Paul's Ambitions

The apostle Paul speaks of three ambitions. Would that you and I knew more of each of them in our daily lives!

To Preach the Gospel Where Christ Is Not Named

In Romans 15:19–20 Paul writes: “from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” First, let me ask, Where is Illyricum? We read of it in no other place in the New Testament. We never hear of it in the apostle’s missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles. It is not a city, but a large area, a province, northwest of the Province of Macedonia. It is almost equivalent to Dalmatia, where Titus went during Paul’s last imprisonment. (2 Tim. 4:10) You will find it on the map about opposite Rome, on the other side of the Adriatic. This gives some idea of the extent of Paul’s labors.
But, you will ask, What has this to do with Paul’s ambition? Just this, the word translated “so I have strived: is philotimoumenon; which literally means “loving honor,” hence “being ambitious.” Paul said, he was “being ambitious to preach the Gospel of Christ, not where Christ was named.” How few there are who have such an ambition! This ambition almost surely entails hardship and dangers: it means sharing some of the sufferings Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11. Read them for yourself, and unless the love of Christ works in your heart mightily, it will take away the kind of ambition that Paul had. Excuses are easy to find. We should not go where we are deprived of remembering the Lord in His death. We are called to preach separation: not the Gospel. I think I can be more use attending a conference, than going to some place far away from meetings. And so the excuses go. But rarely do we hear of those who share Paul’s ambition, and sadly little do most of us know of it.

To Be “Well–pleasing” to the Lord

The next ambition Paul describes is in 2 Cor. 5:9: “We are ambitious, that, whether present (with the Lord), or absent (from the Lord), we may be well–pleasing to Him.” (Literal: See verses 5 to 8). What more beautiful ambition for every true Christian,—to be “well–pleasing” to the Lord: no matter whether it is in life or in death.  Worldly ambition has wrought ruin with multitudes of the Lord’s soldiers and servants. All around us we are beloved saints of God whose lives proclaim their ambition for riches or honor or ease or learning or fame. We know of Demas who loved this present world and Diotrophes who loved the preeminence: and their descendents are with us today: but rarely do we meet a man whose ambitions in life are to preach where the Gospel is not known; and whether in life, whether in death, to be well–pleasing to Him. Oh, that these two ambitions may be mine, and your’s, my beloved reader: may our love be for the Gospel, where Christ is not named: and ever, and always, to be well–pleasing to Him.

To Be Quiet, to Do Our Own Business, to Work with Our Own Hands

The third ambition of which Paul speaks is found in 1 Thess. 4:10–11. The apostle beseeches his beloved Thessalonian brethren to “be ambitious to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands.” I sadly fear that most of the Lord’s people today love the honor of working with their heads in a clean and honorable position, rather than soiling their hands by using them in hard work. They forget their Master worked with His own hands until He was about thirty years of age. They forget that the one who exhorted us to this ambition could hold out his hands, and say “Yes, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” “These hands” were probably worn and calloused with making tents. And let us remember his words: “I beseech you to be imitators (mimics: mimetes: always in a good sense in the New Testament) of me.” (1 Cor. 4:6) And to the very saints whom he exhorted to be ambitious to be quiet, and to work with their own hands, in the very same Epistle, he wrote: “Ye became our imitators (mimics), and of the Lord.” (1 Thess 1:7; See also 2:14) And in the Second Epistle, Chapter 3, Verses 7 & 9, we read: “Ye know yourselves how ye ought to imitate us…We…give ourselves as an example to you in order to your imitating us.”  (See New Translation)

May God help us to learn the lessons that Paul’s ambitions would teach us:—  Ambitious
  • to preach the Gospel where Christ is not named.
  • whether by life or death, to be well–pleasing to the Lord.
  • to be quiet, to do our own business, to work with our own hands. (Ed: At least to work!)