Episode #20: A Tale of Two Ambitions

Feb 07, 2021




The Word of the Week is ambition and following is a transcript of this week's corresponding devotional podcast. Mentioned resources and links  are at the end of the transcript. 



I used to cringe whenever I heard or read the word ambition. To me, it just smacked of greed or worldliness and I couldn’t help but picture climbing the ladder, elbowing people along the way and doing anything you could for more money and more success.

But it turns out there are actually two different kinds of ambition and the Bible paints a clear picture of each. 

There’s the  version where you wake up and "pour yourself a cup of ambition" and go to the office -- or stay in your home office -- and work 9 to 5 and try to get to the top of the ladder even when everything’s working against you -- yes, just like Dolly Parton’s song. 

This is in line with Merriam-Webster’s definition which states that ambition is “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.”

Now think about that for a moment. Who gets the rank? Who gets the fame? Who gets the power? The person with the desire to get it. The person who is ambitious. It’s all about that person.

The Bible minces no words when it comes to this kind of ambition. It just calls it for what it is: selfish ambition.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). 

In this passage and others where the Bible talks about selfish ambition, the root Greek word is eritheia which means faction, strife and contention. 

This is the same kind of ambition we read about in James 3, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. “

Contrast that with what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9. “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” 

The root Greek word for this good kind of ambition -- the kind that results in God’s pleasure -- is philotimeomai which refers to striving earnestly. 

So my question for you this week is what kind of ambition do you have? The one characterized by contentious strife or the one characterized by earnest striving? The one that is focused on you getting what you want -- whether that’s approval, recognition, fame or more money -- or the one that is focused on pleasing the Lord?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, how good and how kind you are. You know I love you but sometimes I really struggle with my motivation. Sometimes I’m selfishly ambitious -- craving approval, recognition and success the way the world sees it. But when I’m looking upward to you, that all goes away and I’m ambitious for your glory and for your pleasure. This week, please help me have the good kind of ambition -- the kind that esteems you  and others higher than myself. I can’t do this alone. In Jesus name, amen.

Links & Resources

  1. I would like to feature your work at home business in the podcast. To apply just click the first button on the top of this page.
  2. Book recommendation: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
  3. The Upward VA Roadmap is now just $27.