Selfish Ambition

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4

If we’re honest, the rise and tyranny of self and selfish ambition in the hearts of believers is often a battle that we have a difficult time dealing with. Sometimes we don’t even recognize its presence until it’s well rooted. Even when we see it, it can be hard to sort through how far its tentacles go, the extent of the damage it has done, even how to get it out.

Though selfish ambition would like to convince us that its presence is really for our good, for our preservation, for our protection, for our growth and happiness, reality is that it is an all-around destroyer of Christian love. In verse 3, Paul describes selfish ambition by using a Greek word that refers to work being done as a self-seeking mercenary for hire, seeking followers with a motive of factiousness. It seeks its own gain, regardless of the strife it will cause. When taking care of “Number One” (yourself) at all costs reigns supreme in the heart, other sacrifices must be made, or so we think in those moments. Remember, the damaging influence of selfish ambition doesn’t pass over the person engaged in it. It corrupts from the inside out, breaks down relationships, and destroys unity. Further, conceit and selfish ambition are close partners in crime. For conceit is empty, vain, cheap pride. Paul says such ambition is part of our flesh and must be mortified and put to death (Galatians 5:19-21), for “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now, we’re well familiar that the remedy to pride is humility, but what does Paul say that should look like here? It looks like having the mind of Christ (verse 5). It looks like our highly regarding others as better than ourselves. We should be severe when considering our own faults and charitable in our judgments of others. Connected to that, Paul says we should look out for their interests. Yes, we need to take care of our own, but our view goes beyond ourselves. We interest ourselves in others in Christian love and sympathy. This is part of loving our neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

The application of the truth in this passage is far reaching. I encourage you to prayerfully consider your heart and relationships in your life that self-ambition or conceit have damaged, as well as those that will be threatened if unguarded. No relationship is outside of its reach. Consider your relationship with God. Husbands and wives check your marriages. Fathers and mothers, consider the details of your relationships and interactions with your children. Friendships and other relationships are in view too. As was Paul’s concern, we also must consider relationships with one another in the church. Peace and unity must be maintained through humility and love. Praise God for His blessings in what we have. Let’s continue to work on maintaining and preserving this, by His grace, together. Repent and reconcile where needed. Let’s rejoice in the well-being of others as truly as in our own.