Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Ambition Wrong?

This morning I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of ambition with a group of friends from my church. The dynamics of ambition in the workplace can be a thorny issue for many Christians. It raises some challenging questions like - "is ambition wrong?" or "what does godly ambition look like, especially if you're not a pastor or minister?"

I'd like to share and extend the discussion on this blog post by addressing the first question - "is ambition wrong?" Ambition is often defined as "an earnest desire for achievement or distinction...and a willingness to work for its attainment". Many would equate that achievement to wealth, fame or power but does it really have to be so? For Christians, the seeds of ambition are often the dreams, desires and goals that God places in our lives. Seen from that perspective, ambition isn't just "not wrong" - it's normal.

However, the Bible does warn us about certain kinds of ambition that are unfruitful or even sinful. Two kinds of wrong ambition come immediately to mind -

1. Selfish ambition - where we measure opportunities (think: career , ministry, etc...), primarily in terms of "what's in it for me". James 3:16 warns us of negative consequences when selfish ambition is played out in real life.

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."

2. The pursuit of wealth - where we measure opportunities, primarily in terms of material gain. The reality is that many of us might not even consider the "desire to be rich" a problem to grapple with. Yet scripture couldn't be more plain in 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."

Here's the main point of this post -

"Ambition isn't wrong but there is such a thing as wrong ambition and scripture warns us to be on our guard against it"

In the next post, I'll share our discussion about what godly ambition looks like

Have you wrestled with ambition in your life?
Have you identified the presence of selfish ambition?
What does the pursuit of wealth say to the world around us about the value of Jesus Christ?

Please share your thoughts on this


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I think that I get so distracted by people that even though I could be very ambitious I just never get around to doing anything about it. Does that make not ambitious or maybe just lazy?

Bradley J Moore said...

GREAT TOPIC. I pretty much started my blog to work through this subject in my own mind. I definitely have struggled with ambition. I am constantly checking my ego and desire to do more, be more, achieve more, against God's spirit and God's will for my life. I believe it is very deceptive and difficult to say you are definitively able to seperate ego from "God's will." Everything I am driven to do is because I believe God has put the desire in my heart. Thus, it feeds my ego to some degree. I am using my gifts and talents.Same true, I think, for pastors who are ambitious for building these mega churches and media empires. Sure, it's for GOd's purpose to spread the gospel, but you have to be pretty driven to build these organizations. There's got to be some ego-satisfaction built in for these pastors. I could go on and on (but this is just a comment section!). Check my "shrinking the camel" article if you get a chance.
Looking forward to Part 2!

Bradley J Moore said...

The bottom line is, despite our desires and ambitions, as Christians all of our behavior should be within the moral, legal and ethical boundaries defined by godly character. Forgot to say that before!

Red Letter Believers said...

You really broke it down well. Ambition is wrong sometimes...but not always. And you made the distinction

Every Square Inch said...

Susan - I don't know if you're lazy but perhaps you're not tempted to pursue your ambitions in an ungodly way. Many struggle because they hold to ambitions that are not self glorifying rather than glorifying to God

Bradley - I understand...I've struggled much in this area myself. I agree that it's difficult to say that we're purely pursuing God's other acts of obedience, our sinful nature will prove us faulty. But that's not to say that we shouldn't by God's grace, try to mortify impure desires and ego and seek God's will.

David - thanks. I guess I wish for us to embrace our dreams, goals and ambitions within the context of God's glory and eternal purposes...not to fall into either extremes of shunning all ambition or pursuing selfish ambition headlong.

Jimmy said...

i have been reading this post at least daily trying to determine how to respond. this is an area that i do battle with. i do want to excel in the things I do and there is the attraction of how will i be viewed and what can I gain. i think I take the godly example in Paul. He exhorts us to press on toward the goal of the upward call of Christ, to do work hard as unto the Lord-- he said he worked harder that those who were challenging his ministry. I do not think Paul was a stranger to this issue. But Paul also traveled with companions and that i believe is a huge key to this issue. Walking with the desire of godly ambition with godly friends who will speak into my life. so, i thank God for my wife, my church, my small group and friends. i also thank you ESI for this blog.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts here, and distinctions drawn, ESI.

Selifsh ambition is clearly spelled out as wrong in James, and that stands to reason when you consider "the Jesus Creed" to love God completely, and our neighbor as ourselves in the context of Scripture and Jesus.

Ambition is not wrong at all, but can easily become selfish ambition. It should ba an ambition to fulfill our calling, and our part well, all the while being thankful for all who seem to fulfill their calling well.

Trying to get rich is clearly prohibited. I'm surprised how we Christians can be pulled and fall for such a pitch. But all kinds of arguments I've heard to justify such, like being free to do the good one wants to do, etc. Certainly not wrong to be rich, but those who are have the responsibility to use their wealth wisely for God's glory and humankind's good, and especially for the gospel.

Just my thoughts here. I surely have struggled with selfish ambition, but I really kind of lack ambition anymore. I've kind of just thrown in the towel, and see what I do as trying to get through, and in the mean time grow in becoming more like Christ, and fulfilling God's call, etc.

Again, a good stimulating post, but I always appreciate your posts.