Sacred Ambition

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Sometimes ambition is good and sometimes ambition is bad. What makes the difference? How can we avoid selfish ambition? How can we have a sacred ambition.

First, we know that Christians cannot allow selfish ambition to persist in their hearts. Selfish ambition is translated from “ἐριθεία” and is defined as “a feeling of resentfulness based upon jealousy and implying rivalry” (Louw and Nida, 760).  James said, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (Js. 3:13). Edwards wrote that “All Satan’s kingdom is built on these two foundations, pride and worldliness; his temple leans on these two pillars.”[1] Those who follow Satan in this prideful selfish ambition will find “wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:8).

In order to overthrow Satan’s stronghold, we must do away with this selfish ambition. Christians must “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). This occurs through “the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2). This is why we are told to “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5).

Victorinus described the selfish ambition which plagues so many when he wrote, “many are either prone toward ambitiousness of their own accord or moved toward ambitiousness through others. All these kinds of ambition are to be banished. There is to be no inordinate ambition, whether voluntary or constrained, since both are vicious. Some rush into this ambition through speculation; others are naturally of such temper as to be ambitious. So he advises: “do nothing through ambition” (Commentary on The Epistle to the Philippians 2.2.5). Selfish ambition can be found in the secular world and in the spiritual world. Paul spoke of those who were heavily involved in ministry because of their “selfish ambition” (Phil. 1:17).

So what does a sacred ambition look like? I think John gives us a perfect example to follow in John 3:30 when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” If your life/ministry is about you and everyone must get out of your way, then you are living with selfish ambition. If you are looking to humbly and secretly sacrifice yourself to point others to Christ, then you have a sacred ambition.

Christian friends, this life is for God. Our family is for God. Our friends are for God. Our ministry is for God. We do not live for ourselves. We do not live for our own good or for our own glory. To pursue self is to pursue the fate of all idolatry. This foolish and selfish attitude has no place in the Christian heart. The child of God has a beautiful heart filled with Christ, the love of Christ, and the love that Christ has for his people.

Jesus has displayed this perfect humility for us to follow. Philippians 2:5-11 reads:

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; 8and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If the Son of God can condescend to us, then surely we might be satisfied to be a servant with him. This attitude will extinguish jealousy and the desire for the spotlight. This attitude repairs our attitudes and actions because it places the focus on God who alone should be glorified.

“The glory of God is the goal of all things (1 Cor. 10:31Isa. 43:6–7). The great mission of the church is to declare God’s glory among the nations. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Ps. 96:1–3Ezek. 39:21Isa. 66:18–19).” (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/soli-deo-gloria/).

The glory of God refers to the holiness of God put on display. Who are we to stand in such magnificence? Who are we to exalt ourselves when God is present? Our only desire should be to join in the chorus singing ““Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3).

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: (Entry Nos. 833–1152), ed. Harry S. Stout, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Perry Miller, vol. 20, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 208.

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