Living in Contradiction and Being OK with It

The title of this article may strike us uncomfortably. But the fact of the matter is, we all hold to conflicting values and pursuits—and we have to be okay with that. I’m talking about values that seem to pull us in different directions.

For instance, who hasn’t wrestled with finding harmony between spending time with family versus spending time at work? At times, the two seem to conflict and we have to agree that striking the right balance between the two can be a challenge. Both are vitally important. We must attend well to both. And when we over-emphasize one to the hurt of the other, we reap the negative consequences.

What about the two values: ambition and contentment. There’s an unlikely pair! How do we reconcile ambition with contentment? Both appear to be honorable values, yet they seem to contradict one another.

One way to think through their seeming contradictory pursuits is to consider what they are and aren’t. For instance, the opposite of ambition is apathy. Would we equate contentment with apathy? I don’t think so—or at least we shouldn’t. But we might call ambition a holy discontent.

The Apostle Paul made it his ambition to preach the gospel in places where Christ was not yet known (Romans 15:20). Yet he also explained that he had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” (Philippians 4:11). And in the context of his current circumstances, he was in prison for preaching the gospel.

Ambition and contentment don’t have to contradict each other—but they can. James explains, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exists, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16) One thing we can glean from James’ statement is that we have the ability to pervert a perfectly good value by attaching sinful motives to it. James’ example reeks of both discontent and misplaced ambition.

In helping us sort out seeming contradictory pursuits, the Bible urges us to “Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)

God has revealed to us his character and he has given us his Spirit. He also gave us the power of reason and he filled his Word with examples for us to follow. The key is to imitate Christ’s character. Now that’s a righteous ambition! And as we imitate Christ, let’s pursue other godly ambitions, while learning contentment.

©2015 Rob Fischer