No words strike fear into the heart of this godly dream chaser quite like those two. The Bible warns against doing anything out of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3). For me, this instruction is as emotion-packed as the “submissive wife” one, and is equally misinterpreted.
For many years, I believed my dream of making a living from writing was selfish. Convinced of it, actually.
I was convinced if writing brought me great pleasure, money and – gasp – notoriety, then it was most definitely selfish ambition.
I believed it so much, I kowtowed to the notion God would allow me to be a hobby writer but not a full-fledged, wage-earning writer.
This thinking does not align with rationality, nor, more importantly, Scripture itself.
God takes careful, considerate time to invest in us unique giftings, talents, circumstances and experiences.
He wants us, tells us, expects us to use those talents bravely, in full-on pursuit of advancing His Kingdom.
Jesus emphasized this in the parable of the talents (so appropriately named, don’t you think?). In the parable, a master prepares to leave and entrusts each of his servants with talents, or money. He intends for them to do something productive with it to benefit him. The more they did, the more they were rewarded. (Matthew 25: 14-30)
What is the problem behind selfish ambition?
Notoriety is not the problem. If it were, none of us would be called to be teachers or leaders of any kind because the such roles come with notoriety. C.S. Lewis’ classic books would be regarded as prideful because through these writings, his notoriety grew. King Solomon’s Proverbs would have been thrown out because through them, his famous wisdom is preserved for posterity.
Ultimately God received the glory, but these leaders’ names and their work have lived on for generations.
Pleasure is not the problem. The Bible tells us repeatedly God created this world – nature, family, food, COFFEE – so that we would know pleasure as we seek to glorify Him.
Experiencing pleasure (the pure kind) is part of His design. He gifted us with certain talents that awaken our entire being when we use them because HE WANTS US TO USE THEM.
Pleasure is a motivator, and a reward, when we are using his good gifts appropriately.
(Read: Giving My Specific Dream to God)
Ambition itself is also not the problem. Ambition is an unshakable desire to go after something, usually something that requires dedication, hard work and perseverance. Ambition can be used for God’s purposes, and the ambition for Heaven that drives me to live life the way I do.
“My main ambition in life is to be on the devil’s most wanted list” – Leonard Ravenhill
Ambition is a crucial element of the brave Christian life.
So where’s the problem?
Selfishness. Prideful selfishness.
The “selfish ambition” verse reads in full:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Notice the verse does not disallow looking after your own interests, but rather says to do so in addition to and less significantly than the interests of others.
To have ambition to use your talents and gifts is not against Scripture – unless it turns selfish.
Selfish ambition is to put self far above others. It is to seek to one-up the next guy, to be motivated by the thought of fame and fortune, and to be willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it, including inflicting pain on others.
Selfish ambition is to willfully plan and labor apart from God’s counsel and instead set your own course with the compass of your own desires.
(Read: 5 Lessons Broken Dreams Teach Us)
Knowing where the parameters of selfish begin and end takes a lot of careful study and dedicated prayer.
Next week, I will share the 5-question guide I developed to test if my ambition has crossed the line into selfishness.
Join me here next week to read the guide.
In the meantime, subscribe now to receive the first pages of my forthcoming book “Uncage My Brave: Pray Brave, Fly Free.”
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