A. Spiritual Ambition: Selfish ambitions have no place in the life of any would-be disciple. In the world, people live for self. There are two types of people in the world - those with great worldly ambitions who because of their ambitions accomplish great things for themselves or for the world, and those who because of their lack of ambition accomplish nothing for themselves.
There are three possible classes of believers:
- Those who are bound by self and want to accomplish great things for themselves. The Bible prohibits this by saying, “And do you seek great things for yourselves? Seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5).
- Those who seek nothing great. They are content with no accomplishment.
- Those who seek great things for the Lord and His Church.
The Lord is looking for people who will seek great things for Him. This is spiritual ambition. The Lord had spiritual ambition. The words “I MUST” characterized His whole life. At the age of twelve He said,
“How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
“I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice” (John 10:16). He was moved by a great sense of compulsion. He accomplished the impossible for God!
Paul had great spiritual ambition. He wanted to know Christ in His totality. He did everything he could to win some. He wanted to preach Christ where He had not yet been named and also wanted to lay the claims of Christ before the Emperor himself. He wanted to accomplish great things for the Lord and he did! If you want much fruit, you must have great ambitions in the areas of soul-winning, ministry and Christlikeness. For example, you may determine to witness to a certain number of people every day; aspire to a certain spiritual gift and insist that God gives it to you for ministry and then use it for the service of the Lord and His Body. Also you may aspire to put on the character of Christ by mercilessly dealing with all that will stand in the way of holiness in you. If you mean business you will go very far.
B. Clear Goals: God-centered and Christ-glorifying ambitions must be crystallized in clear goals. Anyone with vague goals will accomplish nothing. The goals of the one who will succeed must be so clear that if someone were to wake up from sleep at midnight he would be in a position to state his goals correctly and clearly.
Such goals must be fairly narrow. If you want to accomplish everything, you will end up accomplishing nothing. The apostle Paul said, “One thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). “One thing”, said he and not one hundred things. Your goals in the three areas of fruit-bearing should be worked out into clear and straight-forward objectives that are understandable to you but big enough to envelop you.
C. Discipline: Great ambition crystallized in clear goals is good but it will not be realized without a great price paid. Someone said, “There must be great renunciations before there can be great Christian careers.” Something must go. This is where discipline comes in. A disciple must be disciplined. If you are indisciplined, you immediately disqualify yourself from becoming or continuing as His disciple.
Discipline means that you say “NO” to many things that, though good in themselves, may hinder the one great purpose to which your life is consecrated. A disciplined person is of necessity narrow in his choices. You cannot invest in ten things. The disciplined person will not be extravagant in the things he loves.
Discipline means that the body is brought under control to serve. The major reason why many people do not make much progress in fruit-bearing is that they allow their appetites, inclinations, desires, and wishes to pull them in different directions. A disciplined person will refuse all indulgences. He will follow one hard line of living on the barest necessities. He will ask about everything, “Will it help me to accomplish my one ambition?”
Discipline means that the body is buffeted when necessary. The apostle Paul said,
“I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel by body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I should myself be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
There is practical reality in this. I remember a man I knew and loved as I have loved few others. He was a student in the seminary at the age of 40. He decided that he would stay among the top three of his class. To do this he studied and studied. He would place his feet in cold water when he felt sleepy and in that way put in the extra time that was necessary to help him to accomplish his goal. Not too long ago, I met the son of this man. The son’s ambition was to subdue a nation for Jesus. To do this he decided to pray for many hours each night. I was touched when I found that he was using his father’s technique. At the early hours of one morning, I found him at prayer. He had been praying the whole night through with his feet in a basin of cold water. He was disciplined. He was buffeting the body!
Indulgence is a tragedy. The love of sleep, the love of food, the love of luxury, the love of pleasure, and the others, are among the most tragic loves of a life. Big nations have been destroyed by indulgence. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by the love of ease (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Gideon’s army was reduced from 10.000 to 300 by the test of indulgence at the state of drinking. It takes only a bit of indulgence at a time to ruin a life completely.
Think of those who practice the indulgence of procrastination. Where are they? How far do they go? Are they not ruined permanently?
Discipline means that one can keep at the task when all natural and emotional incentives for doing it are gone. The disciplined person obeys God’s commands and voice. He goes on and on irrespective of what he feels and irrespective of what it may cost him. He is bent on succeeding. He strives, presses and strains to reach the set goal. This is the way of discipleship!
The Lord is concerned that there be abiding fruit. Much that goes for fruit in the lives of too many believers never reaches maturity. There is a sense in which permanent fruit is dependent on the sovereignty of God. In another sense abiding fruit is dependent on the spiritual quality of the one bearing it.
In the realm of people brought into the kingdom of the Lord, we can say without hesitation that the gospel preached by men of varying degrees of spirituality will produce varying results. Like begets like. Those who hate sin thoroughly and love the Lord supremely will tend to bring forth their kind. Similarly, carnal men will produce converts who will fall away.
In the realm of ministry based on gifts, it should be remembered that gifts are not grace. When need arises God can speak through an ass or get stones to sing but for how long will assess speak and stones sing? Saul was used, Samson was used, Demas was used, and the others, but for how long? Gifts may manifest themselves in carnal and special men and these men may be used for a while but God does not count on such when He has His eternal purpose in mind.
In the realm of character, are there not many who started putting on Christ - love, joy, peace, and so on, but have since turned back and are back where they started? Does the dog not often return to its vomit?
Human talents, emotions, techniques may stir the crowd for a while but only what God does lasts. God cannot be overthrown. What He does cannot be overthrown.
The Lord of glory said,
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). He also said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers” (John 15:5-6).
Much fruit is the result of abiding in the Lord, of helplessly depending on the Lord of the harvest, and on the Spirit of the harvest. Every disciple must learn this lesson quite early in his walk with God. The first disciple learnt this lesson quite early in their training in the Master’s school. The Bible says,
“And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them” (Luke 5:4-7).
The first thing to be learnt about abundant fruit is that, it is the result of launching out at Jesus’ command. The disciples had launched on their own initiative the whole night and had caught nothing. Then the Lord commanded them to launch out and the results were different.
Abundant fruit (as assessed by God and not but man) results from a work in which God is the sole Author. The work must be God-conceived and God-planned. It must be God’s work committed to man by God. People must be individually called to it by God. God does not want people serving Him at their own initiative. He wants every servant of His to have a personal appointment from Him. He wants definite persons in definite jobs in definite places at precise times. The Holy Spirit, who is the Director of God’s missionary enterprises appoints men, selects the spheres and time of their service, gives necessary limits and draws up the boundaries. Every disciple and each would-be disciple needs to stop and ask himself, “The work I am doing for God: Is it His initiative or mine?” Any work which is merely man’s initiative cannot be God’s work and God need not commit Himself to it. It may apparently bear much fruit but the fruit would not last.
Another thing about much fruit is that it results from a work that is not only God-initiated but is carried out using God’s methods. So many of the methods, organizations, and running of spiritual work in our day are just a copy of the business world’s promotional methods. They are methods that are products of minds that have put the Bible pattern aside. God cannot approve of any such work.
Finally, there is the crucial element of motive. Much effort is put in to promote one denomination or the other, one organization or the other, one personality or the other, one doctrine or the other. Such impure motives must necessarily cause God to withdraw, at least in pains, from what is being done. God’s work must be done solely for the glory of the Lord Jesus and for His glory alone. When the motive is pure, God is free to bless in a big way, yet the blessing must be viewed from God’s stand-point and not man’s for to many, Jesus was a failure in the numbers that He drew to Himself on a permanent basis but before God He was a total success.
The second thing to be learnt about abundant fruit is that it results from “launching out into the deep.” Being in the deep is risky business. Many prefer shallow waters. It is easy to preach Christ where there is no opposition but what of those circumstances where the gospel may cost you your life? Are you still prepared to minister there? The Lord Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
My prayer for you is that you will accept death and actually die so that there will much fruit.
The last thing I want to say about abundant fruit is that it is the work of the local assembly. Peter was quite prepared to involve other like-minded people in the catch. He was not interested in his own glory. He was not only interested in those who were with him in the boat. He was prepared to call out to others so that the catch might not be lost. He wanted the fish preserved regardless of who got the glory from man.
True disciples will separate from all who do not have the same objectives and who have put aside the methods of God revealed in the Bible. They will ensure that their work is accomplished within the framework of the only institution that the Lord Jesus left behind for that purpose - the local church.