleted points above might sound too easy, too simple. And they can be. But when was the last time you made any or all of these your ambition? Pick one and practice it today, perhaps preaching the gospel to someone, perhaps seeking God's pleasure more than your own in any decisions you make.