Summary: Paul shows us godly ambition, which is focused on Christ

Fifth Sunday in Lent — March 28, 2004

Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, MD

Pastor Jeff Samelson

Philippians 3:8-14

Your Life’s New Ambitions

I. Know Christ

II. Pursue the Prize

III. Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the young man. He grew up in the Abdeen section of Cairo, Egypt. His father was a lawyer, and he was on track to become a professional himself — he studied engineering, and when the opportunity arose to do graduate work at a Hamburg university, he went to Germany.

Neighbors and classmates thought of him as a “good boy” — someone who was too nice and too introverted to make much of a splash in the world.

But the people you associate with can change you, and such apparently was the case with this young man. In Germany, he found like-minded men who gave his life a purpose. They convinced him to become part of something much bigger than any one individual, and gave him a central role to play. The intelligent, introverted, “good boy” from Cairo now had an ambition — he was going to change the world — and that ambition changed him.

Ambition has a way of doing that — changing people, and in far too many cases, corrupting them. The right ambitions can lead to right results, but the wrong kind of ambitions only lead to more wrong. That was the definitely the case with this young Egyptian’s ambitions. Mohamed Atta was going to change the world, and he did, but he did it by flying American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That kind of world-changing ambition we don’t need.

Neither do we need the kind of self-seeking greedy ambition we see celebrated these days on shows like Donald Trump’s “Apprentice.” Getting ahead in the world is one thing; stepping on other people to get to the top or practically selling your soul for success is something else.

It’s no wonder, then, that for many people, and in many cases, “ambition” is a dirty word. I imagine that if you did a study you’d find that most of the time someone is described as “ambitious” it’s not meant in an entirely positive way. Ambitious people, it seems, too often are the ones who put the “rat” in the rat race.

But is ambition entirely a negative thing? Is it possible to have good, godly, and right ambitions? Not if your ambition is all about you — not if it’s selfish, greedy, blind, or just plain evil, like the terrorists’. But the Apostle Paul shows us something quite different in our reading today from Philippians. He shows us godly ambition, and he shows it to us not to draw attention to himself, but to draw attention to Christ, and to encourage us with his example. As we read about Paul’s life, we read about our own: Here, brothers and sisters, are your life’s new ambitions.

Listen again as we read Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8-14:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

I. Paul had exchanged one kind of ambition for another. In the preceding verses, he outlined for the Philippians what his life had been like before his conversion: He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” He had set out to be the best of the best, and he was doing what he set out to do. His zeal for the law — or, rather, the Pharisee’s slavish interpretations of it — moved him to persecute Christians wherever he found them. He even left the Jewish lands of Judea and Galilee to chase down Christians in other places. No one had a greater passion for persecution than he did.

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