A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt. 1

I’m going to give you several different texts to think about in relation to my topic. Today and tomorrow, we do a study of biblical material. After that, we synthesize the material.

1. Gen. 1:26-28 the call to take dominion
2. 1 Chron. 4:10 Jabez’s bold prayer
3. 2 Chron. 1:7-13 Solomon’s ambitious prayer for wisdom
4. Nehemiah an example of godly ambition
5. Matthew 28:18-20 the call to take spiritual dominion
6. 1 Cor. 10:31 life as an exercise in biblical ambition
7. Hebrews 4:16 the invitation to pray with boldness

These texts should not and must not be understood as the only texts that speak to my topic. They are not. However, these texts when taken together give us a bare framework by which to begin to understand the Bible’s view of ambition. With that said, we proceed to look at what this framework is and what it means for us as Christians. We will work quickly through these texts, and you can think of more on your own (and suggest them in the comments, if you would).

The call to take dominion over the earth in Genesis 1 is fundamentally a call to theological ambition. Those who think that ambition has little place in the Christian life find an opposite ideal in this first chapter of the Bible. From the beginning, God intended man to subdue and rule over his environment. It is clear from the lack of instruction recorded in this text that God did not spell out all the details of this dominion-taking. Rather, he left it to Adam, His vice-regent, to figure out what needed to be done and to do it. Such action necessarily includes an aggressive mindset that seeks to glorify God through action pleasing to God. The race of men, then, was not created to be passive and weak, but to be active and strong, assessing their domain, ruling over their territory, glorifying God by virtuous, godly action.

It’s silly to pass up all the examples of Old Testament believers who acted ambitiously for God’s renown, but time and space is limited. So we skip ahead to the much-discussed Jabez. Now, let me say a word here. Bruce Wilkinson took the whole Jabez thing a bit far, if you ask me, but I still think he had a point (one made by men like Spurgeon well before prosperity theologians). His point was this: Jabez was spiritually ambitious. Wilkinson was no genius in understanding this, but he was right. Jabez prayed that the Lord would bless him. The Lord did bless him. Jabez had a desire to glorify God through a blessed life. God answered this desire. We could take this text and run, but we should not do so. Instead, we should simply make the point that God rewarded Jabez’s spiritual ambition, and leave things there. Clearly, it is no terrible thing–far from that, it is a good thing–to be spiritually ambitious before the Lord.

The story of Solomon is the same. Solomon made an incredible request of God, that he be given incredible wisdom, and God gave it to him. God was not displeased with such a bold request. The biblical picture of God is not that which many of us hold in our minds, a miserly, angry, bitter father who despises giving out blessings. No, the biblical picture of God is that He often graciously rewards the seeker and gives them the righteous desires of their heart. Solomon’s desire was righteous–this is a crucial point–and thus God granted his request. The Lord does seem to be like the great leader Alexander in a story I’ve heard Tim Keller tell. One of Alexander’s generals made a very bold request of his lord, asking him to finance an extravagant wedding ceremony for his child. Upon hearing the request, Alexander’s right-hand man urged Alexander to cruelly discipline such a boorish man. Alexander demurred, and instead granted the man’s request. His reasoning? The man, by his massive request, showed that he thought Alexander to be a man of massive means. Thus his plea, so far from dishonoring Alexander, actually honored Alexander in the extreme. So it is with us when we ask God for great things. A right sense of ambition, one devoted to the Lord, shows just how great we think our God to be.

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  • Dad

    Our Tuesday evening Bible Study has just started Daniel. It seems there are several examples of this in Daniel’s life, and his friends as well. Though God does not always glorify himself in blessing us the way he did them. Some times we have to pay the price of the king’s wrath without the miraculous deliverance.

    Anyway, interesting to see where you will wind up with this. Glad you skipped a few examples!

    Al (Not Owen’s dad or that other “Al”.)

  • Danny Slavich

    This is good stuff Owen.

  • Ben

    Hm. This makes me think of two more difficult questions. 1) Is ambition the call for every believer, or is it for the foot or hand etc.? 2) What are we ambitious to become?

    No gift is given to be buried in the ground; and to him who receives much, much more will be expected. Perhaps a caution might be in order: count the cost before asking God for something (think Hezekiah) that may not, in the end, be a good.

  • Lambie

    So where is “A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt 2” ?????