Let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~James 3:13-18
We have been taking a closer look at these passages from James. James is speaking to Christians when he says “Let him show his works.” As Christian writers, our works include our writings.
In my first post of this series, I looked at “meekness of wisdom;” in the second post, “bitter jealousy.” This is the third question we’ll be exploring: Are we guilty of selfish ambition?
Eriteia: The Greek Word for Selfish Ambition
From Strong’s Concordance we learn “selfish ambition” is translated from “eritheia” that means “rivalry, hence ambition.”
Strong’s further gives the following definitions:
Short Definition: ambition, rivalry
Definition: (the seeking of followers and adherents by means of gifts, the seeking of followers, hence) ambition, rivalry, self-seeking; a feud, faction.
HELPS Word-studies also has light to shed on the word. We find this information from them:
Eritheía (from eritheuō, "work for hire") – properly, work done merely for hire (as a mercenary), referring therefore to carnal ambition (selfish rivalry).
Ancient Greek uses eritheía ("mercenary self-seeking") of acting for one's own gain, regardless of the discord (strife) it causes. Eritheía ("selfish ambition") places self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right, or what is good for others.
This word was used to refer to men seeking political gain by unfair means. That gives a good picture of what James means here, doesn’t it?
Should Christians be Ambitious?
The question I would like to pose: Is it wrong to be ambitious? For example, should we be ambitious in promoting our work?
One of the definitions Webster’s gives for “ambitious” is having a desire to achieve a particular goal.
Goals are a good thing. If we desire to publish a book in order to spread God’s word, or to strengthen our fellow Christians, or to make the world a better place, or fill in the blank with a good motive here, that’s a good thing, a very good thing.
And, if we wish to reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, that’s not a bad goal to have. Are we not to go into all the world to tell others of Christ?
Problems arise when we place self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right, or what is good for others. (See HELPS Word Studies above)
When Does Ambition Become Selfish?
When we think only of ourselves and crush others in our quest for our goals, that’s when ambition crosses the line.
There’s something I have had to work through in my own writing life. When does my writing become “selfish”?
If we choose writing over things like cleaning house, cooking, or partaking in church activities (besides worship services), that does not necessarily make us selfish. All of those things are good. But are all those things the best way we can use our time? Often, it’s not a matter of choosing good over bad, but choosing the best over the good.
We must not neglect the people in our lives when pursue a writing career. And, we certainly do not need to neglect God.
However, we must carve out time for God, family, friends, and our writing. Perhaps an analogy will help illustrate what I mean.
Is it selfish for a person to devote years of study to become, say, a doctor? Would we say, “Frank is so selfish for going to medical school”?
Of course not. We would probably commend Frank for devoting his time to that endeavor.
Does that mean Frank should ignore his family and quit attending worship services? No. But Frank will make sacrifices to become a doctor.
In the same way, as writers, we make sacrifices to read, study, and write. We make those sacrifices to become the best writers we can be—even though it may appear that we are selfish to family and friends.
Sometimes family and friends may need gentle reminders that our work has importance and ultimately will glorify God.
God wants us to use all of the abilities he has given us.
Working hard in order to achieve goals is not selfish ambition.
Our ambition becomes selfish when we engage in rivalries and develop cliques in order to achieve our goals.
Our ambition becomes selfish when we change the things we say or do in order to become popular with men, instead of seeking God’s glory.
And that brings us to today’s test:
Next Monday, December 19, we’ll be looking at question #4 in the series—Are you guilty of boasting?
Meanwhile, join me Wednesday for things I’ve learned and Friday for Random Thoughts.
Thanks for dropping by!