A few years, the Harvard Business Review posted an article entitled, ‘How ambitious should you be?” It’s a useful article but doesn’t integrate a faith perspective.

For the person of faith, the difference between ambition and humble service can be a fine line. Take the example of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14. They healed a man at the temple who had been crippled from birth. The crowd reacted to the healing by going crazy. They began to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were Greek gods. Even after Paul and Barnabas pointed the people to the true healer, God, the people could hardly restrain their worship of the two men. After intense admiration and praise, they could have made a name for themselves as healers. They resisted because it would have glorified them, not God.

Ambition drives us. It’s not wrong to be ambitious, but the heart motive is important. Is it directed to self, to be number one, or to be the one with the most toys? What is your goal?

1 Thessalonians 4: 11 says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.” Philippians 2:3 adds, Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Ambition is directed at helping others, not self. So examine your heart motive. The wrong motive can leave you empty and always wanting more.

That said, even Jesus was tempted by ambition when in the wilderness. Satan took him to a high mountain and had Jesus look at the kingdoms of the world. If Jesus was willing to worship Satan, he would give him all that he could see. Satan, whose misplaced ambition resulted in an expulsion from heaven, continues to tempt us towards the same.

Human ambition can co-exist with godly character. But again, it is about motive and who you serve. When Paul was Saul, he was highly ambitious. He believed he was doing good by persecuting Christians. But God brought him revelation.  He was not leading a religious crusade, rather a fight against God himself. After Paul’s conversion, his ambition for spreading the Gospel remained strong. But his motive was different. He served God, not himself. He was mindful of community and God’s purposes. His ultimate ambition was to know Christ.

Can we say the same?

Ambition is not a dirty word. God has given us abilities and desires for His service and pleasure. John Piper reminds us that “holy ambition” comes from God. It is about serving him to the best of your abilities. So, reflect on your motives. What are you pursuing and why? Is it to be famous, make a name for yourself or be successful? Or is your ambition directed to knowing God and using everything he has given you for His purposes!

Ambition and the Christian Life

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