Pastoral Perspectives

A Different Kind Of Ambition

There is no doubt that every athlete and team who participated in the recent Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro would seek to do their best and aim for gold. As much as every one of them is well aware that the glory usually only goes to the gold medallist, this does not deter them from clocking in the countless hours of rigorous training, making personal sacrifices and disciplining themselves in their daily routine and diet. Indeed, even for those individuals who had the honour of stepping up to the podium, history would have taught us that regardless of how great or remarkable the accomplishments were, they would eventually fade away into distant memory years down the road.

In contrast, God’s Word teaches us that believers will receive an imperishable prize (1 Cor 9:24-25), an inheritance that is “undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you… by God’s power” (1 Pet 1:4-5). Undoubtedly, God’s promise to us is good news. For one, it means that a life given to following Christ will never be in vain. Instead, we are assured that we will find our ultimate fulfilment and delight in the Risen Saviour who has loved and redeemed us.

Considering that people are willing to invest so much in the hope of gaining something that would ultimately fade away, what should our ambitions be instead? One helpful example to consider would be the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul shared that his aim was to please God “since we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad”. As followers of Christ, this should also be our aspiration. Whether we are a professional athlete, a full-time Christian ministry staff or a stay-at-home parent, the encouragement is that we can all please God as we walk according to his commandments (2 Jn 6) and seek to glorify God through our lives.

For an athlete, it means that one can please God regardless of whether he wins the gold medal or not. As long as he does not compromise on his integrity or wilfully stay away from worshipping with other believers, God is pleased with him. For the ministry staff, she pleases God regardless of how many people came to know Jesus through her outreach efforts. As long as her life continues to bear fruit of the Spirit and she is faithful in carrying out her ministry responsibilities, God is pleased. Likewise, the stay-at-home mother pleases God not just when her children are walking with God and actively participating in the life of the church. She pleases God too, through those difficult parenting moments where she cries out to God, acknowledging that no human method has the power of salvation for her children.

Whenever most of us think about the word ambition, we tend to associate it with accomplishing something outstanding or exceptional. For some who are more outspoken or inclined towards social advocacy, Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians may come as a surprise. This is because even as Paul commended those believers for their love to the brethren throughout Macedonia and urged them to do more, in the same breath he also instructed them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess 4:10-11). Over against all other good things that a Christian could aspire to, why would Paul exhort them to do something that seems so unimpressive and lowly?

With the historical context in mind, one possible reason is Paul’s concern over the testimony of believers in the eyes of their pagan neighbours. In a society which operated on an institution of patronage and preoccupied with social standing, Paul’s wanted believers to have a different priority in life. Despite the good they are doing, they are to learn to stay out of the limelight whenever possible. In addition, a quiet life where one minds his own affairs would also mean a life that avoids being contentious or meddlesome. Instead, believers are to be peace-makers, willingly overlooking an offense and choosing not to make a mountain out of a molehill.

For us today, it may mean we exercise restraint when it comes to posting something on social media. Whether it is about us doing something good or some negative behaviour of another, it need not always be made public. We should also guard our hearts from arrogant confidence thinking that we know how to live other people’s lives or do their job better that they do.

To be sure, while Paul urged the believers to live quietly, it would not mean that the church should tone down its proclamation of the gospel. On the contrary, we know from Paul’s letters that he consistently encouraged boldness in this regard. In fact, as the church aspires to live quietly while being a witness of Christ both in word and deed, we may be surprised how this actually speaks volume to a lost and dying world.

Rev Edwin Wong

October 2, 2016