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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Article by David Hall

Deceiving Yourself about Your Real Ambition?

July 14, 2015 •

Read Matthew 6:19-24

These verses from Jesus’ Sermon are about a subject that haunts us all with its relevancy: The subject of Ambition. From the oldest to the youngest, we all have some ambition.

Having addressed our private life in the first half of this chapter, in verses 19-34, he abruptly changes subjects and emphasis at v. 19 to address the public overflow of one’s heart.

Beginning with v. 19 Jesus instructs us about our ambition or desire to stockpile treasures. The complex which he is confronting is the problem area of worldliness. He tells us in v. 19 not to lay up treasures of a solely earthly nature for ourselves. Many wrongly limit this to meaning only money. But Jesus did not say, “Lay not up money for yourselves.” He said, lay not up treasures. In fact, many ambitious people are non-materialistic. The term ‘treasure’ is more encompassing than money and is all inclusive. You see, not only the affluent but also the impoverished (e.g., the original disciple) and all in between have earthly ambition and many times a sinful attitude toward possessions. Worldly ambition has a strong fascination focus. So treasure is bigger than mere wealth. Treasure may refer to status, the love of honor, the love of position, power, or an illegitimate love of one’s work. An earthly treasure is anything that centers on this world only or that which displaces our vision away from God.

Think of the three things that you desire most. Be honest. Here’s a good way to recognize those things if you have trouble. Do you ever have insomnia? And after tossing endlessly, do you try to put yourself to sleep by thinking pleasant thoughts? Many try to take the advice of Julie Andrews in her song from the Sound of Music— “These are a few of my favorite things.” Every person has delights, treasures, or pleasures. What are yours?

The peril of worldly ambition is so subtle and pervasive that our Lord takes up this theme often in his teaching. In this passage, I see three main principles that Jesus highlights on this subject. I’ll consider these in the opposite order in which Jesus gives them because I believe that he gave us his conclusion first and then his supporting premises. So I’ll analyze this passage in reverse to bring out Jesus’ reasoning behind his main conclusion.

His teaching may be summarized like this: Since you are children of the Heavenly Father, do not act as earthly children, trying to depend on earthly treasurers, but orient your ambition toward Heavenly Treasure. If you must lay up treasures, make it your ambition to stockpile heavenly treasures.

Christ’s first Premise is that it is impossible to serving two masters (v. 24) The Greek word for master is “Lord.” Thus no one can serve two Lords. Lord denotes absolute ownership. Hence we’re told that we cannot serve two Lords at the same time. We cannot have one Lord, as dominating our ambitions and other equally dominating ambitions. We cannot simultaneously serve Christ and the world

No man can be a slave to two owners. As we move on to v. 24b, we are confronted with a necessary, inevitable dilemma: The Great Either/Or. (1) Either we will serve with our abilities and the ambitions of one Lord; Or we’ll serve the other. The scripture says either we’ll hate one Master (Lord), and love the other. (2) Or the one you will be attached to and the other you will despise, look down on, and set your mind against the other. You’ll hold the other in contempt. There is no way we can serve both at the same time. One or the other consumes our loyalty and ambition.

Both of these make totalitarian and exclusive demands on us. “Worldly things do make totalitarian demand on us.” (Lloyd-Jones) Satan wishes to consume, control and en-slave us to “things” and cares of this world. This is what Lloyd-Jones calls “Sin’s Bondage,” to the things that “grip and master our feelings, our affections, and all our sensibility.”

Mammon can be an idol or an ideal. When we become preoccupied with wealth and material possessions rather than the kingdom of God, we have erected an idol. We have begun to seek these things as ends in themselves. To exalt possessions [or any other created thing] to the level of ultimate ends is to ascribe ultimate meaning to them. It is idolatry. And all idols create other destructive trajectories in us. Idolatries of mammon are in fundamental disagreement with the warning of Jesus that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15). The ethical injunction that has to accompany such a position is contentment; are you grasping for more, or have you learned the secret of contentment, which is the antidote to ambition?

When I was young Bob Dylan’s (1979) song “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody” — put this well.

‘You may be the ambassador to England or France
May like to drink whiskey
May like to dance
You may be the heavy weight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with as long string of pearls — BUT . . .’You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody

All people—all classes—all ethnic backgrounds; all positions can only serve one Lord. There is no other option. Either we serve God or serve Mammon—an idol. The spell of materialism is hard to break and we have a choice between God and Mammon, between serving the living Creator himself or any other object of our own creation. “Anybody who divides his/her allegiance between God and Mammon,” noted John Stott, “has already given it to Mammon since God can be served only with an entire and exclusive devotion.” Whom do you serve today? Who would you serve if you had your way?

You may seek to deceive yourself by lying to yourself that you can balance all things and that you don’t have to make a choice. You may be quite creative in seeking to avoid casting off from the world and its Mammon. But Jesus says: you cannot do that. You have to serve a Lord. Only one.

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