Ambition. It’s the ugly side of leadership development, that do-whatever-it-takes, ends-justify-the-means drive that leads young people to elbow and claw their way to the top. It’s condemned consistently in the Bible with verses such as Galatians 5:19-20:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So, root out that nasty sin and be content where you are. Right?
Is that the sum total of what the Bible has to say about ambition? You’d think so if you relied on sermons and commentaries. I don’t want to minimize the fact that there is clearly a dangerous trap for young leaders in the area of selfish ambition.
However, what do you do with verses like Romans 15:20?
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.
Or 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12?
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Is it really possible to suppress or bury your ambition? Probably no more than attempts to bury your sexual drive. I believe both come from God and can be used for good or evil. There is clearly a godly ambition in these verses. When ambition is condemned in the Bible, English translations almost always insert “selfish” as a modifier.
So, how can ambition be used for good? How can it be redeemed and even nurtured as a character trait God bestows on some people? I was going to blog about it until I found an old Every Square Inch blog series on the subject. Read that one, and then let’s discuss. Here’s a teaser:
In the end, our dreams and ambitions do matter. Rather than dispelling any hint of ambition in our lives, perhaps a more mature view is to receive ambition as a gift from God and to nuture it with godly motivation in place.