Will You Shun Ambition?
DO YOU have a knack for taking the lead? If so, you can be of great benefit to others. People appreciate someone who can organize matters for smooth, efficient operation.
But while abilities at leadership can be a blessing, something often turns them into a plague. The culprit is ambition, which means “an eager or inordinate desire for preferment, honor, superiority, power, or attainment.”
The desire to achieve prominence is very strong. Even some persons who should be exemplary in conduct succumb to it. For example, Jesus said concerning certain religious leaders of his day: “Look out for the scribes who desire to walk around in robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and front seats in the synagogues and most prominent places at evening meals.” (Luke 20:46) Even Jesus’ disciples at times fell prey to ambition. Regarding one of these occasions, we read: “And they came into Capernaum. Now when he was inside the house he put the question to them: ‘What were you arguing over on the road?’ They kept silent, for on the road they had argued among themselves who is greater.”—Mark 9:33, 34; Luke 22:24.
AMBITION’S BAD FRUITAGE
The case of the ancient Israelite army chief Joab illustrates some extremes to which ambition can lead. Joab covertly murdered both Abner and Amasa. This was because of rivalry over the position as King David’s army commander. (2 Sam. 3:26, 27; 20:8-10, 23) When the king became old and sick, Joab joined David’s son Adonijah in a conspiracy to usurp the throne. (1 Ki. 1:18, 19) When this failed and Solomon was made king, Joab forsook Adonijah. Such ambitious scheming, however, was to no avail, for Joab met an inglorious death by execution early in Solomon’s reign.—1 Ki. 2:5, 6, 29-34.
Probably you have seen many ambitious persons attain powerful administrative positions. Do they really benefit their fellowman? Likely you will agree with the observations of an inspired Bible writer: “There exists something calamitous that I have seen under the sun, as when there is a mistake going forth on account of the one in power: Foolishness has been put in many high positions, but the rich ones themselves [that is, those who might be thought to be in line for oversight] keep dwelling merely in a low condition. I have seen servants on horses but princes walking on the earth just like servants.”—Eccl. 10:5-7.
The rotten fruitage of mismanagement of human affairs by ambitious individuals is well stated at Ecclesiastes 4:1: “And I myself returned that I might see all the acts of oppression that are being done under the sun, and, look! the tears of those being oppressed, but they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, so that they had no comforter.” Is not that situation even more evident today?
GETTING THE CORRECT VIEWPOINT
What is your viewpoint toward gaining prominence, superiority or authority? The Bible can help you to develop a healthy one. How so?
For one thing, the Scriptures show that ambitious striving to get ahead is simply a waste of time. The inspired penman quoted above observed: “And I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Eccl. 4:4) Is it not wise to shun such a vain course? Probably you have noticed that hard-driving individuals are especially prone to tension-induced health risks, such as heart attacks. Sound indeed is the Scriptural advice: “Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:6.
Unchecked desire for recognition or prominence is hazardous spiritually, too, for God declares: “Self-exaltation and pride . . . I have hated.” (Prov. 8:13) Ambition harms not only the one enslaved to it, but also that one’s associates. Hence, Bible writer James counseled Christians of the first century: “If you are harbouring bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, consider whether your claims [to be wise] are not false, and a defiance of the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes from above; it is earth-bound, sensual, demonic. For with jealousy and ambition come disorder and evil of every kind.”—Jas. 3:14-16, New English Bible.
Indicating the “disorder” that ambition can cause is the fact that ten of Jesus’ apostles “started to be indignant at James and John” when those two sought the most prominent places alongside Jesus in God’s heavenly kingdom. (Mark 10:41) Later, ambitious men caused divisions in the Christian congregation. Eventually this led to a general apostasy from true Christian belief. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3) Do you wish to harbor an attitude that has caused so much harm?
THE ROOTS OF AMBITION
Why do so many succumb to ambition? As an “inordinate desire” for superiority and recognition, ambition is a form of covetousness. Jesus said: “From inside, out of the heart of men, injurious reasonings issue forth: . . . covetings, . . . an envious eye, . . . haughtiness.” (Mark 7:21, 22) The apostle Paul sheds further light on the source of the problem, saying: “I am fleshly, sold under sin. . . . I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members.”—Rom. 7:14, 23.
DO YOU PROMOTE AMBITION IN OTHERS?
Possibly ambition does not dominate your life. But you may promote it in others. How might that happen?
Consider the Bible’s account about Adam and Eve. Eve knew of God’s command not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. She evidently did not feel hemmed in by this divine prohibition. When questioned by the serpent, Eve did not complain about her lot, but replied simply by restating God’s command: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for eating of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die.’”—Gen. 3:2, 3.
Then, Satan the Devil, through the serpent, cleverly planted seeds of ambition in the mind of Eve, when he said: “You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.”—Gen. 3:4, 5.
Ah! being “like God,” able to decide for herself what was good and bad rather than accepting God’s judgment on such matters, that appealed to Eve. Where did Eve’s ambition to gain full independence from God lead? “Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it. Afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it.” (Gen. 3:6) In this case selfish ambition caused both Adam and Eve as well as all their unborn offspring to become subject to death.—Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:12.
What about you? Likely you would not directly urge anyone to violate the law of God. Yet you might promote ambition in others. Understandably, persons highly esteem family members, relatives and close friends. But individuals who desire to please God must beware of making too much of the abilities of loved ones. This could lead to some getting an inflated view of themselves, which, in turn, fosters ambition.
For example, what if someone were to prod a marriage mate, family member or friend into thinking that he was especially qualified for the office of overseer in the Christian congregation? How tragic it would be if the person became haughty and began to demand that others accept his own estimate of himself and his qualifications! With good reason the Scriptures warn: “An able-bodied man that is flattering his companion is spreading out a mere net for his steps.” (Prov. 29:5) Such flattery would hinder, rather than aid, a Christian’s efforts at “reaching out for an office of overseer.” (1 Tim. 3:1) The Scriptures require that overseers in the Christian congregation be “sound in mind,” which means that they must ‘not think more of themselves than it is necessary to think.’—1 Tim. 3:2; Rom. 12:3.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Since humans are sinful by inheritance, is slavery to ambition unavoidable? Evidently not, for the Scriptures admonish God-fearing persons to resist sinful tendencies. (Rom. 6:12) While it calls for self-control, shunning ambition is not beyond your ability. You will find it especially helpful to cultivate the mental attitude set forth at Philippians 2:3, 4: “There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.”—NE.
Ambition is, therefore, wholly unscriptural. Its roots are sunk deeply in human sinfulness and the arrogant spirit of this world. Rather than ambitious self-exaltation, the Bible urges humble service of others. That is the spirit in which Christian men are encouraged to ‘reach out for the office of overseer.’—1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-3.
Among the many benefits of heeding this Scriptural counsel is the one mentioned at Ecclesiastes 5:12: “Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats.” Too, such an unselfish person has the love and appreciation of his associates, instead of their resentment. Most importantly, “the one serving” gains the favor of Jehovah God. Are these not powerful reasons for one to shun ambition?