Two Types of Ambition

Do you want to do great things? Do you long to have a lasting impact on your family, your community, the world? When you look at the seemingly small tasks that fill your day, do you wish for something bigger, something more?

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I had a string of moments like this two weeks ago. As I was listening to several speakers at a large math conference (jealous?), I was filled with a desire to do something great. I couldn’t articulate the feeling more precisely, but I yearned to make an impact.

I began to brainstorm, scribbling in my notebook, coming up with idea after idea. But after ten minutes of this, I stopped at the turnstile of a vital question: This sudden zeal—is it good? Should I be feeding this desire?

Ambition was the underlying emotion, and we can find several relevant Biblical references. Ambition can be a good, God-given desire. In fact, when pondering the Great Commission, ambition seems not only admissible but essential. How, after all, could we dream of making disciples of all nations without a hulking dose of enthusiasm, energy, and hope?

But not all ambition is good. In chapter 3 of his epistle, James identifies “selfish ambition” as one of the marks of “earthly wisdom.” And if you are not familiar, let’s just say that James is not a big fan of earthly wisdom. Such wisdom is “demonic” and leads to “disorder and every vile practice.” (See James 3:13–18.)

So, how do we know when an ambition of ours is selfish? When can a desire properly be called a godly ambition?

When you find yourself ambitious for a certain cause or project or event, try to envision its best possible outcome. Who comes out looking the best in that scenario? Close your eyes and picture that endeavor as a roaring success. As people walk away, who/what are they talking about? You? Your ministry? Jesus?

But let’s not cast off ambition itself just because we sinners bend it toward evil gain. Let’s build one another up and encourage each other toward godly ambitions. Through the work of His Spirit, this is how God’s kingdom is built and how Jesus is magnified.


Photo Credit: savvysmilinginlove, Creative Commons License

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