From Self-ambition to Gospel Ambition
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18)
Paul was an apostle; the risen Christ appeared to him personally and commissioned him to this. You would think this put him above the petty rivalries and jealousies in ministry. Not at all. He writes this letter from prison. He relates here that his imprisonment has inspired some to preach Christ boldly. Great.
But there was another group. This other group resented Paul’s influence and popularity. They chafed at his authority. Why? They wanted it. So with Paul stuck in prison, this was their chance to strut their stuff. Draw people’s admiration. Draw people to their bandwagon. They preached Christ, but did so with innuendo about Paul. A little sniping. A little snarky. They were ambitious but it was self-ambition. Paul’s response shows what gospel ambition looks like. What does it matter? As long as Christ is preached. Here we see the selflessness of the apostle. The same selflessness as John the Baptist who, when the crowds left him to follow Jesus, famously uttered, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) When our ambition is Jesus and the gospel, we can rejoice whenever those are accomplished; even when it’s someone else’s ministry, even when that person’s motives are questionable. Who are we promoting, after all? Ourselves or a crucified Savior?
- “For I have no one like [Timothy], who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:20-21)
- “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
These verses get at the issue. Ambition is not the problem. We should be ambitious in gospel ministry. We should take risks for Christ. We should ambitiously serve in the church and the community. Ambition is the not the problem. Self-ambition is. Who are we being ambitious for? Pride easily masks itself as spiritual hustle and bustle. Look what I am doing! I must be a spiritual giant. This is slippery and hard to determine because it gets right down to the heart level. Why do I do what I do? Is it for me? Who am I trying to make look great? To ask our church, are we simply trying to make a name for ourselves or be big-shots in Northwest Indiana? That is selfish ambition and pride. Gospel ambition might look the same on the outside but it has an entirely different ambition on the inside.
- “A good ambition becomes a selfish ambition when it’s our only ambition.” (Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 75.)
- “Ambition which centers on the glory of God and the welfare of the church is a mighty force for good.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 2)
Here are great indicators of gospel ambition. Will I serve in obscure positions? Am I willing to serve categories of people who don’t advance my name-building? Is my giving of money or time dependent on acknowledgment? How do I react when ministry requirements are inconvenient? These and many others reveal the true motives behind my service.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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