“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV)
The world tells us that ambition is essential to accumulating wealth, fame, and glory for ourselves. The meta-narrative of work today is that it is the primary means by which we make a name for ourselves in this life and prove to the world that we are important, valuable, and worthy.
Of course, this is nothing new. Since the Fall, human beings have been using work to make a name for themselves, rather than to glorify God and serve others. Take the Babylonians as an example. In Genesis 11 we read the account of these ancient entrepreneurs discovering the incredible technical innovation of brick making. With the invention of the brick making process, the Babylonians could build better homes, roads, and cities—all wonderful things; but driven by pride, the Babylonians’ ambition wasn’t to glorify God through their work. Their ambition was to make a name for themselves. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). And if there was ever a question as to whether or not our motives matter to the Lord, the rest of the passage provides the answer. “The Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8).
Creating a tower, a new business, a piece of art, or a piece of music is not inherently bad. Our cultural creations can and do reveal God’s character and love and serve others. But when we create something out of a motivation to make a name for ourselves, we are attempting to rob God of the glory that is rightfully His.
While Scripture makes clear that creating to make a name for ourselves constitutes improper ambition, the Bible makes equally clear that ambition can indeed be God-honoring, so long as it flows out of a response to the work Christ did on our behalf on the cross. That is the subject we will turn to next week.