Now, Paul is not speaking here of a mercenary transaction. We’re not trying to earn Christ’s favor by accumulating some level of merit. No, by virtue of Christ’s own righteousness counted to be ours through faith alone, we already have His favor. The supreme ambition of the Christian is not to earn righteousness, but, as one who has been freely given all righteousness in Christ, our great desire is to bless the heart of our beloved Savior who is all righteousness to us. The true believer wants nothing more than to bring a smile to the face of Christ—to be a cause of joy and delight in His heart—by doing the things that are pleasing to Him, by following after Him in faithful obedience.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
– 2 Corinthians 5:9 –
The relationship between this verse and the previous is instructive. The “therefore” signals that this is a consequence of the preceding truth. What is the necessary consequence of having the settled preference to depart from this life and be with Christ? What is the necessary consequence of longing for unhindered, sin-free, face-to-face communion with Jesus? If the open enjoyment of Christ’s glory is the great hope of your life in the future, then that means your supreme ambition will be to be pleasing to Him in the present.
This phrase, “We also have as our ambition,” speaks to the intensity of Paul’s desire to please Christ above all else. It is the all-consuming, driving force behind all he does. Usually, the concept of ambition has a negative connotation, speaking of someone who is wholly preoccupied with self-promotion and self-glory. A young man enters the corporate world with designs of running the company one day, determined to climb the corporate ladder no matter who he has to step on to get to the top. A politician strategizes and schemes and conspires as to how he can put himself forward, undermine his opponents, and portray himself in the best light, so that he can win the favor of the electorate. A young man has the ambition of playing professional sports, and he shapes his entire childhood around receiving the proper training and coaching, putting in the necessary workouts, watching his diet, getting good grades to go to a Division 1 university—he eats, sleeps, and breathes his game, all so he can wear that uniform and play in front of thousands of fans.
With that same all-consuming passion (albeit expressed positively rather than negatively), the Apostle Paul says: My supreme ambition is to always be pleasing to Christ. Charles Hodge comments, “As ambitious men desire and strive after fame, so Christians long and labor to be acceptable to Christ. Love to him, the desire to please him, and to be pleasing to him, animates their hearts and governs their lives, and makes them do and suffer what heroes do for glory” (500).
Pleasing the Lord Jesus is the sum and substance of the Christian life. It absolutely permeates the entire New Testament.
- After all that great Gospel-theology that has come in the first 11 chapters of the Book of Romans, the immediate consequence of that theology is Paul’s exhortation for the church to be pleasing to God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable [or pleasing] to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).
- What he prescribes to the church, he prays for the church. In Colossians 1:9–10, he says, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
- In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, he says that the goal of apostolic instruction is to teach them “how you ought to walk and please God.”
- In Ephesians 5:8–10, he says that what characterizes the “children of Light” is that they “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
- And of course, this is only following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Himself, who devoted His entire life to pleasing the Father. In John 8:29 He says, “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
The all-consuming, driving passion of the Christian’s life is to be pleasing to Christ.
Walking the Walk of Sanctification
And I love this verse, because it tells us that we who talk the talk also need to walk the walk. It simply cannot be that we fix our hope upon communion with Christ in heaven as our greatest and ultimate desire, and at the same time fail to pursue communion with Christ in this life along the path of obedience.