Ambition is a big word, full of potential, ideas and goals. It almost seems alive when you say it! It’s a lot like the word dreams.
But quiet it is not! Quiet stands alone. It stops. It’s still. Shhhh. It’s quiet. Dreamers get ambition. Quiet? Not so much.
So tell me, God-sized dreamer. What is your ambition?
Oh, that’s easy! It’s to . . . write a book, start a new business, found a non-profit, begin a ministry . . . etc.
But lead a quiet life???
At first glance, this verse can be confusing. Ambition and a quiet life just don’t seem compatible.
When I think about my own ambitions, both past and those for the future, I don’t think of quiet. In many ways, my ambition seems to generate the very opposite: busy, loud, exciting, tiring, scary, exhilarating. But not quiet.
I’ve been wrestling with this verse, and while I don’t think I have it totally figured out, I’d like to share some thoughts with you.
First, I think it might help to look back a bit to see our way forward . . . stick with me!
Paul begins this chapter with an exhortation to the Thessalonians: we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God(just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (vs. 1)
In verses 3-8, he reiterates God’s standard of sexual purity and reminds them the standard is for their sanctification (yes, sex. It’s all over the Bible, because God understands sexuality is all over our lives. But that’s another post.)
Paul goes on to praise them for their brotherly love: Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. (vs. 9-10)
Then he raises the standard: But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, (vs. 10)
The Greek word that is translated excel is perisseuō, and it means to superabound or overflow. The instruction is clear. Paul is pleased with the love being shared by the Thessalonians, and they he wants them to excel still more in their love, to superabound and overflow in love!
It’s in this context that we encounter these seemingly incompatible instructions.
The Greek word translated as ambition is philotimeomai. It literally means to be fond of honor.
This explanation from the Reformed Study Bible helps us begin to understand:
The Greek word for this term often denoted the attempt to garner civic honor and recognition through outward displays of generosity by the wealthy. Paul’s use of the term turns it on its head: the Thessalonians should be zealous for the honor that comes not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness, but through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior.
So it seems Paul used this word intentionally, knowing it would cause his readers for centuries to furrow our brow and say “Huh?” (Although I don’t know what the Greek word is for huh.) He was trying to get our attention! Paul understood our human nature and desire for honor. Rather than tell us to simply reject man’s honor, he holds up a vision of a life of humility and devoted effort in the name of Jesus.
To summarize Paul’s instruction:
- Keep obeying the commandments you’ve been given.
- Stay sexually pure.
- Superabound in love!
- Make it your ambition to live a quiet life.
In the end, it’s all part of this upside down kingdom where our Father tells us to be still in order to know.
God isn’t against progress! He gives the biggest dreams, and He’s given each of us a unique function and duty as part of the body of Christ. We also know that stewardship of talent and opportunity is a serious thing.
As we strive to enter into his rest and make it our ambition to live a quiet life, we will keep the proper perspective on our dreams. They’ll be accomplished for His glory and honor. And we will be a witness to a watching world of His power, love, and grace.
Shared by: Kim Hyland