There is one final turn that ambition takes, and it is a beautiful one. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul wrote, Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
Now, don’t misread that. He is not saying that only being an overseer/elder/pastor is a noble task. That would be to deny the good roles that the Bible gives to all manner of occupations. Compassion, creativity, generosity, justice – they are all blessings which Christians at work can unlock for their colleagues and a wider society, with the additional blessing that they can account for why such things are good, and where they come from, and how we use them for God’s glory. We are all to be ambitious for that: So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:9-10).
But here, Paul addresses the internal experience of someone wondering about being a Christian leader – in fact, let’s expand the idea of a local church leader to include working as a missionary, or as an evangelist on a university campus, or any one of hundreds of similar roles. How do I know if God wants me to do that? And is it wrong to want to do that?
Sometimes Christians talk about a ‘call’ to some kind of Christian work, and while I think I know what they mean, it is a misleading phrase. It brings to mind something like Paul’s conversion, or Samuel’s commissioning to be a prophet, which were experiences of the audible voice of God, which even other people could overhear. That is not what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy, and in reality is not something the New Testament holds up as our norm at all.
Rather than trying to ‘hear’ God’s ‘call’, whether externally or internally, Paul says, look at the way God has made you. Do you have a passion to see the lost found, and the found built up? Do you have a desire to see the gospel understood, churches planted, men and women converted, children growing in their faith, and for you to be playing a part in that for the rest of your life? Do you treasure your time in God’s Word, and love to see it opened among his people so they are dazzled by his wonder? Then you’ve identified what he means to aspire and desire this noble task.
But take care. If what you really want is to see your name on conference platforms, on the cover of bestselling books, with hundreds, or even thousands, listening to your sermons – forget it. That’s uncrucified ambition right there. The desire to make a name for yourself in Christian ministry; to build the church of St Babel, the church of St Me. The litmus test is to ask, am I so ambitious for Christ that I am willing to give myself, entirely, for life, to work unseen, unknown, unrecognised except for his approval on the last day?
Welcome to the noble task.
- Do you recognise that deep desire in yourself? What do other people say about you?
- Do you recognise uncrucifed ambition in yourself? What do you intend to do about that?
I wrote about the work of an elder/pastor/overseer/minister in The Message of the Church (Bible Speaks Today)
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