(No tear sheet)
Alexander the Great was a man of ambition. However, after completely subduing the known world, he was not satisfied and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. He died young — in a state of debauchery.
Hannibal was another ambitious man. We remember him as the leader who crossed the Alps with his elephants. Most do not know that the gold rings taken from those he slaughtered filled three bushel baskets. Like Alexander, his end was ignoble; he killed himself by swallowing poison. Few even noticed his death and he left this world unmourned.
Julius Caesar ambitiously conquered 800 cities, “staining his garments in the blood of one million of his foes” but he too found no lasting reward for his ambition. Instead, he was stabbed by his best friend at the scene of his so-called greatest triumph.
Napoleon, once feared as the scourge of Europe, spent his last years in banishment. His ambition and many victories did not bring lasting honor or lasting rewards either.
These men did not dedicate their lives or their ambition to God, but for people who have the outcome is quite different. God’s people may have great ambition or be less enterprising. Nevertheless, their lives have surprising results.
For example, a woman once poured expensive oil on Jesus’ head. The disciples thought the money paid for the perfume should have been given to the poor. Were they right? This woman’s oil was worth about a year’s wages. Wouldn’t God reward her for an act of generosity that benefitted many people instead of wasting it on one person?
Today, movie celebrities donate money to charities that feed and clothe thousands. Other wealthy people give a portion of their millions to people less fortunate. Jesus did not say giving to the poor was wrong, but in the case of this woman, He said, “Leave her alone. . . . She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” A small and costly ambition, but she was given an eternal legacy.
Missionary pioneers Hudson Taylor and William Carey provide more contemporary examples. Respectively, these men determined to take the gospel to China and India. Because of their selfless efforts, millions of souls will spend eternity with God, another priceless legacy.
While not evil in itself, the Bible warns against selfishly motivated ambition: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
Selfish ambition and neglecting a commitment to godliness are characterized by wanting what other people have — even to the point of depriving them — and calling it “ambition.” In contrast, the ambition that God approves is like that of Mary of Bethany. She did not cling to what she had but “wasted” it on Christ.
So did Taylor and Carey. They could have stayed home and put their skills to making money or fame for themselves. Instead, they poured out their lives for the eternal well-being of others. Whatever they missed out on in this life, they did not miss out on God’s promises. He affirms that those who serve Him will enjoy His eternal rewards.