In your personal Bible study, have you ever noticed that the Lord called busy people to serve Him? Moses was caring for his father-in-law’s sheep when his call came, and Gideon was threshing wheat when God commissioned him to be a general. David was tending his father’s sheep when Samuel summoned him and anointed him king. Peter, Andrew, James and John were mending their nets when Jesus called them to become fishers of men, and Matthew was at his booth collecting tolls and taxes. Ruth the Moabitess was busy gleaning in the field when the Lord introduced her to her husband. It pays to be busy.
We must never ignore or minimize the dignity of work. Adam and Eve were assigned tasks in Eden, and God said to Israel, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…” (Ex. 20:8). Before He commenced His ministry, Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and during Paul’s ministry, he labored as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3). Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you” (1 Thess. 4:11). Later he wrote, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). 1 Timothy 5:8 is crisp and clear: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
There is a place for godly ambition, but we must be careful not to become workaholics who glory in our achievements instead of glorifying the Lord. Granted, it’s better to burn out than to rust out, but those aren’t the only choices. God wants us to use our time wisely (Eph. 5:15-17) so that we will “work out” our Christian life in the will of God. I was muttering one day about my schedule, and a friend quietly said, “There is always time for the will of God.” That was the word I needed.
I mentioned William Sangster earlier. Every pastor and Christian worker ought to read the biography Doctor Sangster, written by his son Paul (London: Epworth Press, 1962). If ever there was a consecrated workaholic, it was Sangster. One day he left his study and said to his son, “We’ll go for a walk. I have exactly twenty-two minutes!” And off they went. In the closing years of his life, Sangster suffered from progressive muscular atrophy, and he blamed himself for the affliction. He had worked too hard and hadn’t take time to relax. In his personal diary, he wrote: “I rushed about too much. I talked too much. I was proud of my health and work. I lashed the body on, imprisoned in a timetable.
There’s a difference between ambition and godly ambition, and Paul knew that difference. He commended Titus for his “much enthusiasm” (2 Cor. 8:17). By the way, the English word “enthusiasm” comes from the Green en theos and means “in God” or “God in you.” If we’re operating on our own strength and abilities, it’s not God who is at work in us; but if God is at work, it’s remarkable what He can do with an earthen vessel yielded to Him!
If our zeal has as its purpose to make us “shine in ourselves and outshine others,” then we are heading for trouble; but if our goal is to exalt the Lord and finish His work, then the Spirit will direct us and keep us from excesses.
In Matthew 25:21 and 23, Jesus gives us the definition and the formula for true success: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” The master gave the money to the servants according to their ability, because each of us is different when it comes to what we can do. The servant with much ability received five talents, the average man received two, and the man with little ability was given one; but the reward was based on the proportion and not the portion! The first two servants received the same reward because each of them had doubled what the master gave him. Had the third servant gained only one more talent, he too would have shared in the reward.
God isn’t going to measure your ministry or mine against what Spurgeon did or Hudson Taylor or Lottie Moon or Billy Graham. We will be measured against our own abilities and opportunities. And keep in mind: it isn’t the portion that we have but the proportion that we gain that determines the reward. Nobody can plead “lack of ability” or “lack of opportunity.”
“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” (italics mine). The poet William Blake wrote that in the “Proverbs of Hell” section of his poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and we must not miss his message. God doesn’t expect the sparrow to soar in the heights like the eagle, but neither does He expect the eagle to build a nest on the ground. Each of us has different abilities and God wants us to use them wisely and to the utmost for His glory. If our wings can take us higher, but we choose to remain lower, we are missing the mark and sinning.
Note the sequence. We begin with a few things as servants, and if we are faithful, God will reward us by making us rulers over many things. We begin with toil and faithful service and end sharing the joy of the Lord. Moses became a leader, David became a king, Nehemiah became a governor and the fishermen became apostles. The work they did prepared them for even greater things because they were faithful. They let their wings carry them as high as possible.
The apostle Paul was an ambitious man, but his ambition was to promote Christ and the gospel and not himself. “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not know” (Rom. 15:20). He was willing to go to hell for the sake of the Jews (Rom. 9:1-5) and to delay going to heaven for the sake of the Gentile believers (Phil. 1:20-24)!
Hellen Keller wrote: “The world is moved, not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
“The more we use the means and opportunities we have, the more our ability and opportunities will be increased.” Evangelist D. L. Moody said that, and he was right!
(Copyright Warren W. Wiersbe, 2008. All rights reserved. Not to be reprinted.)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).