Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Philippians 2:3
I suppose it would not be shocking to confess that over the course of my life and ministry that this verse (and its context) has haunted me.
I recently took the enneagram personality test and my number came up 8. A number 8 is identified as a “challenger.” Detailed this means, “The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational.” Notice that humility is not listed.
It is not just humility, but also the “selfish ambition” part. This can be nuanced. There is a line between ambition and selfish ambition I guess, but often that line blurs. I’ve asked myself many times—how much of my ministry has been motivated or at least partially shaped by personal ambition? Am I like Paul, who stated (twice) his desire to only “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17) or does my boasting reflect something entirely different?
I have a vivid memory of a guest presenter who spent a weekend with my church leading a seminar on evangelism. He was a gifted speaker who motivated that church, so much so, that dozens responded to his call to recommit to evangelism on Sunday morning. It was a powerful and pivotal moment for that congregation. As the shepherds and I were busy assisting those who came with their prayer requests and statements—the speaker decided to use the time to promote himself as well as his books, urging everyone to stop by his table and purchase one or more. This bothered me (and being the challenger that I am, I told him so). To me it was totally inappropriate—not the time for self-promotion.
So is there ever a time?
I have certainly done it—to angle for a speaking gig or recognition or whatever. After all isn’t this the way to get ahead, to get noticed, to get likes and retweets and to succeed in your profession?
But it leads me directly back in conflict with Philippians 2:3 and all those pesky kingdom values. Vain conceit—ouch. Do nothing out of selfish ambition—how difficult is that! Actually consider others needs more than my own—is that even possible? Yet that is the “mind of Christ.” That is exactly what I am called upon to model.
I’ll be honest. For me this remains a work in progress. It is quite the challenge for the challenger. I always have to remember:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10
In the end this is the only ambition that matters.