Are you ambitious?

In the church, the word ambition often gets a bad name. But what exactly does ambition mean?  

If you look at Webster’s first definition you can see why Christians have long shied away from the term: “An ardent desire for rank, fame or power.” The word ambition actually comes from a Latin word meaning “to campaign for a promotion.”

Jesus teaches us that he was not a friend of that kind of ambition. In fact, on one occasion when his disciples James and John campaigned for an eternal promotion ("Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory"), they created a major upset with the fellow disciples. And Jesus used the occasion to encourage James, John and the rest to think in completely different terms. He encouraged them to think in terms of rendition instead of ambition. 

Rendition means “to give up, to yield, to surrender, to transmit to another.” Jesus’ words were: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)

Jesus rendered his life to us. He yielded it, and surrendered it, on the cross so that we could have forgiveness of our past sins (present and future ones too!), a powerfully transformed life in the here and now, and, one day not too long from now, an eternal adventure in heaven with him.

But in that sense, Jesus was also ambitious. Listen to Webster’s second definition of the term ambition: “A desire to achieve a particular end.”

“Desire” is way, way an understatement in Jesus’ case. Jesus was so desirous of achieving the salvation of the world that he made serving mankind his life’s mission. In fact, he was so passionate about this particular end that he made it his death’s mission as well. As we already quoted above: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In Jesus’ life and death, both ambition and rendition come together into one massive purpose and effort that leads directly to our being declared righteous at the foot of the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

A lot of times, Christ-followers shy away from the ambition of leadership in the church on the basis of the old saying: “It’s better for the position to seek out the person, than for the person to seek out the position.” And there’s no doubt that Jesus wants us to resist a certain kind of ambition. If I am looking for status, prestige, or privilege, than my ambition is self-serving. My reasons for my ambitions are unworthy of Christ. Jeremiah the prophet once wrote: “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.” (Jeremiah 45:5, NIV)

The paradox is this. The Bible encourages us to seek leadership in the church if our ambition, like Christ’s, is not self-seeking, but surrendering. 1 Timothy 3:1 says: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” Yet this simple statement is followed up with a comprehensive list of qualifications designed to insure that the person seeking is seeking to render himself and his gifts to Christ as a way of serving the body of Christ, the church, and the world around us.

So, how about you? Are you ambitious? I’d ask, “Are you 'renditious'?” But I don’t think that’s a real word. Still, I hope you’re both.