We have been looking at Paul’s life and examining what it means to have a godly ambition. Last time we saw the height of Paul’s ambition—the fact that he had the highest possible goal: pleasing God. But his ambition didn’t only go as high as possible; it went as wide as possible, too. Let me explain what this means by looking again at Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
Paul’s ambition spans two contexts: “whether at home or absent.” To understand what he means by this, we have to look back at the context of this verse:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
When Paul says, “whether at home or absent,” he means, “whether I am alive or dead.” In other words, Paul is declaring that the ambition he has in life will be the same one that he has after he dies. His ambition is wide, covering both his present state and his eternal state.
Paul understood something that we so often forget: It is foolish to entertain ambitions now that we will have to sacrifice when we die. It is foolish to think, “While I’m here I’m going to try to make as much money as I can, or try to get up the corporate ladder as fast as I can, or gather as much power and influence as I possibly can,” when we will ultimately have to give up those goals for a higher one. God may give us power and influence and money in this life, but the goal of this life should not be to earn those things. Our goal now should be the same as our goal will be in eternity: to please God.
When we are in heaven, we certainly won’t be consumed with pleasing men. And we certainly won’t be consumed with pleasing ourselves, either. In perfect righteousness, with perfect joy and perfect peace, we will live to the pleasure of God forever, who Himself will ever live for our pleasure. As Paul says elsewhere, “For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
Our aim should be continuity between this life and the next. There will be no liars in heaven—so why should we lie now? There will be no adulterers in heaven—so why should we be immoral now? There will be nothing unclean in heaven—so why should we entertain impurity now?
Paul understood that having a godly ambition meant living our lives now in the same way we will in heaven. That is why he says this in Philippians 3:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
This is a very interesting statement. Paul is telling us that the goal of life here is “the prize of the upward call.” What does he mean by that?
Ask yourself this. When we are called up, what will be our prize? What are we going to get when we get to heaven? When you think about heaven, what do you find most glorious about it? The gold streets and pearl gates? As nice as those will be, the best part of heaven will be this: “We will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
The joy of heaven will be our perfected Christlikeness, and the goal of Paul’s life is to attain this prize. So we see that Paul doesn’t have any objective in life other than the reality of eternity. Paul was chosen and saved for the purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). This objective, predestined by God, became Paul’s objective in life. And because of this, Paul’s life had perfect continuity. He lived his whole life to become like Jesus Christ, and when he died, he entered an eternity where he will continue to reflect Christ forever.
So, we have seen that the height of Paul’s ambition is to please God and the breadth of his ambition is to have absolute continuity between time and eternity in the way he lives his life. Next time, we will look at one final aspect of Paul’s ambition: that he strove in light of the coming judgment.
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