Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Selfish Ambitions
In the 11th post in this series covering the works of the flesh, we look at several strategies we can use to overcome selfish ambitions in our lives.
There is no passage in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt degrade thyself and aim low in thy life.” In fact, the Bible encourages people to have extremely high aspirations. The highest of all is to become a spirit being in God’s family (1 John 3:1) and to reign with Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10)! God expects us to work hard in our lives, protecting and providing for our families as well as continually growing in wisdom and knowledge. These are good ambitions.
However, selfish ambition can be characterized as a lifestyle based on “get”—which typically uses and disregards others on a quest to advance the self. Satan the devil is the prime example of this attitude, which is also a human work of the flesh. He allowed his pride and violent discontentment to alter his mind into actually thinking he should rule in place of God (Isaiah 14:13).
Since this work of the flesh is so closely linked to Satan’s problem, it is important that we all be very careful to make sure it is no longer our problem.
Lies about selfish ambition
Lie No. 1: “Ambitious competition contributes to upward mobility, and it is good for our entire economic system. People should want bigger and better for themselves; it makes a healthy marketplace.”
This lie assumes that if something is good for an economic system, then it is good for us, even if we have to develop a mind-set that is spiritually destructive and satanic. This lie makes people think that a worldly system based on the “get” philosophy is somehow normal and makes compromising with God’s Word excusable.
Christians are to do nothing through selfish ambition—because Christians are to develop a lifestyle of service and selflessness.But God sets a much higher standard in Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” The fact that a financial system is built on selfishness and ambition does not give Christians permission to compromise God’s standard. Christians are to do nothing through selfish ambition—because Christians are to develop a lifestyle of service and selflessness.
We should note that trying to improve one’s life financially and being successful in a career are not necessarily wrong. The Bible gives many points of advice on how to be successful in life and a career (Deuteronomy 8:18). The real point is the attitude we have!
Lie No. 2: “You deserve everything you want in this life. Take what’s yours!”
Do we really deserve everything this world has to offer? Or, more importantly, should we even be involved in everything this world has to offer? Satan believed he deserved to be ruling the universe instead of his Creator—but he was very wrong. Napoleon believed he deserved to rule over continental Europe—and he was wrong. Hitler had ambitions to rule the entire world—he, too, was wrong. These are extreme examples, but they demonstrate that we are not entitled to pursue any kind of ambition we might develop.
Just because we want something, doesn’t mean we should have it or even strive for it. What is the point of selfishly acquiring more power, money and prestige when God says that there will come a time when people will throw their money in the streets and that these things can be a stumbling block to what is really important (Matthew 19:24)?
Strategies to overcome selfish ambition
1. Purpose to be characterized as a “giver” rather than a “getter.”
As stated earlier, God does not want us to wallow in self-degradation, with no goals to improve our lives. He wants us to work hard and enjoy our labor (Ecclesiastes 5:18) and to strive to live a physically abundant life (John 10:10). Yet we have seen that we are to fight against the urge to selfishly climb to physical heights that God would not want for us or that destroy our character.
We have to practice being “givers” rather than “getters.” Ask yourself if your physical dreams of greatness, fame or even financial abundance are more about getting for ourselves or giving to others. In 1 Corinthians 10:24 Paul tells us, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”
For example, we may have a goal of starting a small business. That could be totally good and honorable if we are doing it to have personal financial security, have wealth to give to others, to save an inheritance to pass on to our children and to provide jobs for people in our community. That would be an example of a proper, selfless ambition. On the other hand, we could have the exact same goal for the purpose of living a life of extravagant wealth, getting all the physical things we desire and gaining prestige in our community (and care little for our employees along the way).
2. Desire spiritual greatness and abundance more than the physical.
If you believe what the Bible prophesies about the future, you understand that this present world is temporary (1 Peter 3:10). This life is intended to be a period of preparation for God’s Kingdom—a time to grow in godly character (2 Peter 3:14). That is why Christ teaches us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)—before physical pursuits and ambitions.
After the first priority of developing spiritual character, God expects us to work hard, enjoy life and provide an inheritance for our children. Ambitions are fine—if they are prioritized in the right place and if they are done for the right reasons.
3. Learn to hate selfish ambition.
Pride. Discontentment. Using and manipulating others. Ingratitude—these are just some of the causes and results of selfish ambition. The image of a whiny young adult who feels the world owes him or her everything is an example of how unattractive and disgusting selfish ambition can be. God saw selfish ambition first-hand when Satan tried to take His throne. We can see how it destroyed Lucifer—and we should hate it because it can destroy us too!
Selfish ambition misdirects our energy from trying to please God, toward trying to be great in our own sight!
To learn more about living a life of service—the antithesis of selfish ambition—read our article “A Heart of Service” that appeared in the September/October 2014 edition of Discern magazine.