Ambition is one of the greatest hindrances to the Christian life and especially to preaching because it is born of self and nurtured by pride. It manifests itself in various ways: the desire to be a great preacher, to have the first place, to be a leader, or to secure places of honor or profit veils itself under many disguises. It is christened with the surname “laudable”, and comes into the church, then works its selfish, worldly schemes. A person may be a Christian by name and a church member, but if he is driven by ambition, he is an infidel at heart and worldly. The days of the prevalence of ambition in the church have been days of supreme church worldliness and extreme apostasy.
There is much in a name, and the true and wise Christian will not allow this corrupter of the faith to enter, though clothed in a garb of innocent names. Christian faith has kindled and consecrated the flame of holy zeal, stimulating and giving ardor to effort. True zeal is a heavenly fire, the purity of which disdains all earthly adulterations. Zeal crucifies self– it fixes its eyes on both God and his glory. As Christ died for sin once, so the Christian by crucifixion dies to self and says, “Perish every fond ambition.” In every moment of his life, in every vision of his eye, in every impulse of his heart, and in every effort of his hand, the Christian is to be true to the fact of this self-renouncing commitment.
Ambition is the one thing that affected the power, peace, and piety of the apostles of the Lord. We see its effects noted in their envies and strife. A few instances are recorded, but how much unrecorded jealousy and alienation was produced, we can only conjecture. We have the record of its existence and Christ’s rebuke in the early part of their career and its violence breaks out under the shadow of the cross. The bitter thoughts of his death are mixed with the strife of his disciples for place and his solemn charge against the religious phase of worldly ambition. The washing of the disciples’ feet was the last act of personal training that Christ used as the remedy for ambition in his disciples.
Ambition destroys the foundation of Christian character by making faith impossible. Faith roots itself in the soil where selfish and worldly growths have been destroyed. “How can ye believe,” says Christ, “which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44). In this statement is shown the impossibility of blending faith with the desire to receive honor from men.
The entrance of this alluring element of human honor draws the heart from the honor that comes from God and sweeps away the foundations of faith. When the eye seeks things other than God, when the heart desires things other than God–this is ambition. No man can serve these two masters; no man can combine the ends of self and of God. He may think he can; he may seem to do so; but no one can perform this spiritual impossibility.
Ambition enthrones pride, and that is the throne on which Satan sits. Humility is destroyed by ambition. The history of the church attests to the fact that humility has no place in the church or the man that is ambitious. Humility is not a virtue of those who have sought to be put in the calendar of earthly saints. No ambition is so proud as a religious ambition, and none less scrupulous. No church can be more thoroughly apostate than the church whose leaders have come into their places though the way of ambition. No ambition is so destructive as that which comes in under the guise of religion. Ambition is worldly, though it may be disguised under the name of Christianity. It easily deludes its possessor under the plea of a wider field of influence and usefulness; but the presence of ambition, like the soil of Sardinia, spoils even the honey.
If ambition can be religious and can preach, then it must do so without love, for love and ambition can no more unite than can light and darkness; they are as essentially at war as Christ and Belial. “Love seeketh not her own,” while ambition is ever seeking its own, and not infrequently it seeks with all its heart that which is another’s. Love in honor prefers one another, but ambition never does.
If Jesus Christ is to be our model preacher, if our attachment to him rises to anything above an impure sentiment, then the mind that was in him must be in us. He was without taint of ambition. We have this attitude of Christ to ambition set before us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
to be continued
– E. M. Bounds