The whole history and character of Christ are in direct antagonism to ambition.
If Paul is to serve as an example for preachers, it is at the point of freedom from all forms of ambition that his example is the most emphatic. He puts the whole inventory of ecclesiastical and earthly goods in one catalog and renounces them all in this strong language: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8); and as though this were not enough, he takes us to the cross, where every earthly thing perished in pain, shame, and utter bankruptcy, and declares; “I am crucified with Christ.”
Many things often are often allowed to come into our faith and our ministry to defame them, but nothing is more deadly to us than ambition. It has in its bad embrace the seeds of all evil. It has insincerity and hypocrisy. It is a tyrant. Of all the evils that grieve God’s Spirit and quench his flame, ambition may be reckoned among the chief, if not the very chief. The fact that ecclesiastical pride, church sentiment, and church worldliness will allow ambition to be christened at church altars and have the stamp of innocence and of virtue, ought to be alarming.
Is the desire for ecclesiastical advancement ambition? If not, what is it? We may say it is a laudable ambition! Can a qualifying word change the evil nature of this dark and fallen angel? Does an angelic garb make Satan an angel? We may say we want a more honorable place to do more honorable and larger service for Christ. Is not this Satan clothing himself as an angel of good? The honor of a service done for God is in no way dependent on its honorable nature or largeness. The honor of service for God depends only on the spirit in which it is done, and that spirit is one in which self-pride and ambition are crucified. Self in us looks to the future to largeness and honor. Christ in us looks to the present to fidelity and zeal for the work at hand and has no eye for self and future.
Can the preacher preach without faith? If he preaches with ambition, he is preaching without faith, for in Christ’s service faith and ambition cannot co-exist. Can the preacher preach without love? If he preaches with ambition, he is preaching without love, for ambition and love have neither union nor concord. Can a preacher preach without humility? If he preaches with ambition, he is preaching without humility, for ambition is the very essence of pride. Can a preacher preach without consecration? If he preaches with ambition he must, for ambition is a thing to be crucified and not consecrated. Ambition must be daily crucified because it never can be consecrated.
Ambition changes the whole nature of ministry and floods it with worldliness. Instead of the ministry being an institution where the highest Christian graces are to be produced and the loftiest virtues exhibited, ambition transforms it into a ministry where self is the mainspring and every grace is blighted.
With ambition, the church is no longer an institution to save men, where the preacher, like Christ, exhausts himself to secure this end; but it is changed into an institution to confer position on men, and all its holy places are then polluted by the grasping, selfish hand of ambition or they are trodden by its unhallowed feet.
– E. M. Bounds