By David Faust
Unchecked ambition is an ugly trait. It makes people pushy and self-promoting. Ruthless politicians will do anything for votes. Unscrupulous salespeople will say anything to close a deal. Hollywood promoters scramble shamelessly to get their clients in front of the cameras.
Properly directed, however, ambition can be good. The apostle Paul turns ambition on its head by saying, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). What a strange idea! Quiet ambition sounds like an oxymoron. How can you be ambitious about pursuing a quiet life?
Misconceptions About a Quiet Life
A quiet life isn’t a boring life. Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for their “work produced by faith,” their “labor prompted by love,” and their “endurance inspired by hope” (1:3). Faith, hope, and love aren’t boring.
A quiet life isn’t an escapist life. The Thessalonians “welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering” (v. 6) and kept the faith bravely despite enduring real-world hardships (3:8).
A quiet life isn’t a silent life. These believers expounded their faith so boldly that the Lord’s message “rang out” all over the world (1:8).
A quiet life isn’t an isolated life. These Christians experienced rich fellowship. Paul viewed them as a spiritual family. He loved them “as a nursing mother” and “as a father deals with his own children” (2:7, 11).
So then, what kind of lifestyle should a “quietly ambitious” Christian pursue?
Marks of a Quiet Life
In this biblical context, quietness means freedom from flurry and bluster—peacefulness in the midst of chaos and danger. The Lord wants us to experience a quiet life marked by authentic holiness, active unselfishness, and attractive optimism.
Authentic holiness. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you avoid sexual immorality” (4:3). True holiness isn’t a religious masquerade or a quest for spiritual one-upmanship. It isn’t false humility that comes across as holier-than-thou. Real holiness stubbornly embraces being different—set apart for the Lord’s sake. It means refusing to allow the world to squeeze us into its mold.
Active unselfishness. Quiet ambition pushes self-interest aside and seeks the benefit of others. Instead of using people for our own sexual gratification, we recognize “that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” (4:6). When Paul says, “You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (v. 9), he’s talking about the gritty willingness to plunge into messy situations and ask, “How can I help?” We may not make a lot of noise, but we make a big difference when we encourage the disheartened, lift up the weak, practice patience, and engage in constant prayer (5:14-18).
Attractive optimism. “Mind your own business and work with your hands,” Paul instructs, “. . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (4:11, 12). Even a hard-hearted unbeliever will respect a Christian who performs well in the workplace—especially a Christian who exemplifies the persistent optimism that distinguishes believers from those “who have no hope” (4:13).
Was Jesus ambitious? Yes, but quietly so. He was authentically holy, consistently unselfish, unflaggingly hopeful. As a carpenter he worked with his hands. As a teacher he always told the truth, loved his students, and kept his composure. To impact our world, we don’t have to make a lot of noise; but we do need to be more like Jesus.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for July 20, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Thessalonians 3:1–6
2 Chronicles 1, 2
1 Thessalonians 3:7–13
2 Chronicles 3—5
1 Thessalonians 4:1–10
2 Chronicles 6, 7
1 Thessalonians 4:11–18
2 Chronicles 8, 9
1 Thessalonians 5:1–11
2 Chronicles 10—12
1 Thessalonians 5:12–28
2 Chronicles 13—16