Are You Ambitious?
Ambition is "an eager, often inordinate desire for place, power, preferment, superiority; to desire to attain something". We often speak of ambition in either a good or bad sense, depending on what we or others wish to achieve. Sometimes we make a distinction between aspiration--meaning an intense desire for good or worthy goals, and ambition--meaning a desire for power or goals to be achieved by any means necessary.
Ambition can be a serious flaw in a Christian's character. Christians with extraordinary talent or opportunity often are deluded by ambition, finding convenient ways to rationalize their ambition by linking it to noble goals. A Christian may reason: "Amassing more wealth will allow me to support more good work." A preacher might think: "Preaching for a larger church will allow me to reach more people." These are examples of things Christians say which, in fact, may mask their own ambitions. May our prayers include a request that God will help us to want what He wants, and that He will help us to truly want to be His and to serve Him above all else!
Mankind's tendencies toward ambition are as old as the written record. In Genesis 11:1-9 the Bible reveals the ambitions of certain tower builders on the Plain of Shinar. Their proposed tower would "reach unto heaven" and the effort would establish their reputation so they would not be scattered over the earth. While their desire to stay together may have been noble, their ambitious plans were stopped by divine intervention.
Ambitious people must face the temptation to ignore the violation of principle or a concern for another individual who may stand in their way. They may reason that noble ends justify the means. Ambitious people find enjoyment in figuring out ways to overcome obstacles and outmaneuver others in order to achieve their goals. Only later may they discover they have enslaved themselves to whomever and whatever they have used to realize their ambitions. For example, the Christian in the corporate world may drink socially thinking "this will help me to be accepted and get ahead," or "I'll be able to better support my family, retire early, then I can do good work for the Lord, etc." Later, he may discover his ambition has weakened both his character and influence. Worse, he may have developed an addiction which will be very difficult to overcome.
The account in Matthew 20:20-28 describes how Jesus thwarts a mother's ambition for her sons. She asked that the chief positions in the kingdom be reserved for James and John. Jesus revealed that neither she nor her sons (nor the disciples, Mark 9:34) understood the nature of His kingdom or true greatness in that kingdom. Actually the coming kingdom would include for them an immersion into sufferings they could scarcely imagine; the greatness they sought would require a reversal of everything they now thought about earthly ambition. Only later would they realize Jesus' meaning when He taught that the first would be last and the last first. Jesus teaches that we must humbly serve with whatever talents and opportunities we discover within and before us. We should not assume that we are in control to map out and follow a self-determined future. The ambition of the rich man (Luke 12:13-21) included these delusions. Jesus called him a fool.
What are some ways Christians can deal with their ambitions? The following principles will help us:
- Make Decisions Contrary to Human Ambition. In Romans 15:20 Paul writes: "I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation..." Paul might have chosen areas to work where an excellent foundation had already been laid. There his work likely would have had immediate and visible results. He deliberately chose other areas. This decision was contrary to human ambition.
- Live By Faith (1 Corinthians 9:19-27). In this passage, Paul reveals his willingness to have his plans changed--sometimes daily--in order to more effectively bring the gospel into the lives of all manner of people. The ambitious person, on the other hand, sets out to fulfill his ambition and attempts to outmaneuver or crush whoever is in his way!
- Temper Spiritual Aspirations With Love (1 Corinthians 12-14). What of the Christian who aspires to greater service? One might argue that such aspirations are very different from evil ambition. Paul teaches in these chapters that those who exercised spiritual gifts might "earnestly desire the best gifts (12:31) and "let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel." (14:12) He also teaches a "more excellent way" (12:31; 13:1-13). The love Paul described would cause these Christians to avoid envy, refuse to push themselves in front of others, refuse to be "puffed up", and refuse to seek their own gain or reputation by the exercise of these gifts.
- Seek The Loss of Self (Philippians 3:13-14). "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Paul's personal ambitions in Christ were to: (1) forget past successes and sources of pride, (2) to be found in Christ, (3) to know Christ and His power--experiencing Christ's sufferings in his (Paul's) life--even becoming conformable to His death, and (4) ultimately following Him in the resurrection. Paul's ambition was to have no ambition.
E. A. Hoffman has written these challenging questions for our consideration:
Have thine affections been nailed to the Cross?
Is thy heart right with God?
Dost thou count all things for Jesus but loss?
Is thy heart right with God?
Are all thy powers under Jesus' Control?
Is thy heart right with God?
Is thy heart right with God
Washed in the crimson flood
Cleansed and made holy
Humble and lowly
Right in the sight of God