Jul 17, 2012

Where good ambition gets you

Here are the first half of my notes on a seminar on work and ambition run at City Church last week.

Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are made to do, and then give yourself passionately to the doing of it – Martin Luther King

Be careful what you set your hear upon — for it will surely be yours – James Baldwin

Work & Ambition

Introduction: Ambition – a dirty word?

  • How ambitious are you and why?
  •  What do you think might be the difference between a godly and an ungodly ambition?
  • What worries you about being ambitious?


A. A biblical framework for ambition

In its holiest form, ambition is simply the desire to use our gifts for God’s glory – Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition

1. Ambitious by design

God is ambitious. God works for his glory. c.f. Genesis 1, Revelation 4:11

Made in his image we too were made to be ambitious. Humanity were given work to do and were to be ambitious for God’s glory in fulfilling it. C.f. Genesis 1:26-27, 2:15

God loves good ambition – Harvey

2. Ambition corrupted

The problem is not therefore ambition but distorted ambition. In two ways:

a) Wrong ambition – Work as an idol.

Q. How do you think the fall has corrupted ambition?


Q. What attitudes do we bring with us into the work place when we are working for selfish ambition?


Through the fall a right ambition centred on God’s glory is replaced by a wrong ambition centred on self. Working for God is replaced by work as a god.

Wrong ambition is recognized in the answer to this question: who’s glory (reputation & renown) are you ambitious for? With wrong ambition work becomes a God-substitute in which rather than making God’s name great we want to make our own names great.

Case study: Genesis 11:1-9.

Q. What motivates the workers in Babel?

 Q. How does God view ungodly ambition?

 A good ambition becomes a selfish ambition when it’s our only ambition. It’s called idolatry – Dave Harvey

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. Tim Kreider, ‘The Busy Trap’, New York Times

b) No ambition — Preferring to be idle

Read Proverbs 6:6-11

Q. What does Proverbs have to say about idleness?


3. Ambition converted

In creation we were given good, godly ambitions for work, as a result of the fall that ambition becomes distorted but in the gospel we don’t lose our ambition but see it converted back to an ambition for God and his glory.

In our work ambition is less about the job you do than the way you do your job!

a) We say ‘no’ to selfish ambition

Read James 3:13-16

Q. What is the consequence of selfish ambitions?


b) We pursue a godly ambition

We might be tempted to think that all ambition is now wrong. But there are many examples in the Bible of hard work and godly enterprise.

Read Proverbs 31:10-21

Q. How does a godly ambition feature in the work of this noble woman?


c) A godly ambition is defined as an ambition for God’s glory

Ambitions for self may be quite modest….Ambitions for God, however, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest.  – John Stott

i) Jesus was ambitious!

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do  – John 17:4

Christ’s humility did not restrain his enterprise, it defined it. – Dave Harvey

ii) Paul was ambitious

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 – Romans 15:20

iii) We are called to be ambitious

Read 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:23-24,

Q. How does being a Christian change the focus of our ambitions?

In the next post: how do we pursue godly ambitions?


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