Summary: Is your ladder of success leaning against the wrong wall?
In the last message we examined the powerful admonition to maintain sexual purity even though we live in an X-rated culture. The next message from 1 Thessalonians will be from the familiar section predicting the second coming of Christ. But nestled between those two tall mountains of truth is a pleasant valley passage. Sometimes when we’re reading the Bible, we jump from peak to peak and skip over these scriptural valleys. But since I’m committed to teaching God’s Word verse by verse, we can’t ignore this important passage that speaks about having the right kind of ambition.
When we were kids we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My generation often answered, “A cowboy, a policeman, or a fireman.” I think the first answer I gave to that question was that I wanted to be a football player.
Kids today still have ambitions. A second-grade class was given an assignment of drawing a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl drew a picture of what appeared to be her mother dancing beside a pole with people holding out money toward her. She wrote: “When I grow up … I want to be just like mommy!” You can only imagine what the teacher thought. The next day, this student’s mother sent this note to the teacher: “Dear Ms. Jones, I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been an exotic dancer. I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out of every single snow shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who could get it. Her picture isn’t me dancing around a pole. It’s me selling the last snow shovel we had. From now on I will remember to check her homework more.”
There are many kinds of ambition. In this message we want to focus on what it means to have a holy ambition.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica about having a holy ambition. But there is a dark side to ambition. Webster’s dictionary defines ambition as “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.” There are plenty of self-help books written about ambition in the business world. Here are a few of the titles I found: Looking Out for Number One, Every Man is a King, Pushing to the Front, Climbing to the Top, How to be King of Your Hill, Fly to the Top of your Career Ladder.
That is ambition as the world sees it. But the Bible teaches that selfish ambition can be unfulfilling. There are many hard charging, dog-eat-dog, businessmen and women who spend all their adult lives scratching and clawing their way to the top of the ladder of success. Then they discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Here’s what Paul wrote about the wrong kind of ambition: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
But there is a wonderful kind of ambition that we can call holy ambition. What’s the difference? A selfish ambition is striving to do what YOU want to do. A holy ambition is striving to do what GOD wants you to do. But when you place your life under the Lordship of Jesus, you find that whatever God wants you to do, you want to do it too!
So, what do you want to be when you grow up…spiritually? Here are four good answers.
1. I want to expand my love for others
Paul wrote, “You do love all of God’s family…Yet we urge you… to do so more and more.” Paul loved these believers and they loved him. They had a reputation for loving other believers as well. Paul commended them for this, but he warned them not to be satisfied. He encouraged them to let their love grow deeper and wider.
The word Paul used here for love means “brotherly love.” Even if you can’t read Greek, you know this word, it’s Philadelphia. Phileo means tenderness and affection and adelphos literally means, “those born into the same family.” It’s a family word. So Philadelphia doesn’t just mean “brotherly love” it means “family love.” We love other believers because we have all been born into the same family.