A young, Middle Eastern man stood with feet planted on the dusty ground watching chaos unfold.
A Christian missionary had just made a passionate speech, but rather than sway the crowd around him, he enraged them. The mob rushed at him violently.
The young spectator had a bright future ahead of him. He was passionate and intelligent. He was from the right family, city and country. He would be great.
Eventually he would storm into homes and drag Christians off to prison, demanding their execution. Churches feared him. They all knew his name. He had great power, but his zeal was misplaced.
His name was Saul of Tarsus, but you might know him as the apostle Paul.
Paul is among the most ambitious men in the Bible. From his introduction in Acts 7 to his final letters to the churches of Christ, Paul is sharp, energized and driven. But his early life, before he encountered Christ, is a perfect example of ambition gone dangerously awry.
Ambition, which we are defining as the earnest desire and eager pursuit of what we want, is built into every human heart. We all long for something great – something beautiful, to be someone important.
We know some ambition honors God, but He doesn’t condone all ambition. Where’s the line?
The difference between godly and worldly ambition comes down to the issue of motivation and the heart.
Here are some key questions to ask about the motivation, or agenda, behind your ambition:
Admittedly, even while writing these questions, I find myself thinking, “How do I know I’m not still working out of selfish ambition? Can I answer these questions confidently?”
The answer is “no.” Thank God for grace.
After an honest examination of my motives, knowing I still don’t have all the answers, I can look to the Lord, step out in faith and believe that His grace is enough for me. At the end of the day, I do my best to give my dreams to God, to honor Him and know, by grace, it is enough.
When Christians realize how corrupt and worldly their ambitions can be, it is tempting to forsake ambition altogether. But remember the story of the apostle Paul?
Paul was not dissimilar to a brilliant student who brings his accomplishments into every conversation. He was not much different than the journalist who left a child to starve for a story – actually, he demanded the death of people for his goals.
But Christ claimed Paul for himself, and everything changed, including his ambition. Paul continued to be earnest and driven, but now he had a new heart and a new agenda.
Paul went on to write a sizable chunk of the New Testament, plant some of the first churches and teach the Gentile world about Christ. He left a legacy that billions can recall.
God used Paul for His glory and to help people. Paul was not perfect after he became a Christian, but God was constantly redeeming his ambition.
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