The Vice of Ambition

Make a name for yourself.

This is the driving force behind so many of our lives. It’s been the driving force behind mine.

We are told to strive to do great things, to achieve great things, to become great in the eyes of others.

We hear this in the world, and we hear this in our churches.

In other words, we are encouraged to have ambition.

The dictionary definition of ambition is a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

I have grown up believing at times that I would be great, that I would make a name for myself if I try hard enough and never give up. Occasionally, people would say this type of thing to me, encouraging me to be the best I can be. They fanned into flame the ambition in my heart. Their intentions were pure and heartfelt, I’m not implying anything different.

That being said, ambition, namely selfish ambition, has negatively affected my life in a whole lot of ways.

Real talk.

I had to delete Twitter and Instagram earlier in 2019 because they became a place of great envy and jealousy over how many likes I was receiving. This is as preposterously stupid as it sounds, and so I got rid of the issue (side-note, purging social media has been the most freeing thing).

My ambition lead to jealousy and envy.

My ambition also leads to pride, as I reflect upon how great I am.

My ambition leads to discouragement when the days are long and hard, and my easy life of grand success seems far out of reach.

My ambition leads to selfishness, as I prioritize the things that build up my dreams.

My ambition is the root of countless sin struggles that I fight.

All of this to say, why is it that we have made ambition something to be prized in our church culture? Did you know that it was only recently that we made it something of value? In fact, according to church history, ambition was a vice.

What I am not talking about is the drive and desire to work, and to work hard. God wired that into our beings. The pre-fall creation was a place where Adam and Eve worked.

Instead, I am talking about a desire to make a name for ourselves. The truth is, it’s incredibly hard to have ambition without it becoming a place in our hearts where we want glory instead of giving said glory to the Lord. That’s why the church considered it a dangerous vice for so long.

In his book Upside Down Spirituality, Chad Bird talks about ambition in this way:

Ambition, in other words, is self-seeking. It is not directed outwardly, in service to others, but inwardly, in service to ourselves. It’s the passion to rise above others for the sake of our egos, to accomplish goals so as to polish our image, to view ourselves as more important than others, to crave the limelight, to be the star of the show. The ambitious person will work long hours, sacrifice much, and strive for excellence, all so that he or she will appear extraordinary in the eyes of others.

That’s why ambition is dangerous. Look at the motivations that Bird unpacks. I see myself in all of them. My ambition is most often all about me: my ego, my image, my value, my limelight. It’s why I used to post photos of my burgeoning youth group. It’s why I used social media in the first place. My drive to achieve is so that people remember my name, not God’s.

How wicked is that?

Bird goes on to say this:

We don’t want our narcissistic labor to be sin; we want it to be righteousness. So we rename it ambition. A socially acceptable, even socially applaudable, quality.

Ouch.

Now again, what he is condemning is selfish ambition. He is condemning how prone we are to renaming our pride ambition. Not all of us struggle with this. Some of us are able to chase after big dreams all for God’s glory. I’m not there yet. God is still bringing about sanctification in that part of my heart. I still want people to know me, instead of Jesus.

If however this post has put up a mirror before you and you now clearly see your sinful ambitions, let me encourage you with the gospel.

You and I fall short.

Woefully short.

Some of us will battle our selfish ambition for the rest of our days.

Yet we worship a Savior who was the antithesis of selfishly ambitious. He came in humility. He came willing to die. He wasn’t lazy or lethargic. Rather, He pursued the inauguration of the Kingdom of God with all that He had. To the point of death.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 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! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 

He made himself nothing on our behalf.

It makes me ask myself if I’m willing to make myself nothing on His behalf.

Am I okay if no one knows my name?

Am I okay if I’m seen as an average man in an average town doing average things for the glory of my God?

Do some soul searching.

Ask yourself why you have the dreams and desires that you have.

Repent of sinful motivations and find rest in the grace of our Savior.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

 

 

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