A Christian’s Ambition


Ambition is a trait that is seen as being desirable by many in the world. It is the attitude that drives one to continue progressing, advancing, and improving. Generally, it is necessary if one is to enjoy any degree of success or prosperity in life.

Christians are to be ambitious. But the focus of our ambitions will differ from that of the world. When Paul wrote to the saints in Thessalonica, he explained what their ambition was to be:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

Let us consider the points that Paul highlighted in this passage and see what our ambition should be as Christians.

Lead a Quiet Life

In his Greek lexicon, J.H. Thayer gave this definition of a “quiet life” – it is “said of those who are not running hither or thither but stay at home and mind their business.” The same description is used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to one’s work (2 Thessalonians 3:12) and a woman’s disposition (1 Peter 3:4).

How can Christians “lead a quiet life”? First, we must not allow the world to distract us from our service to God. Just as we are to “work in quiet fashion” to provide for ourselves (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 12), we are also to serve the Lord without allowing the “worries and riches and pleasures of this life” to become our primary focus, thus choking out the word and leaving us unfruitful (Luke 8:14).

Second, we are to remember our place before the Lord. Just as a woman is to “remain quiet” and maintain a disposition of “submissiveness” (1 Timothy 2:11-12), we must remember our role and submit to the Lord. Paul told Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). While Paul was discussing Timothy’s work as a preacher, the principle applies to all Christians. We are disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19); therefore, we must “lay aside every encumbrance” that hinders our service to Him (Hebrews 12:1).

Attend to Your Own Business

We often hear the phrase, “Mind your own business.” That is the idea behind Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians. We must do what we are responsible to do without regard to others.

Of course, this does not mean we ignore the needs of others – both physical and spiritual. Paul wrote of our responsibility to provide help of a physical nature: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Earlier in the same chapter, the apostle also mentioned how we can help others spiritually: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). However, we cannot focus on the faults and failings of others and ignore our own. Jesus condemned this type of hypocritical judging (Matthew 7:1-5). We must “first take the log out of [our] own eye” before we can “see clearly to take the speck out of [our] brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

In order to attend to our own business, we cannot be busybodies. This is a characteristic of an “undisciplined life” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). While it is good to provide needed help, it is not good to interfere in the lives of others when it is not our place to do so. The wise man said, “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him” (Proverbs 26:17). Christians should not be meddlers, but helpers.

Work with Your Hands

The Scriptures are clear that God expects His people who are able to work to do so. In the second letter to Thessalonica, Paul told the brethren to “keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). While this instruction can be applied broadly, in this context Paul was specifically talking about those who were “not willing to work” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

We are to be diligent in our labors. Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23). The wise man said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

It is certainly true that Christians must put spiritual things first. Jesus taught that we are to “store up…treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20) and “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). But we cannot ignore our earthly responsibilities. Earning a living – which is accomplished through work – is so important that Paul told Timothy that one jeopardized his soul if he refused to do what he was capable of doing in this regard: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Christians cannot neglect earthly responsibilities – we must be willing to work with our hands.

Follow the Lord’s Commandments

In our text, Paul said, “Just as we commanded you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). He was specifically talking about the instructions in that context. However, in principle, this applies to our obedience to all that has been commanded in God’s word.

We are to be obedient to the Lord. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Calling Jesus, “Lord,” means nothing if we do not obey Him. James said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

As we are to obey the Lord’s instructions, so also are we to follow the words of inspired men like the apostle Paul. Shortly before giving this command to the Thessalonians regarding their proper ambition, he said, “For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:2). We know that Jesus has “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). That authority was the basis for the teaching that would be done by the apostles (Matthew 28:20). Paul told the brethren in Corinth, “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37). We must be determined to follow the instructions revealed to us in the New Testament if we hope to please the Lord.

Behave Properly Toward Outsiders

We are to “lead a quiet life and attend to [our] own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11), but that does not mean that the impression we leave upon the world around us is unimportant. We must “behave properly toward outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:12), which refers to those who are outside of the body of Christ (non-Christians).

Peter explained why this is important: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). We are to show the example of what a Christian ought to be. Hopefully, this might eventually lead those around us who are not yet Christians to serve the Lord as well.

However, we also need to be reminded of other passages that warn us that failing to “behave properly toward outsiders” will cause others to speak against God. The unfaithful Jews were told, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). In addition to speaking against God, our improper behavior will also cause others to speak against the church (Titus 2:6-8) and the gospel itself (2 Corinthians 6:3). We must not allow our sinful actions to hinder non-Christians from one day becoming Christians.

Not Be in Any Need

Worldly ambition seeks an abundance of wealth, success, influence, etc. Our ambition, as Paul described it, is that we would simply “not be in any need” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). This does not mean that we should do the minimum to get by. As we have already seen, God’s people are to be hardworking (Colossians 3:23; Ecclesiastes 9:10). We are also to, if possible, work to earn more than we need so that we can help those who are currently in need (Ephesians 4:28) and also save up to be able to provide future help to others (2 Corinthians 12:14). Furthermore, the wise man said, “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6). Life is uncertain. Even if we think we can survive by doing a minimal amount of work (sowing “in the morning”), we should work beyond that (“do not be idle in the evening”) because it is always possible that what we thought would be sufficient will not be.

As Christians do this, it will sometimes happen that they will be prosperous by the world’s standards. There is nothing wrong with this – such prosperity is a blessing from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19). Money is not evil, but the “love of money” is (1 Timothy 6:10). While there is nothing wrong with one enjoying the fruits of his labor (Ecclesiastes 5:18), we must also recognize what prosperity gives us – a greater freedom and ability to do good. This is why Paul told Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world…to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Once we have provided for our own needs, we are better able to help others.

While a Christian’s ambition may be to “not be in any need” (1 Thessalonians 4:12), there could still be times in which we do find ourselves in need. In these circumstances, we must learn to have the same attitude of contentment that the apostle Paul had: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).


It is not wrong for a Christian being successful or prosperous in this life. But our primary ambition as Christians must be directed toward these things that the inspired apostle listed. Let us be sure our priorities are in order so that our ambitions may be focused where God wants them to be.

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