Sunday, June 17, 2007

Christian Excellence and Ambition

I'm not a very good housekeeper. While I do manage to keep things tidy and sanitary, I never seem to get around to the "big jobs", forget to dust, and prefer the decorating scheme of "Modern Nostalgia" (i.e., whatever family members and kids have given or made). While I do consider myself a good homemaker (a different role than mere housekeeping, to my mind), I hold no illusions about winning a Better Homes and Gardens house of the year award! The word "excellent" would never cross my mind when describing my housekeeping skills!

Likewise, I have little "ambition" in the earthly sense of the word. I don't have a specific career-ladder goal in mind; I am not sure that I even want to achieve the next "step". I do want to do a good job every day, but earthly success is not my definition of "ambition".

Thankfully, God is very good at redefining terms for His children. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul spells out very clearly what Christian excellence and ambition should look like.

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to 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.
I Thessalonians 4:9-12

Excellence. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to "excel still more" in the second greatest commandment: Love one another. Love for other believers is so important that John writes if we don't love each other, we don't love God! Likewise he writes that if we love God, we will love one another. And he calls the commandment to love a singular command - though Jesus had stated love for God was number one and love for others number two. The sum of John's teachings leads to the conclusion that the first and second commands are two sides of the same coin -- if you have one, you must have the other. In calling us to excel in love, Paul comes alongside John's emphasis on love and strips away much of what is extraneous in our lives. We're not called to be excellent singers, excellent speakers, excellent newsletter writers. We're called to love excellently. That turns a lot of "musts" into optional activities and solidifies our priorities in the right direction.

Ambition. Paul also defines for the Thessalonians what their "ambition" should be. Their ambition is not to single-handedly save a continent, country, or even city for Christ; their ambition is not to meet an artificial numerical goal; instead, Paul defines ambition for them as leading a quiet life, minding their own business, and working with their hands. Pretty simple for a group of new believers, but good advice for all of us who love to set big plans in motion and fret when every cog in the wheel doesn't turn like we anticipated. Just work hard, don't do anything that would cause unbelievers to focus more on our "noise" than on the Gospel, and see what God does. This doesn't mean trouble won't come our way - but it does mean than when it does, the focus can be on the Gospel, not our antagonistic behavior. Here Paul concurs with Peter's teaching that our lives and testimony should be with such a gentle and quiet spirit that when we are attacked, even our accusers won't find any legitimate cause for complaint against us. The attack will be revealed to be against the message, not the messenger.

Have you been struggling with frustration at the lack of excellence in some area of your work? Are you overwhelmed with priorities and unsure where to begin? Are you ready to scream at the goals laid out before you -- goals that seem not to take into account the realities of your daily grind?

Come back to the basics. Excel in love. Make it your amibition to live a quiet life and work hard. See what God does when you get your plans out of the way and just be a vessel.

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