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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Be Quiet!

man under bridgeMake it your ambition to lead a quiet life. 1 Thes 4:11

The apostle Paul is well known for telling women to be quiet and has received rather a lot of opprobrium from people who have taken his words out of their original context, by which I mean both the context of Scripture and the context of the culture in which he was pastoring.

But it shouldn't be surprising that Paul was a fan of quietness. We only have to read 2 Corinthians 11 to realise he had, what the British might call, a bit of a trying time. Not many of us can claim to have been shipwrecked three times, let alone flogged five times or stoned and left for dead.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that Paul might say to the Thessalonians, "try to lead a quiet life."

But what he says is actually much stronger than that.

Ambition is what motivates us to do something. Human beings can generally only cope with one ambition at a time, so we ask someone, "What is your ambition?" We expect someone with ambition to be single-minded, focused on the path ahead and undistracted.

It is sometimes frowned upon for Christians to express any kind of ambition but we know that there are preachers with the ambition to build large congregations, worship leaders who want recording deals, and evangelists who collect converts like notches on their belts. We're uncomfortable with that. We're perhaps also uncomfortable with Christians having ambitions within their careers. On the other hand, if we can find a spiritual way of reformulating what we want, we can perhaps get away with it. Is it OK to want to be a millionaire if it means I can give money to mission?

Paul was an ambitious man. He told the Romans, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation," (Rom 15:20). And yet, every other time he mentions ambition in his letters he qualifies it with the word, "selfish". The only exception is in this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

Ambition and quietness almost seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum. Ambition is associated with drive while quietness is linked with stillness; ambition strives, quietness rests; ambition presses forwards as quietness retreats.

Paul urges his Christian readers to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life but this does not imply an unproductive life. God Himself says, "In quietness and trust is your strength," (Is 30:15) and, "Be still and know that I am God," (Ps 46:10). All of our ambition will change nothing of value if we are not in step with the Holy Spirit, and that will only happen as we are quiet enough to hear His direction.

So make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and let God do miracles with it.  

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