Is it wrong to seek promotion and advancement at work? Is it right to have ambitions? Christian people can be faced with decisions in their business or professional careers where such questions are pertinent.
1. WHEN HAS AMBITION NOT GONE FAR ENOUGH?
In 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12 the apostle Paul sets out some basic ambitions connected with our work which should characterise all Christians. Not to desire these goals is to be astray. We are to eagerly seek to achieve at least three things:
The context of that work is to be a quiet life – but the great ambition, if we are physically and mentally able, must be to work, v11.
Note again that there is no disparagement of manual labour in the NT. Paul commends working ‘with our hands.’
Leisure is not intrinsically better than work. It should not be our ambition to be on perpetual holiday. This is what the world so often aims for. Laziness is condemned throughout the Bible, Proverbs 12.24; Titus 1.12.
The Christian is to desire to be useful, productive and to make a contribution to the common good. This is the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic.’ God made us to work and we can find a degree of fulfilment and satisfaction in our work. As Christians our work becomes an act of worship, Colossians 3.23.
Through our industry to win the respect of unconverted people
The background to Paul’s remarks in v12 is in v9, 10. Some of the Thessalonian Christians were so zealous in their love for brothers and sisters in Christ that some people were taking advantage of that and had given up work and were living on hand-outs from the church, cf. Titus 3.14. Such behaviour brought the name of the Lord Jesus into disrepute.
We need to add that ‘success’ at work is not the only way to win respect. It may be that ordinary people will be directed to Christ by the way our faith enables us to cope with crises or drudgery or other difficulties, Philippians 4.12, 13.
Through our work to be dependent on nobody
In v12 Paul commands the Thessalonians to aim at earning their own keep. The New Testament is keen to help those in real need but it will not allow an able-bodied Christian to become content to live from other people’s charity.
Our first ambition should be to support ourselves. This takes priority over whether or not we like the job, 2 Thessalonians 3.11-14.
2. WHEN HAS AMBITION GONE TOO FAR?
God has given us all some set of abilities. If those abilities cannot find an outlet we become frustrated. It is therefore good to have ambition to use our potentials to the full, Ecclesiastes 9.10. But this must be in the context of seeking a contented godly life, 1 Thessalonians 4.11;1 Timothy 6.6. With this in mind here are six indications of when our ambitions have goner too far.
- When our ambitions are greater than our abilitiesScripture commands us to have a proper estimate of ourselves, Romans 12.3
- When we are prepared to compromise Christian principles to get promotionThe ‘end justifying the means’ is never God’s way, Psalm 23.3
- When promotion is pursued for self-exaltationAmbition is not condemned but selfish ambition is always condemned, Philippians 2.3
- When ambitions are pursued out of the love of moneyJesus told us that we cannot serve both God and money, Matthew 76.24; Hebrews 13.5;
- When ambitions are pursued out of envy and discontentThe spirit of the world is that ‘the grass is always greener,’ James 3.14-16
- When ambition is pursued at the expense of our responsibilities to othersWe are to put the needs of others before our own, Philippians 2.4; Ephesians 5.25
- When ambition is pursued to the neglect of the needs of God’s kingdomLocal churches are a priority. We are to seek God’s glory Matthew 6.33; 1 Corinthians 10.31
‘Right ambition consists not so much in wishing to be promoted, but in wishing to deserve promotion’ Matthew Henry
This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.
Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation‘
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall‘
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work‘
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest‘
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes‘
A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.