Selfish ambition is a sin that Christians must be on guard against. While having goals and dreams is not wrong in and of itself, when our ambitions become self-seeking and hurt others in the process, they have crossed into sinful territory. As James 3:16 (NKJV) warns us, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
In this comprehensive blog post, I will explore the various signs that reveal selfish ambition in our hearts. My target audience is Evangelical and Charismatic Christians who want to reflect Christ in their motives and conduct. My goal is to bring awareness to this issue and prompt sincere self-examination, repentance, and change where needed.
- Selfish ambition is self-seeking and disregards how our actions affect others.
- It stems from pride, discontentment, envy, and worldly values.
- Signs include: jealousy, competitiveness, complaining, politicking for position, taking credit, impatience, and using people.
- We must repent and replace selfish ambition with Christ-centered ambition.
- Our motives and methods matter just as much as our goals.
- God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
What is Selfish Ambition?
Simply put, selfish ambition is when we seek our own advancement and interests above others. As 2 Timothy 3:2 (NKJV) describes, people infected with this sin are “lovers of themselves” and “lovers of money.” Their primary concern is promoting themselves or getting ahead, not serving God and people.
The Greek word translated “selfish ambition” in some versions of the Bible is eritheia. It refers to electioneering or canvassing for political office. So selfish ambition is like being obsessed with campaigning for positions and accolades, without care for ethics or who gets hurt. It’s operating like a corrupt politician who takes advantage to gain influence and affluence.
This self-promotion can be blatant, but it’s often cloaked in subtlety as well. Selfish ambition hides its ugliness underneath religious pretenses and self-justification. But it’s fruit reveals its thorns.
While having healthy ambition is fine, James 3:13-16 (NKJV) contrasts it with selfish versions:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
The trajectory of selfish ambition is always downwards, descending into “earthly, sensual, demonic” paths that breed “confusion and every evil thing.”
What Causes Selfish Ambition?
Selfish ambition does not arise in a vacuum. There are certain heart conditions that commonly produce it:
Pride – Pride is the root of all kinds of evil ambition. When we think too highly of ourselves, we justify pursuing status, applause, and advantage over others. James 4:6 (NKJV) reminds us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Discontentment – Discontent with where God has placed us leads to striving for something “better.” But the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 (NKJV) forbids coveting anything that belongs to our neighbor. Contentment lies in embracing God’s will. As 1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV) affirms, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Envy – Envy is a major driver of selfish ambition. When we covet what others have, whether possessions, talents, or positions, we’ll compromise values to obtain it. As Proverbs 14:30 (NKJV) warns, “Envy is rottenness to the bones.”
Worldly Values – Adopting the world’s priorities fuels selfish ambition. Fame, wealth, status – these become our aims. But 1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV) urges, “Do not love the world or the things in the world”, for all its obsessions will vanish.
Insecurity – Insecurity or obscurity often breed selfish ambition. When we lack identity, significance, or affirmation from God, we seek counterfeits in accomplishments. But only God can fill that void in our souls. As Isaiah 43:4 (NKJV) declares, “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you.”
If we don’t address the root issues producing selfish ambition, we’ll only treat surface symptoms. The heart must be renewed to bear good fruit.
Signs of Selfish Ambition
Here are 12 telltale signs that selfish ambition may be present. Prayerfully consider if any apply:
- Jealousy over others’ success – Resenting the prosperity, influence, or recognition of peers. Says Genesis 37:11 (NKJV) of Joseph’s brothers, “And his brothers envied him.”
- Competitiveness that hurts others – Needing to outpace, outperform, and outshine others. Says Philippians 2:3 (NKJV), “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.”
- Complaining when overlooked – Grumbling when not praised, picked, or promoted. Numbers 12:2 (NKJV) says of Aaron and Miriam, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”
- Politicking for advancement – Campaigning, networking, and angling to increase status. 3 John 1:9 (NKJV) warns, “Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.”
- Taking credit owed to others – Overstating own contributions while minimizing others’. Says 1 Corinthians 3:7 (NKJV), “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”
- Impatience with God’s timing – Chafing when His plan doesn’t match ours. Psalm 37:7 (NKJV) counsels, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”
- Using people as stepping-stones – Exploiting others on the climb upward. Says 3 John 1:9 (NKJV) of Diotrephes, “He himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.”
- Obsession with image and reputation – Consumed by maintaining appearances and acclaim. Says 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) of people, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
- Pursuing prosperous increase – Preoccupied with expanding influence and holdings. 1 Timothy 6:5 (NKJV) warns of false teachers “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
- Selling out to achieve aims – Compromising values and character to win. Mark 8:36 (NKJV) asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
- Disregard for collateral damage – Apathetic about who gets hurt enroute to the top. Says Philippians 2:4 (NKJV), “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
- Obsessive self-promotion – Bent on inflating reputation and garnering publicity. Says 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NKJV), “Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.”
If any of these signs resonate, take it to God. Confess associated sins and ask Him to realign your ambitions with His purposes. His grace is greater than our selfish hearts.
Replace with Christ-Centered Ambition
In himself, man’s heart is endlessly ambitious. So our ambitions require sanctification and vigilance.
Rather than eliminate all ambition, we must replace selfish versions with Christ-centered ones. Here’s how:
Refocus on eternal rewards – Set sights on treasure in heaven, not worldly trinkets. Says Colossians 3:2 (NKJV), “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Redefine success and greatness – Measure by obedience and character, not status and acclaim. Says Mark 10:43-44 (NKJV) of godly leaders, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.”
Remember we’re team members, not soloists – Strive for fruitful contribution, not spotlighted prominence. Says 1 Corinthians 12:14 (NKJV), “The body is not one member but many.”
Release control to God – Let Him determine outcomes aligned with His plan. Says Proverbs 19:21 (NKJV), “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.”
Relinquish rights to be first – Embrace obscure service over public exaltation. Says 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV), “Be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.”
When we realign ambitions around Christ’s priorities, our motivations become pure. Rather than pursuing preeminence, we aim for faithfulness wherever we’re assigned. God then receives the glory.
God Opposes the Proud but Gives Grace to the Humble
In purging selfish ambition from our hearts, we must embrace humility. Pride drives selfish ambition. But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Consider the fates of the proud rulers Herod and Nebuchadnezzar versus the humble acts of Jesus washing His disciples feet or paying taxes. Pride provoked God’s judgement, while humility drew His favor.
We see this mirrored in Jesus’s disciples jockeying for prominence versus the innocence of children He upheld as models. The one who humbles himself will be exalted in God’s kingdom.
Practically, we nurture humility by:
- Confessing prideful thoughts and motives
- Focusing on others more than ourselves
- Considering others as more important than us
- Allowing others to be recognized without resentment
- Accepting obscure assignments without complaint
- Thanking those who’ve helped or taught us
- Admitting what we don’t know
- Acknowledging abilities in areas of weakness
- Receiving rebuke and feedback graciously
Proverbs 11:2 (NKJV) promises, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” May we choose the way of wisdom!
Selfish ambition has no place in a Christian’s heart. Its fruits of discord and destruction betray its corrupt roots. But when we embrace humility and align our ambitions around eternal values, God receives glory.
I urge any who recognize selfish ambition at work to confess it. Repentance brings cleansing and the grace to walk in newness of life. God looks at our motives as much as our deeds. And He stands ready to guide our ambitions and passions to purposeful ends.
Rather than envy and self-promotion, may our driving goals be living righteously, loving others, and bringing God renown. Our calling is excellence of character over prestige of status. When selfish ambition dies, godly service comes alive.