Transformed Ambition

It must be one of the Apostle Paul’s low lights.

Generally speaking, Paul elevates our vision. He exhorts us to live differently than the culture in which we live, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to set our minds on things above.

And then comes this little verse—largely ignored by most of us—that feels, well, small.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and mind your own business and work with your hands….” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Could any ambition be less inspiring?


Ambition should be large, powerful, noble, or exciting. In High School, people applauded my ambition to study medicine and serve as a medical missionary. (God graciously spared me and some unsuspecting people group, for sure!) Then people encouraged my ambition to pastor a (large) church—to the glory of God, of course. Then people urged me to hold onto my ambition to write, to teach, to speak. “Aim for something big. Leave a mark. Make a difference.”

Would it have been acceptable, when people asked “What do you want to do with your life?” for me to reply “Lead a quiet life, mind my own business, and work with my hands”? Somehow, that feels like an abdication of responsible stewardship. Somehow, a quiet life seems self-serving. Who will change the world, if not me?

Thus, Paul’s statement—a brief, passing, low-ball statement—garners little attention and even less affection from us. But his conviction deserves our deeper consideration.

In just two other places in the New Testament, ambition is presented in positive terms. Paul declared that it was his ambition “to be pleasing to God” (2 Corinthians 5:9) and “to preach the gospel where Christ is not known” (Romans 15:20). Otherwise, ambition is usually linked with the word “selfish” and has a more harmful than helpful impact (see 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16).

Most ambition—the kind that our culture advocates—flows from pride and feeds it. It takes from God what belongs to Him. It seizes control of processes that He should manage. It elevates us and undermines humility. And inasmuch as it quenches humility it stunts our deeper walk with Christ.

Yet, ambition remains deeply entrenched; perhaps because it promotes drive and excellence. But apparently Paul found Christ alone sufficiently compelling.

How does this shape our self-talk and our conversations with our children and grandchildren? Might grace transform our ambition, too?

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14 Responses to Transformed Ambition

  1. Scott says:

    Thanks for the reminder David. I find it especially helpful when you ask the question about conversations with our children over this issue. I don’t have to put pressure on my son to change the world like I felt from my own parents. Instead, I can let him pursue the work he enjoys. This is one of scriptures powerful ironies “Make it your ambition not to be ambitious.” It’s similar to the one found in Hebrews “Make every effort to enter that rest.”

    • David Timms says:

      Yes, Scott. It seems that obedience *to Christ *is a higher Kingdom-priority than success *for Christ*. It’s tough to keep that in perspective for our kids! 🙂

  2. Tim Ross says:

    Oh that Christ would continue to work in my heart to quench my ambition for acknowledgement, praise, and glory with His all-sustaining Presence and goodness. Let my ambition be to continue to seek Him all day long, to point to Him with my actions, my words, and my thoughts, and to sing of His amazing grace. I constantly need to keep Him close to me because my tendency is to glorify myself.

  3. Tim Brokaw says:

    Well said.

  4. Terry and Hazel Cook says:

    Hello David,

    Thanks once again for your insights and wisdoms, I look forward to them.

    This one particularly moves my heart as my life is a little one, filled with little things, being a wife, mother, grandmother, co-carer with my dear husband Terry, for Wendy, our daughter who continues her struggle with uncontrolled epilepsy, so little things fill my days.

    My joy is to live a quiet life, and work with my hands, I love making things and cooking etc., minding my own business is more of a challenge as I would love to ‘set my family on the right path’, and can see where they are going wrong. I am unable to control their lives though, and so have the discipline and hopefully, the grace to let them be, to let them make their own mistakes, to watch prayerfully and quietly for their first, faltering steps into life in our precious Lord.

    So David, this little corner of Oz is blessed out of its socks to realise that living a ‘quiet life, minding your own business, and working with your hands’ is an ok thing to do.

    Thanks once again for highlighting this verse and encouraging me this day.

    By the way, John and Kae Thornhill are friends of ours as well as of yours…John has been quite unwell lately, with various health problems, and Kae is pretty tired, but they continue on like the saints that they are. Such good friends are a blessing.

    God bless you and your family David, be encouraged.


    Sent from my iPad

    • David Timms says:

      Hazel, what a thoughtful response. Thanks for sharing some of your story. Your service to Christ through your family is not only ok; it’s exemplary. Blessings.

  5. Annette Hossack says:

    Hi David

    I always believed that when I got hit by that car all those years ago angels stop my hands from being damaged – this afternoon I am cooking for a mission fund raiser for a hospital in Santo (Vanuatu) and early August I am off to Vanuatu with Lois and Meryl to teach sewing to the students at Londua Technical College and 2 ladies church groups. Your thoughts always confirm that the Lord’s timing is perfect


  6. Velma Hall says:

    I always read your articles. Thank you for stimulating my thinking. And I appreciate the responses. My thanks to all of you, whoever and wherever you are…………

  7. Phil McKinley says:

    My ambition is to serve. That hasn’t always been true and doesn’t mean that big things can’t happen for the better; it’s just that I try to focus on serving. I remember one week back in 2000 when my band and I were praying for direction/God’s will for the group. To make a long story short after playing NYR in Colorado, I ended up in a parking lot with a woman who needed some money. My truck had broken down, and nothing that day happened that could be classified as Phil’s will. But I ended up with that woman and her kids. She got the help she needed, I was able to deliver a witness, and God’s will was done. We never did figure out what God wanted for our band, but we understood better that we shouldn’t worry about it, just keep on serving. Serving God is an ambition that leads to higher ground. Good post, Dr. Timms!

  8. Ashley Gorka says:

    I have always wondered about the phrase “blind ambition”. Perhaps when are being so selfish that we can’t see anything else, we become blinded to what God wants for us.

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