What is Selfish Ambition in the Bible?
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What is Selfish Ambition in the Bible?

Selfish ambition is a term found in the Bible that refers to pursuing one’s own interests and desires in a way that is sinful and dishonors God. The Bible condemns selfish ambition and contrasts it with the kind of godly ambition we should have as followers of Christ.

In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about selfish ambition – what it is, examples of it, its consequences, and how to avoid it. We will look at relevant verses from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Key Takeaways:

  • Selfish ambition is seeking personal glory, prestige, status, and selfish interests rather than pursuing God’s will and giving Him glory.
  • It is driven by pride, envy, and strife and results in disorder and evil.
  • Selfish ambition values personal advancement over people and righteousness. It harms relationships.
  • We must crucify selfish ambition and instead adopt the mindset of Christ – humbly serving others.
  • God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. We find true fulfillment in living for His glory, not our own.

What is Selfish Ambition?

The Greek word translated “selfish ambition” in the Bible is eritheia. It refers to any action done out of selfish desires, without consideration for God’s will or others’ interests. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.”

Selfish ambition is seeking to promote yourself and your personal agenda at the expense of others. It prioritizes status, recognition, power, and control over service, sacrifice, and righteousness. As Alexander Strauch notes, “It’s manipulating people, circumstances, and situations to gratify carnal desires and advance personal status.”

The book of James strongly condemns selfish ambition:

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:14-15)

Selfish ambition leads to bitter envy and strife. It is driven by pride and does not come from Godly wisdom but is worldly and demonic.

The apostle Paul also contrasts selfish ambition with the mindset Christians should have:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Rather than self-promotion, we are to humbly consider others as more important than ourselves.

So biblical selfish ambition is any self-centered drive for prestige, status, control, recognition, or power without consideration for God’s will and glory or the good of others. It is pride-driven self-seeking.

Examples of Selfish Ambition

Scripture contains many examples of selfish ambition:

Diotrephes – 3 John 9-10 describes a man named Diotrephes who “loves to be first” and refuses to welcome the apostles. His selfish ambition for preeminence leads him to slander others.

Pharisees – Jesus strongly rebukes the Pharisees for doing good deeds out of selfish ambition for man’s approval rather than God’s:

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:5-6)

Herod – After eloquent public praise, Herod accepted worship as a god rather than giving glory to God, displaying his selfish ambition (Acts 12:21-23). God struck him dead for his pride.

Diotrephes, the Pharisees and Herod show selfish ambition is often tied to desire for prestige, recognition and power.

James and John – The disciples James and John arrogantly request the most honored positions in Jesus’ kingdom, seats of glory for themselves (Mark 10:35-45). This illustrated their selfish ambition.

Korah – Korah led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership, desiring power and position for himself (Jude 1:11). God judged this selfish ambition by having the earth swallow up him and his followers.

Aaron and Miriam – Aaron and Miriam resented Moses’ leadership and his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. They were driven by selfish ambition for more power (Numbers 12:1-16).

Selfish ambition is not just limited to leaders. All of us can fall prey to self-seeking manipulation and discontentment with our station in life.

Selfish ambition has corrupted human hearts throughout history. It does not belong among God’s people.

The Consequences of Selfish Ambition

The Bible makes clear that selfish ambition is dangerous, damaging, and deeply displeasing to God. Some consequences include:

Disorder and evil – Selfish ambition leads to confusion, chaos, and evil. James 3:16 says “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Striving and arrogance – Philippians 2:3 says selfish ambition leads to “strife” and “vain conceit.” It results in arrogance as people jockey for power and lift themselves up.

Disunity – Selfish ambition causes interpersonal conflicts, rifts, and disunity. It deeply damages our relationships and Christian witness to the world (James 3:16, Philippians 2:3).

Opposition from God – God directly opposes the proud who are driven by selfish ambition. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

Judgment – Scripture gives sobering warnings that God will judge and humble those lifted up in pride and selfish ambition (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11). King Herod’s death illustrates this judgment.

Clearly, selfish ambition has incredibly destructive personal and social consequences. It deeply grieves God and harms our relationships and witness. We must root it out!

How to Avoid Selfish Ambition

So how can we crucify selfish ambition and instead pursue selfless Christian motivation?

  1. Repent and humbly seek God’s forgiveness. Selfish ambition is sin. We must ask God to reveal any selfish ambition in our hearts, humbly repent, and seek cleansing and grace to change through the Holy Spirit.
  2. Remember we live for God’s glory alone. Our purpose is to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Developing this God-centered perspective combats self-seeking ambition.
  3. Imitate Christ’s humility and servant mindset. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who modeled sacrifice and selflessness in serving us (Philippians 2:5-11). Follow His example.
  4. Esteem others more highly than yourself. This destroys selfish ambition. Consider the needs of others as more important than your own (Philippians 2:3, Romans 12:10).
  5. Seek to build others up, not promote yourself. Be genuinely happy for others’ success. Find joy when others are honored while you are not (Romans 12:10, 15).
  6. Focus on stewarding your gifts, not jockeying for position. Develop and use your talents to serve others and bring glory to God, not to exalt yourself.
  7. Prayerfully examine your motives. Why do you do what you do? Does it flow from love of God and others or promoting yourself? Pray for purer motives.
  8. Remember you already have infinite worth in Christ. You do not need to endlessly chase after status because your value comes from God alone. You are His beloved child.
  9. Walk in humility. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

By God’s power and these practices, we can crucify selfish ambition and walk in the freedom and joy of selfless service to God and others for His glory alone. What amazing fruit flows from pursuing godly, not selfish, ambition!


Selfish ambition has no place among God’s people. It is driven by pride and the desire for personal glory, power, and status. Scripture strongly condemns it as destructive, displeasing to God, and completely opposed to the example of Jesus. Yet sadly, selfish ambition infects even Christian hearts, damaging relationships and our witness.

By God’s grace, may we root out all selfish ambition from our hearts. Instead, may we pursue true godly ambition – humbly stewarding our gifts to serve others, build up the church, live out the gospel, and bring glory to God alone. Then we will experience the joy, freedom and cleansing from sin that comes from being ambitious for God’s kingdom, not our own.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.