The Answer is "No and Yes"
(All three Scripture references below are from the New Testament book of Philippians.)
The question: “Is this as good as it gets?”
Ambition can get you in a lot of trouble. Too much is a problem, as is too little. If a person has ambitions that are selfish or materialistic, they’ll find the pursuit of God to be frustrating. Ambition that creates competition can be divisive.
Pastors are not immune to this issue; there’s a surprising amount of literature on the subject. For example, I read an article titled “The Ambition Engine” by Pastor Skye Jethani. He wrote about how his seminary experience revealed a dark side to pastoral ambition. “On the first day in a small class, when asked to introduce ourselves and say why we had entered seminary, the first student said, ‘I'm here because I'm going to be the next Bill Hybels.’ Really, I thought. Hope that works out for you.
“The next said, ‘My grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, and I'm supposed to be a pastor too.’ Daddy issues? The third student revealed his three-year plan to become senior pastor and then transform his congregation into a megachurch. ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div. degree,’ he said, ‘but once I've proven I can grow a big church, I don't think they'll make me finish the degree.’ Good grief, I thought.”
Yes, ambition can cause some particularly stupid notions. Achieving a balance requires deep knowledge of one’s self, obedience to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to change to meet changing circumstances.
On way to promote a healthy balanced ambition is to keep asking yourself, “Is this as good as it gets?” The answer will lead to maturing faith if your ambition sits squarely on God. In Philippians, Paul evidences a good balance of ambition and contentment. We’ll look at it this morning following the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” method.
“Is this as good as it gets?”
1. No way - God is not finished with you (1:6).
CONFIDENT in the Greek meant “persuaded, convinced, trusting in the object.” You might say this word refers to an earned trust.
Paul used this word five times in his letters, twice here in Philippians (see Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:24; Philemon 1:21; Hebrews 6:9). Of these references, twice he was CONFIDENT IN THE LORD (Galatians 5:10 and Philippians 2:24). The other three times his confidence was in the recipients of his letters. Paul never expressed confidence based on himself, only on t LORD and His people. The LORD had earned Paul’s trust and though church folk disappointed him, Paul knew t LORD would never abandon his people.
The phrase BEGAN…CARRY ON TO COMPLETION encompasses the scope of salvation. God took the initiative with each of us; He BEGAN the process of salvation right after the sin of Adam and Eve. God has not abandoned or forgotten any of His people; He will save everyone who calls on Him. The beginning and the end are in God’s hands; let there be no doubt about that. But we are all still in process; let there be no doubt about that either.
How long will the process last? Paul’s answer here was UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS. The DAY OF CHRIST JESUS occurs just six times in the New Testament; three of them here in Philippians. This DAY is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the event that signals the completion of God’s work of salvation.
The life we know right now cannot be as good as it gets because we are in process, and the process is not complete. The Bible calls this process “sanctification,” a word that means becoming increasingly holy.
If we are convinced that some day in the past or the present life is as good as it gets, we must be frozen at a point in our maturing. All of us need to cultivate a little “godly discontent” in this regard. We should always acknowledge that the biggest room in our home is “room for improvement.”
“Is this as good as it gets?”
2. Yes - be content (4:12).
Paul has seen it all: times of NEED and times of PLENTY. He did not exaggerate in the least. On the PLENTY side, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to purchase Roman citizenship. On the “needy” side, he suffered a great deal because he faithfully preached the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a lengthy list of all Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel). This fact proved that Paul’s joy did not depend on his circumstances. Even in all his sufferings he was CONTENT will all God provided.
Having seen it all, Paul learned the SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION. It was a “SECRET” in the sense that contentment is something learned by experience and by individual commitment. No one can be content for you or teach it to you. It must come from within your heart. Again, Paul’s contentment was not limited to moments of ease; EACH AND EVERY SITUATION includes all the normal and extraordinary situations he faced.
Isn’t contentment the opposite of ambition? On the surface, contentment can feel like saying “I don’t need or want any more. I am fine with what I have/what I am right now.” On the surface, ambition can feel like a hunger that cannot be satisfied, a dissatisfaction that motivates movement.
To me, it’s more helpful to see these emotional conditions as two ends of a balancing pole. Wire-walkers sometimes perform with a pole in their hands, using it to achieve balance on the wire. Similarly, contentment and ambition are two virtues we hold in balance to keep us steady as we make our way through life. There will be circumstances where we need to be more content and others where more ambition is needed. God supplies wisdom so we know the difference. Our final note on this passage narrows the issue down for us.
“Is this as good as it gets?”
3. Yes and no - be content with God’s material provision;
be ambitious for godliness instead (3:13-14).
In humility, Paul admitted he hadn’t TAKEN HOLD of all Jesus had done for him. The phrase TAKEN HOLD means to “seize, grasp the meaning, understand.”
He hadn’t yet been raised to heaven.
He hadn’t been MADE PERFECT (12).
Those things happen on the other side of this life. And yet, at that moment, Paul had as his ambition to take hold of as much of it as possible on this side of life.
Paul noted two steps in achieving this ambition.
One: FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND. God gave me a series of one-liners to understand and apply this truth:
- Resist the urge to gold-plate the past. The days behind held their share of sorrows too.
- Resist the urge to hold grudges.
- Forgive and forget the offense, but hold tight to the lessons learned.
- Seek forgiveness from people and God wherever offense and sin is unresolved.
- Reject the devil’s false guilt.
- Love unconditionally, as God has loved you.
- Remember people in the most positive light.
- Sentiment clouds our judgment; best avoid it.
- Discard limitations your past places on you.
Two: STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD. Imagine the victory, then pour yourself into achieving it under God’s direction.
No amount of effort will change the past. Some of your efforts may immediately change the present. Every effort will have an effect on the future. That fact alone ought to dictate where we devote our attention.
For the believer, Jesus awaits us on the other side of the finish line. We pour our heart and mind and strength into faithful obedience because we await His welcome on the other side of that line. If our eyes are on anything other than the finish line, we tend to veer off course and/or slow down.
The Apostle Paul undertook one method in realizing his ambition: I PRESS ON. The phrase PRESS ON pictures a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line. The athlete is pouring every last bit of strength into finishing the race; his effort leaves everything on the field of competition. Nothing needs to be reserved for after the race of life because there is nothing left to be done after this race.
For many of us, life is a marathon, not a sprint. The effort required to be faithful does not relent until death comes to us. Quitting is not even an option. When weariness comes, we may have to change our pace, but we keep moving on toward our heavenly goal.
Paul had one goal in life: TO WIN THE PRIZE FOR WHICH GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS. The PRIZE in this case is eternal life; a forever spent in God’s presence and in fellowship with the rest of His people. We know that because verse eleven ends with a reference to THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.
There is nothing this world can offer that compares with heaven. Our problem is not so much having trouble believing that, but our problem is more often remembering that. We don’t always behave like people who are headed for heaven, do we? The world can easily distract us and our human nature can easily betray us so we don’t act as heaven-bound folk. That’s called SIN and we need to avoid it and repent of it when we fail to avoid it.
The parts of us that survive the death of the body are the good and godly things. Nothing evil or worldly makes it into heaven. It’s upon us to partner with the Holy Spirit in filling our days with godly words and deeds.
“Is this as good as it gets?”
A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, "A house described in today's paper is exactly what I'm looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!" The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, "But sir, that's your house your describing."
God revealed to Paul that he should be continually ambitious for spiritual maturity but content with the material things God had already provided. This allowed Paul to be undeterred by circumstances, numbers, or any other material signs of success or failure. That is a worthy example for us to follow.
Here’s one way we can put this into practice. The next time you feel compelled to upgrade to the bigger, faster, newer, or prettier version of something we already have, require yourself to make a matching contribution to church or charity. Doubling the expense will cause you to think twice about buying the item at all and might just simplify your life.