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Me First: The Power of Godly Ambition

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
April 17, 2024 12:00 am

Me First: The Power of Godly Ambition

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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April 17, 2024 12:00 am

Many people feel adrift after retirement. Discover the fulfilling power of ambition aligned with God's purpose. In this episode of Wisdom for the Heart, Stephen Davey shares the story of Dr. Charles McCoy, who found a lifetime of impact in his 70s. Learn how to shoulder your load, shape up your life, and showcase the light of Christ. Get ready to be inspired! Visit for more resources.


Some of us battle this particular temptation in some way or another, maybe we don't get the attention we feel we deserve. Some people will never rest from trying to prove something to their parents, their boyfriend, their ex-girlfriend, their professor, their coach, dying as it were to hear some word of commendation.

Paul says, don't live for that. I'm living with this passion that I will one day stand before Christ, and more than anything else, this is my ambition, that I will have a word of commendation from Him. The world is full of record holders, people who push themselves to unimaginable limits to be number one. From flipping in swim fins to sitting in trees, it seems like there's a competition for everything. We like being in the front, being the best, being the first, but ambition can blind us. Selfish desires become idols that control us. How can we live with purpose and still give God the glory? Today, Stephen Davey addresses that challenge and the rewards of biblical ambition. Learn to live with Christ as your guide and find what really matters.

Stephen called this message, Me First. Something desirable about holding a record at something, we would all rather be at the head of the line than at the back of the line. It's something that we could call in a word ambition. It's an ever-present, ever-ready, clever temptation that so easily winds itself around our hearts and can trip us up. Let me show you the perfect illustration of this kind of ambition. Take your New Testament and turn to the first gospel account, the Bible of Matthew, and you'll discover both the problem and the solution to self-centered ambition. It'll be familiar as soon as you see it, but look at Matthew chapter 18 and verse 1. At that time, the disciples came to Jesus saying, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

First of all, that's a problem. I mean, just asking that. Who came up with this? We're not told. They all seem to be in on it. It happens to be one of the most talked about subjects among the disciples, which I'll show you. This is one of their most difficult questions that they're grappling with. Who's going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And they talk about it through Christ's entire ministry. In fact, for the sake of time, I'll just quote Luke chapter 9 verse 46. We're told that they are actually arguing about it. He records in that gospel account, and an argument arose among them.

That is the 12. As to which of them was the greatest? Come on, these are the leaders of the future church. They must have been arguing about the best discipleship methods or maybe the best way to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Uh-uh. Which one among the 12 of us is the greatest? That word, greatest, by the way, has within it that little Greek word, Megon, from which we get our word, mega. We talk about the rich person with the mega bucks. We even talk about the mega church that's so large. Or we refer to a person who makes mega deals. You know, they kind of top the charts in sales.

That's the idea behind the disciples' question. Lord, who's going to make it to the top of the charts? I mean, rate us. Come on, tell us who's first, second, and third.

Go ahead and name them. We'd like you to hand out some medals, you know, for the super disciple among us. Back to the text here, Matthew's gospel informs us that Jesus responds by asking for a toddler, a child pidean. It means it's a little toddler. And he says, truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you'll not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Why would that be? Well, there's a hint here in the text. It's the word humility.

That's a signpost, which is the opposite of ambitious pride, right? Now, you might think the Lord is referring to a child is the greatest because a child is transparent or trusting. You know, faith seems to come easily. That's a misunderstanding. Or maybe that a child is innocent. I don't know about innocent. I've had toddlers in our house, and I don't think you'd put innocent with that, right?

Some of you are looking at me, I know some of your children, so you're in the same boat as I am. But transparency or innocency isn't really what the Lord is talking about. I believe the Lord is referring to the fact that a child is absolutely, utterly, helplessly dependent on somebody else. You want to get into the kingdom? You have to be absolutely, utterly, totally dependent on God to get you in. You don't come in with your metals and your deeds and your works and your efforts.

No, forget that. Jesus is saying you get into the kingdom by child likeness, and then he says the greatest in the kingdom is those who are childlike, not childish. That can be stubborn and self-serving and self-centered, but childlike, that is utterly dependent. Now, did the disciples get the message here? Did this answer from the Lord, you know, sort of put to bed this pursuit of ambition? If you turn over a couple of pages in this gospel by Matthew to chapter 20, let's go to verse 20, see if they got it.

One of my favorite texts. Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, that's James and John, two of the twelve, and kneeling before him, I mean, she gets on her knees, and she asked him for something, and he said to her, what do you want? She said to him, say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom. Just sort of cracks me up every time I try to picture this.

What do you wish? Command it in your kingdom, my boys, they get on your right and on your left. In other words, Lord, when you work out your seating chart for the coming kingdom and all those thrones in the kingdom, put my boys on either side, I'm sure my boys deserve it more than these other fellas do, and James and John, I mean, what are they doing? They're just standing there. Can you just see the other ten disciples somewhere around the corner, doubled over in laughter at those mama's boys who have their mama coming up and kneeling before the Lord?

Oh no, not really. In fact, verse 24 says, when the ten heard it, they were infuriated. They're not laughing. They're indignant at the two brothers. They're furious. The tense of the verb implies they actually express it.

Who do you think you are? Why do you think you ought to get the right and the left? Then the argument just boils up again all over again. Well, why were they just as furious? Well, before we're too hard on them, the Lord has already told them in an earlier chapter that they are going to sit on 12 thrones in the kingdom. Okay, if that's true, then their ambition is leading them to say, okay, who gets to sit the closest to the King of Kings? I have read how Chuck Colson in his autobiographical statements, you're old enough, you may remember, he was sent to prison with other advisors of President Nixon because of Watergate, but he talked about how as advisors, they would travel with Nixon on Air Force One, these advisors, and they would battle over who would sit closest to the President.

In fact, there were cuts at one point in time on Air Force One and they measured the distance between their cuts and the President so that not one of them was one inch closer to the President. I mean, you talk about ambition, you talk about name dropping, you talk about pictures on the wall with who's who. Isn't that the game the world plays? I mean, surely in the kingdom, you got to ratchet it up, you got to edge out the other guy.

Who's going to sit closest to the king? Now, what's easy to miss here is that the other disciples are really angry because of the simple fact that James and John have an advantage that they don't have. They are actually first cousins with Jesus. Their mother was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they're really upset. I mean, everybody knows blood is thicker than water and here they are taking advantage of that, infuriated that they would do such a thing and that Mary would come and ask that or Salome, the sister of Mary. Well, the Lord straightens them all out again by reminding them in the next few verses that close fellowship with him is going to bring a cross before it ever brings a crown.

Are you ready to drink that cup? Being a cousin doesn't make you the greatest. Praying your cross does. I find it interesting that the apostle Paul uses the word ambition three times in his letters and all of them point to a bright side, a redemptive side of ambition. Let me take them or take you to them briefly and define godly ambition over against ungodly self-serving ambition. Paul is going to effectively challenge us as disciples to be ambitious about three projects, we'll call them, okay?

Project number one, we must be ambitious to shoulder our own load. Turn to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.

Paul writes beginning at verse 9, now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you brothers to do this more and more and to aspire, you could write into the margin of your Bible there the word ambition, that's the word. Now notice, to live quietly and to mind your own affairs and to work with your own hands as we instructed you so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. Paul by the way picks up the same challenge in his second letter if you go over to 2 Thessalonians in chapter 3 and you'll notice at verse 10, they don't get it in the first letter by the way and he writes in this letter even more, a little bit more harshly, stronger language. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command, if anyone is not willing to work let him not eat.

For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work but busy bodies, he uses a play on words here. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Now most New Testament scholars point out the fact that within this context there is I guess what we could call kingdom of fever, eschatological anticipation. I mean they're expecting the Lord to come for his church at any moment convinced as we are that he's coming soon.

And so there were people in this church in Thessalonica who were saying, look if that's true, and Paul spent time in these two letters talking about the coming of the Lord, if this is true and his coming is imminent, why work? Why bother? In fact if you knew the Lord was coming back on Tuesday, would you do any laundry on Monday?

Would you fellas, like me? Would you cut the grass on Monday? No. Why bother if Jesus is coming back? We've seen in the 80s and 90s and even in the last couple of decades in this century people setting dates for the rapture of the church and people buy into it and they quit their jobs and sell their homes and hide out in the mountains and await the call. It's not a new phenomenon. In fact there's a man by the name of Lactantius who was among the first to set the date for the rapture.

He set it at AD 500. This is a long time ago. When that didn't happen things settled down. Then another group came along and this picked up a lot of steam and they decided that it would take place at the dawning of the century, 1000, AD 1000. And church history records that multitudes of people sold their possessions or gave them away and went to the land of Israel to await his coming. Prominent leaders of the church even were among the crowd.

Of course they lost tremendous credibility which was the enemy's intention. The fact that Jesus is going to come for his church and that coming is imminent has the potential of leading misguided people into assuming they figured out the mystery and the date. The preaching of Paul had created this awkward situation especially uniquely perhaps in this church among misguided people. Many people had given up their jobs.

They were standing about in excited groups upsetting themselves and everybody else while they waited for the Lord's appearing. Paul's advice basically is this. When the Lord comes and if he should come today let him find you shouldering your load, shouldering your responsibilities, carrying your share of load. Don't quit working.

In other words when he appears might he find us at our God appointed tasks whatever they may be even if it means the laundry. Make that your ambition. Be ambitious to shoulder your own load. Self-ambition, self-centered pursuits, self-promoting lifestyles, even self-promoting ministry, we have to be careful there too, will not be rewarded.

Let me put it as practically as I can this way. Our ambition isn't for our glory. It's for God's glory. Some of us, in fact all of us I'm convinced battle this particular temptation in some way or another.

Maybe we don't get the attention we feel we deserve. Maybe we live for the praise of others. Some people will never rest from trying to prove something to their parents, their boyfriend, their ex-girlfriend, their professor, their coach, dying as it were to hear some word of commendation.

If you are in leadership make sure you dispense them for the encouragement of those who need to hear them. Paul says don't live for that. I'm living effectively with this passion that I will one day stand before Christ and more than anything else this is my ambition that I will have a word of commendation from him and that'll be all I want. The believer should be ambitious to shape up their lives. The believer should be ambitious to shoulder their load.

There's one more project. The believer should be ambitious to showcase the light. Go back to Romans 15 a few pages. Romans 15 and I want you to notice the transparency of the Apostle Paul as we're given sort of a little peek into his ambitious heart. Look at verse 20 of Romans chapter 15. Thus I make it my ambition.

There's the third use of the word. I make it my ambition to preach the gospel not where Christ has already been named lest I build on someone else's foundation but as it is written those who have never been told of him will see and those who've never heard will understand. Listen the ambition of Paul was to showcase the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul never stopped being on the lookout for someone with whom he could share Jesus Christ. Let's adopt the ambitions of Paul. Ambitious to discipline our lives and focus our lives on a coming evaluation and thank God for his grace all the way there. Ambitious to shoulder the load of responsibilities that God has placed on us.

Maybe it is chasing that toddler around the house or cutting the grass. Ambitious to showcase the light. Let me point you not to me let me point you to the light of Christ. Whatever we are we are by the grace of God so the accolades don't come this way right? They go to Christ showcasing him in a world in which he has placed us for several decades.

I came across this I'd seen it several years ago nearly 10 years ago for the first time and remembered it and went and found it. It's a story and I'm gonna read a few paragraphs here so bear with me but it's about a man by the name of Charles McCoy who pastored a church in Oyster Bay New York. He pastored and lived his entire ministry life as a single man. He had time to continue his education while he pastored he actually earned seven graduate and postgraduate degrees. When he turned 72 his denomination required that he retire from ministry and he rather reluctantly stepped away from the pulpit and people he had faithfully pastored for many years. He wasn't quite sure what to do with himself and he wrote I keep thinking that my life's over and I haven't really done anything yet.

I've pastored this church for decades spent a lot of time working for degrees I've traveled some preach the Bible but I haven't won very many people to the Lord. That bothered him. So one week after his retirement party he happened to meet a missionary who invited him to come to India to preach and he said no I'm 72. He'd never traveled overseas he traveled across America and he had never flown on a plane. Well if you have traveled to India you'll spend you know about two months on a plane. It'll feel that way and he didn't have that kind of money either.

So he said no but that thought just kind of nagged at him. Till finally the 72 year old white haired man announced to his friend I will go to India. He sold his car and a few possessions he had enough to buy a one-way ticket to Bombay. His friends were horrified.

What if you fall ill? What if you should die in India with newfound courage? He said well it's as close to heaven from India as it is from here. So he arrived in Bombay hit his billfold his passport a satchel of clothes in his Bible all of which were stolen in his first hour in India. He was left with only the clothes on his back and the address of the missionaries in his pocket. The man who had originally invited him let me read from this account to come and preach had actually decided to remain in America and when he showed up on the missionaries doorstep they weren't quite sure what to do with them. Those who were living there invited him in and gave him a small guest room. Well Dr. McCoy was anxious to do something for Christ and after two days of getting acclimated he announced to those missionaries that he was going to visit the mayor of Bombay. Don't waste your time his friends advised.

After several years of trying they said we've never been able to see him. Dr. McCoy prayed about it decided he'd go anyway without an appointment. He presented his business card he had one of them with him to the receptionist and she looked at it carefully and then disappeared through a door. Returning she told him to please return at three o'clock that afternoon. So he returned that afternoon to find a reception in his honor attended by some of the most important civic leaders in Bombay. It seems the mayor had been greatly impressed by McCoy's tall frame he was 6'4", his distinguished white hair and all those degrees after his name. They thought he is a very important person perhaps even a representative of the President of the United States so they held a reception in his honor. Dr. McCoy was able to tell them who he was and then give a half hour testimony of the gospel speaking to them about Jesus Christ.

At the end he was applauded politely by the assembled crowd and afterward he was approached by a man in an impressive military uniform who invited him to speak to the students of his military school which as it turned out was India's equivalent to West Point and after his first address McCoy was invited back repeatedly. Invitations began to pour in from all over India and he began an itinerant ministry of preaching the gospel. In Calcutta he ended up starting a church for Chinese believers.

He was asked to do the same in Hong Kong where he was invited to come and live. He was then invited from there to Egypt and into the Middle East. He traveled everywhere with an energy that he had seldom before felt. He traveled and preached, he planted several churches, he taught in several schools, discipled a number of believers, spoke before government leaders and dignitaries in several countries. His international ministry would last 16 years. He died at the age of 88 in a hotel in Calcutta India just before he was to preach at a rally to men downtown.

Dr. Charles McCoy never once came back to America. Had God informed him of what he had for him when he was 72 he probably would have fainted dead away but he was simply ambitious as we are to be and to await whatever God does whatever door he opens it might be to a neighbor or a child to a friend. Let me showcase for you the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also be ambitious about the tasks God has for you and about pursuing obedience to him.

But don't be ambitious about promoting yourself or advancing your own agenda. You've tuned in to Wisdom for the Heart with pastor and author Stephen Davey. Stephen is the founder and pastor of the Shepherd's Church in Cary, North Carolina. You can learn more about Stephen and our ministry at One of the valuable resources on that website is the complete archive of Stephen's Bible teaching. Stephen founded the Shepherd's Church back in 1986 so there's a significant collection of Bible teaching on our site.

You may have already realized this but when we prepare one of these lessons for broadcast on the radio we do have to shorten it a bit to fit in the time slot. When you go to the archives on either the website or our smartphone app we post the full length version of the message so you can go there anytime if you miss one of these broadcasts or if you want to hear a message in its entirety. You'll find that website at and our smartphone app is available in the app store for your device. When you go to your app store search for Wisdom International. If you'd like to write to us our mailing address is Wisdom International P.O.

Box 37297 Raleigh, North Carolina 27627. We'd be encouraged to hear from you and learn what God's doing in your life. You can also send us an email at info at If you'd like to add this series to your library of Christian resources call us at 866-48-BIBLE for information. And then please join us next time for more Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-17 01:04:55 / 2024-04-17 01:14:18 / 9

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