Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Ambition: The Good, The Bad, the Holy

 “Ambition: The Good, The Bad, The Holy” // Message @ JRCC – Sunday, May 1, 2011

Text: Galatians 5 // Series: “Ambition: The Good, the bad, the Holy”



Good morning, everyone, my name is Brad, I’m part of the teaching and leadership team here and I want to add my congratulations to our graduates, both Kristen and Renee, and those of you who are in progress with a degree.   


Now, speaking of graduation – have any of you attended a graduation ceremony this year? - I don’t know about you but I’m getting very tired some of stuff I hear at commencement addresses.  I don’t know who they find to speak at these things but there’s a whole lot of “be all you can be” and “you are the wind beneath my wings” kind of mushy garbage out there and so I’m going to take the liberty this morning of giving Renee and Kristen a kind of commencement address, which I will likely never be invited to give because it doesn’t talk about happy fields of roses with bunnies hoping in them and unlimited leadership potential and ‘your life is limited only by your dreams’ - all of which seems to be the tone of most of these things. 


So here’s the deal…  I had to go back almost 200 years to find a good commencement speech.  I actually found it in a book I’m reading by an author named Dave Harvey.  His book is titled Rescuing Ambition, and in he tells the story of a man by the name of Timothy Dwight.  Dwight was the grandson of the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards and was the president of Yale College.  And in the spring of 1814, “Dwight gave the baccalaureate address to Yale’s graduating class of future leaders…  Dwight chose this key moment in the lives of these graduates to sound a warning ambition gone astray.  He called it the dangerous love of distinction” (Harvey, 41).  Listen to Dwight’s words and see if you’ve ever heard a commencement address like this: 

“Wickedness can in no other form be more intense, nor its plans more vast, nor its obstinacy more enduring, nor its destruction more extensive, or more dreadful” than the love of distinction.” – Timothy Dwight (qtd in Harvey, 42)


Not quite the usual fare at these deals, is it?  But Dwight is onto something so helpful that we’re going to spend the next 9 weeks together exploring the topic.  He is discussing ambition corrupted.  Negative or unholy ambitions or desires that have morphed from something good or holy, into something selfish and dark.    


I should know, because Dwight all but described my life.  You see, I was born into a family of entrepreneurs – both sets of grandparents were self-made people as were my parents.  All around me in my extended family were people who ran hard and were very successful in their lives and in their business endeavours.  One of my grandparents was hired out of university in 1947, worked his way up the career ladder in one corporation and retired as the president of one of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies.  My lineage is an ambitious bunch and so needless to say, I picked this sense of drive up very early in my life.  I wanted to be someone, to do something of significance with my life.  This ambition worked well for me in school but once I graduated, I got into ministry and my ambitions got me into trouble early on.  I should have had Dwight come and speak at my graduation because my ambition caused me to love distinction.  I wanted to be first.  I wanted to be known.  I wanted to be successful – just like people in my family. 


But somewhere along the way, my ambition got tied to my sense of self in an unhealthy way.  Somewhere along the way my ambition shifted so that if my project succeeded, I was successful as a person.  But if it failed, then I was a failure.  And about this time all kinds of ugly stuff began to bleed out of my personality.  Hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy....  I would get the alumni magazine from the college or seminary I had attended and I’d immediately compare myself to other people who graduated in the same era as me.  Instead of thinking “wow, God’s been good to them and they’re doing amazing things for God’s glory in the world of business or nursing or education or global mission or whatever” I’d think, to myself “oh yeah?! I bet I’m more successful in my field than they are in theirs.  After all, I’m the youngest person to sit on this national board – what have they done lately?”  It was getting ugly.  Ambition was causing me to love distinction – to want to be first and to want to be known and I would do anything to get it and keep it.  Some of you know what I’m talking about… 


Now, I was a good Christian so I’d mask most of this in spiritual terms of wanting to do great things for God, but I couldn’t help but noticing the presence of certain kinds of fruit in my life as a result of my ambition.  And it wasn’t love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  It was something the Bible has a label for.  And that label is selfish ambition. This morning we’re beginning a new series that will take us through May and June called Ambition: The Good, the bad and the Holy.  And we’ll be arguing that there are two basic types of ambition…  Good ambition and Bad ambition.  We’ll see that there are things the Bible tells us are inappropriate to be ambitious about and thus we need to get rid of them in our lives.  But we’ll also see that there are things we need to grow in our ambitions for because God wants to use our ambition to produce good things in our lives.    


So open your Bibles and grab your fresh, crisp Momentum Journals.  Turn with me to Galatians 5 and look with me at verse 16-21 where it describes today’s topic - selfish ambition…           

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves... And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear… hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy...”


Wow.  That’s quite a list, isn’t it?  And embedded right in the middle there was that little phrase that I saw coming up in my life again and again: selfish ambition.  Intriguingly, the word that the Bible uses here for selfish ambition is a very vivid picture word.  It conveys the idea of a prostitute or a corrupt politician who demeans themselves for gain.  Who are starving their souls in search of praise of others.


And here’s the problem…  Just 5 years ago, when I would read Galatians 5, I would skip to verse 22-23.  I was unaware that the things that most described my heart were “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy...”  I just thought I had a natural sense of drive or ambition.  But, thankfully, God used some good friends in my life to bring some corrective action.  They took me to lunch, confronted me, named what they saw going on in my life and through the help of a counselor and a very, very wise an Godly wife, I was able by God’s grace to curb my ambition before it became so corrupted that it was irredeemable. 


You might say, come on, Brad…  Ambition isn’t all bad.  And to that I would say a hearty yes and Amen.  There is a type of ambition that is healthy and even holy.  We’ll talk about that in coming weeks.  But today I want to focus on this dynamic of selfish ambition to help us picture and wrestle with the dark side of ambition.  Because you might say, “well, that’s just a little selfishness and ego that snuck into your life, that’s not the end of the world, Brad”.  And that might be true.  But where you and I might see a little ego, the Bible names it as selfish ambition and throws a huge cautionary label on it.  How Dangerous is Selfish Ambition?  Let’s look at two texts from other places in the New Testament that describe the road I was headed down:

“For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.” James 3:16


“I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” 2 Corinthians 12:20b


Selfish ambition always has partners in crime.  And they aren’t pretty.  There’s a layering that is subtle but noticeable over time when we allow negative ambition to take root and grow in our lives.  And maybe today, the Holy Spirit is holding up a mirror to your life – your dreams, your ambitions your attitude and your selfishness and like my good friends who confronted me, God is inviting you to allow Him to rescue your ambition.  Because if we notice these kinds of fruits sneaking into our lives, there is a clear instruction for us as to what to do.  Back to Galatians 5…  The warning in verse 21 is stern – those who are living in this way, who prostitute themselves for selfish gain and for ego, for advancement in the eyes of others, those who live that sort of life will not and cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  I was living that sort of life – and I was a pastor! But thank God, in His grace and mercy, a clear solution comes in the following verses.  Look with me at Galatians 5:22-26… [two scripture slides]


Last week we celebrated the saving victory of Jesus Christ in His life, His death, and his resurrection.  The solution, the text says, isn’t to try harder to be a nicer, less selfish or less ambitious person.  We can’t grow that kind of stuff in our own lives.  The solution is to go back to the cross, to identify with Jesus and to say “Conceit?  Jealousy?  Selfish Ambition?  I am dead to that kind of living.  Holy Spirit of God, would you grow something profoundly and deeply different in my life today.” 


I don’t know where you are at this morning.  You might be here exploring what it means to be a Christian.  And if you’re in that category, I’d invite you to consider the descriptions and implications provided of what the road you are on looks like.  You might, even right now, identify with Gal. 5:17 where it talks about the two forces fighting within you – a pull towards selfish ambition and a tug by the Spirit of God towards something different and redemptive.  What you are sensing in your heart and mind is the Spirit of God is at work, friend.  And He is calling you to respond.  To lay down the ambition that has driven your life to this point and to open your life up to Him.  I’ll be at the back as the worship team comes and leads us in songs of response this morning.  I want you to come and talk to me.  Let’s process and pray about this together today before you leave this place.


You may be a follower of Jesus already but most of us here today need to have our ambition rescued redeemed and re-purposed.  Because if we don’t, the Bible promises clearly that  

  • Selfish ambition guarantees negative consequences – Don’t grow small trying to be great

Take some time as the team leads us in song to think about your life.  Ask God’s Spirit to search your heart – to shine that spotlight on motives and attitudes and dreams and plans.  All the while asking

  • What’s taking root and growing in your life these days?

Maybe it’s still underground in a seed format and nobody else sees of knows the negative ambitions and attitudes that hide in your heart.  Ask things like “is my ambition to move out of my basement suite motivated by comparison with others?  Or is my desire for my kids to behave well motivated by jealousy of other family members?  Or perhaps ‘is my desire to get ahead in my career poisoning my soul and affecting my ethical decisions?  If so, ask God to cleanse you this morning by His Spirit.  Perhaps you need to spend time journaling – writing down some of the things you see cropping up in your life these days.  Use the lists provided in Galatians 5 – lust, hostility, using alcohol to numb pain, jealousy over the accomplishments of others…  and then test your observations with a trusted friend or perhaps your Life Group.  They’ll be able to hold up a mirror to your life and tell you what kinds of ambitions they are seeing manifesting themselves in your heart and actions. 


As a church family, we also need to ask God corporately to search our heart and ask questions of us.  Are we jealous of the success of other churches?  Do we secretly or publically compare ourselves to them?  Selfish ambition can take root in organizations just as easily as in individual lives.  Perhaps you want to spend time with our prayer team at the side praying for our church or for your family asking God for protection from pride.  Perhaps you want to spend time celebrating what God is doing 


So to cycle back to where we began, if this were a graduating address I would probably say to the class of 2011 and to the rest of us, I leave you with this charge.  Above all else, guard your heart against selfish ambition.  Let the Spirit of God guide your life, your ambitions and your desires.  Let Him root out the bad and replace it with ambitions that are good and holy.  For it is only when you allow God to rescue ambition in your life, that you can be all that you can be and your life will be limited not by your dreams for yourself, but by God’s dreams for you.  I guess that’s not such a bad commencement address thought after all.  Let’s pray and then we’ll worship in response to what the Spirit of God is saying to us today.  

Read More