Ambition is a double-edged sword
We are all told to aim higher in life. Ambition is healthy when it helps us achieve goals that are a blessing to others. Unfortunately, ambition becomes unhealthy when we make it all about ourselves. The Bible calls selfish ambition “unspiritual” and “demonic”. It creates a playground for Satan to come destroy our hope, joy and peace.
James 3:14-16 NIV But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. *
One can recognise selfish ambition if we:
- are highly competitive;
- enjoy the security of our work;
- focus on promotions and recognition;
- tend to participate in office politics; and
- use money or status as a measure of success.
One might think, “Wait, isn’t all this the norm at work??” The truth is, it is! We are evaluated at work by many of these measures. However, it is not the way that God intended for work to be. Our Heavenly Father blesses our work so that we can go on and bless others. Work is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
God is against selfish ambition because it distorts our view of something good and nurtures “every evil practice”, as stated in James 3:16 above.
1. Being highly competitive
In God’s perfect economy, Jesus Christ is our role model.
In reality, companies benchmark our performance against our peers. This turns people into our benchmarks and breeds internal competition. When we get caught up with such benchmarks, we can lose sight of God and strive for short-lived man-made goals.
Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
The bottom line: Jesus sets our performance standards.
2. Relying on our jobs for security
In God’s perfect economy, the work we do for Him has eternal value.
Everything we gain through work can be lost overnight – money, pensions, status, perks, insurance etc. God is the only guarantee of secure futures. Companies and bosses come and go, but God will be here long after for all eternity.
Proverbs 23:4-5 ESV Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
The bottom line: True security comes from trusting God.
3. Focusing on job titles and recognition
In God’s perfect economy, the last on earth will be first in heaven.
God calls us to take on the attitude of “servants” so that we will be raised to honourable places in heaven. Most of us will resist being seen as content to be “servants” at work because we do not want to be perceived as complacent and lazy. The world tells us that we need to be the first, the fastest, the most respected etc. This, in essence, is self-idolatry. When we learn to be content in any circumstance, knowing that God “has our back”, we liberate ourselves from the opinion of other people and are able to work more joyfully.
Matthew 11-12 ESV The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
When we covet promotions, job titles and power, God calls us idolaters who have no inheritance in heaven! Coveting leads to comparisons, grumbling, jealousy, greed and an inability to appreciate the blessings that God has given us.
Ephesians 5:5 ESV For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
The bottom line: Be thankful in all circumstances.
4. Taking part in office politics
In God’s perfect economy, humility leads to riches, honour and a good life.
In contrast, our self-centred pride will lead us to jostle for power, tell half-truths, gossip, slander and boast. This is the poison behind all office politics.
Proverbs 22:4 ESV The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.
The bottom line: Stay humble and glorify God, not people.
5. Using money or titles as a measure of success
In God’s perfect economy, the poor are given the right to legitimately help themselves to the bounty of the rich in a dignified manner. The successful are not supposed to hoard their wealth to themselves and keep getting richer, while the poor grow poorer.
Leviticus 23:22 ESV “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”
The bottom line: Use success to care for the less privileged.
Be ambitious for God, not ourselves
God is not against us being ambitious – as long as we stay humble and have a healthy attitude. After all, He promises to make us “abundantly prosperous in all the work” that He gives us, when we turn to Him with all our hearts and souls. What higher goal could there be in life than to work for the glory of God? This is the highest and often most challenging ambition one could have.
Let us be humbly and cheerfully ambitious – for God!
Colossians 3:17 ESV And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Deuteronomy 30:9–10 ESV The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. *
* Text made bold by author
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