One of the great freedoms Christ promises us in the New Testament is the freedom from our old self; the freedom from our selfish ambition. The Bible makes clear that selfish ambition is at the root of so many of our sins. “If you have envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).
Could selfish ambition be the foundation for “every evil practice”? It often forms the foundation or motivation for our evil actions. The apostle Paul encourages us to lay aside selfish ambition as a motivating force. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3). Is that kind of “nothingness” regarding selfish ambition even possible?
As with all things pertaining to living the Christian life, we have been freed from the dominion of sin as our master. This includes freedom from selfish ambition. This freedom was accomplished by our being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-7). But learning to live into that promise, that spiritual reality, is a process.
Yes, you have the power to overcome your selfishness. And the positive replacement for it is found in the rest of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Humility is the answer to selfish ambition. And by virtue of your new life in Christ, you have this humility inside. The question is how to put this humility into action.
The interesting thing about selfish ambition is that only you know how deep it goes. The Bible teaches that even preaching can be done out of selfishness. “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife…proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives” (Phil 1:15,17). Because selfish ambition is a motivation more than an action, you cannot always tell how deep my selfishness goes. But I know. And God knows.
Engage with God’s promise and God’s power to overcome what is really our greatest and last enemy; our old self. Set yourself free from selfish ambition by practicing humility of mind. We do this in many ways. Not having to win every discussion or disagreement. Stopping to hear one another’s thoughts, intentions, and opinions. Looking out for the interests of others by celebrating the successes of our brothers and sisters and by honoring the gifts they bring to the table. Practicing hospitality by allowing others to be served and thinking of their needs first. Thanking those who have been hospitable and generous to us. Using our freedom to serve others, setting aside our own plans when an urgent and sincere need arises. Being generous, as God is generous to us. And the list in Scripture for how to put your humility into action goes on and on.
You have been set free from your slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection. And you have been set free from selfish ambition as your primary driver or motivation. God has given you the power and the Spirit to break the chain.