What is selfish ambition?
First, let us define ambition. Ambition can be defined as a strong desire to succeed. Selfish ambition, therefore, is a strong desire to succeed even at the expense of others. We are said to have selfish ambition when our desire to succeed elevates self-interests above the interests of others. The bible also calls it-self interest.
On the other side of self-interest is humility. Humility is the ability to value others above ourselves. It’s the ability to not only look out for our own interests but also put into consideration the interests of others.
Whenever we do something out of selfish ambition we lack the ability to consider others but put ourselves at the forefront.
Selfish ambition looks at every situation with the perspective of “what is in this for me“. If we look at a situation and find out there is nothing to gain, we will quickly remove ourselves.
Jealousy is often the fruit of selfish ambition.
But if you harbor bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every kind of evil. James 3:14, 16
James puts it clearly, jealousy and selfish ambition go hand in hand. Where there is envy and jealousy, selfish ambition isn’t far behind. And where these two exist, it opens a door for every other kind of evil.
We often fester jealousy against others where we have selfish ambitions. When we see someone succeeding in an area where we have selfish ambitions to succeed in we respond with jealousy.
But when there is no selfish ambition, jealousy will not take root. We are able to celebrate the wins of others as well as be content with what we have because we value others too.
Jealousy says, ” You shouldn’t be blessed above me because I’m more important than you.” Jealousy also says, ” God shouldn’t give you anything I don’t have because I value myself above you.”
Where there is selfish ambition and jealousy
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. when you ask, you do not receive, because you don’t ask God for it. and even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong- you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3 NLT
James is addressing something that was happening among believers. They were constantly fighting and quarreling. James gets to the root of the matter. He tells them the reason there is all this fighting amongst you is because there is selfish ambition and envy.
Because there was selfish ambition, they were scheming and killing one another. When they couldn’t get what they wanted out of selfish ambition; they resorted to fighting those who had what they wanted.
He also addresses something else, first, they weren’t praying as they ought to. We cannot seek God and seek after selfish ambition. They cancel each other out. When we are running after things with selfish motives we will not have time for prayer because we will be distracted by our selfishness. Whenever we come into the presence of God, selfish ambition has to die or we will go no further with God. He also says even when they prayed – their praying was fueled by selfishness and God wouldn’t answer such prayers.
Selfish ambition indicates spiritual immaturity
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were mere infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not solid food because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3
The church in Corinth was one of the most spiritually gifted body of believers. They spoke and prophesied in tongues. They had all the ‘fluff’ that proved they were growing in the things of God. But something else was happening among them, they were envying and fighting each other. They still had selfish ambitions.
Paul tells them even though they thought they were spiritually mature, in reality, they were carnal, immature, and still behaving like unbelievers.
The proof of spiritual maturity isn’t in our ability to flow in the gifts of the Spirit. It’s evident in our lack of selfish ambition and jealousy. When we are maturing in Christ, we will leave behind carnality and worldly behavior.
We can speak and pray in tongues for hours and still live according to the flesh. We can know scripture and preach heaven down and still live according to our sinful nature. We can prophesy and do great works of miracles and still be immature believers.
Spiritual maturity doesn’t come because we have the gifts. It comes because we have made a choice to leave our carnality and immaturity behind to go on into maturity.
How do we overcome selfish ambition?
We seek to please others.
Each of us should please our neighbors for their own good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Romans 15:2-3
One translation says… For even Christ did not seek his own pleasure.
We overcome our bent for selfishness when we learn to live as Jesus lived. We are told He did not live to please himself. He lived to please the Father. When our desire is to please God, selfish ambition will not find a place in our hearts.
We have the mindset of Christ.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5, 7-8
We are told to have the same mindset as Christ. The mindset of servants where God and others are concerned. The mindset of humility and obedience to the father. There is nothing we will not do for others out of our service to God and man, and out of our humility before God and desire to obey Him in all things.
We put on love.
Love does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking… 1 Corinthians 13:5
NLT says …Love does not demand its own way.
NASB says… It does not seek its own benefit.
ISV says … Love never thinks just of herself
NAB says…It does not seek its own interests.
NET BIBLE says… Love is not self-serving.
When our goal is to love others the way God does, selfish ambition will not be present.
The greatest thing to overcome is self. And no matter how anointed or gifted we are, we have to work at it every day. We all have done things out of preference for self. None of us has arrived; we are all work in progress on becoming Christ-like. As I teach others, God is also teaching me beside them.
So, I write this as an encouragement to myself and for all my sisters in Christ.
Have a blessed weekend!