Ambition written backwards

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06/04/2016 by Chris Green

What is the alternative to such self-centred, rebellious ambition? Is there a way of rewriting ambition, so that it can appear in a God-centred, passionate, obedient way?

Yes.  Remember Diotrephes, who loved to be first? Adam and Eve who wanted to be like God?  The evil one’s grasping desire?  Now read these familiar words, but notice the introduction as you pass through:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death –

        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:1-11)

Now, no-one could say that Jesus had low goals, or a passive purpose!  But his way was a series of steps down, down, down, until the arc was remade by God’s resurrection power.

We need to see that clearly if we are to put our ambition in its right perspective.  Because it is easy to offer God a partial trade: ‘yes, I’m willing to take the steps down, down, down, provided I am also vindicated.’  But that’s not what God offers.  There will be vindication – but not till resurrection day. We are not promised honour until then.  Until that point, Christians in London, Houston, Moscow, Penang and Delhi, all have to walk down the stairway of humility.

Because our ambition is to see Jesus given his true glory:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

If you want to scour your heart, read that passage again, and this time replace Jesus’ name with your own.  Does that sting enough? Because of your heart sings when you read  that its about Jesus, and stings when it’s about you, then you’re ready to be truly ambitious.

What will it take to win the world for Christ? What will take to win Beijing, or Paris – or the town where you’re reading this words? What conversations need to happen, lives laid down, treasures given up, songs written, churches planted, resources unlocked, potential refocussed?  What plans need to be drawn up, lifestyles sacrificed, careers remade, money given over, nights spent in prayer – what will it take that so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord?

If you want to know what that looks like biblically, try one more contrast.  What motivated the builders of the Tower of Babel? Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ (Gen. 11:4).  Now compare their ambition with this: 

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand (Rom. 15:20-21)

Notice how the driving ambition is to bring glory to Christ – in Paul’s case, by primary evangelism among people who had never heard the Christian story. So whose names are glorified in those two contrasting stories? It’s very simple – ours, or Christ’s.

And the one will always fight the other until we give way.  That’s the price we’ll have to pay in order to be truly ambitious.  We get to die.

Process questions

  • Spend some time processing the contrasts between Diotrephes, the temptation in the Garden, and the Prince of Tyre on one hand, and Christ in Philippians 2 on the other.  What strikes you most?
  • Did it shock you to read your own name in Philippians 2? Why?
  • Try to be specific and ambitious as you answer this:  what will it take to win where you live, for Christ?
  • What space is there in your heart for making a name for yourself? How can you reduce that?

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