1-hour small group study on Ambition
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Introduction to the issue:
"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed." - Abraham Lincoln
Discuss: How is Abraham Lincoln's view of ambition different or similar to yours?
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT AMBITION? IS AMBITION GOOD OR BAD?
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippian 2:3-11)
According to Paul Stevens “The word used for “fleshly” or “selfish” ambition is eritheia. Originally this meant “work done for pay” and came to mean accepting position and office, not from motives of service, but for what one can get out of it. It is related to the word jealousy, which started out well—as “the desire to attain to nobility”—but came to mean “the desire to have what someone else has.” Since zelos is the word from which our English word zeal comes, jealous, self-seeking ambition may be thought of as ‘zeal gone bad’.” (Complete Book of Everyday Christianity).
Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to Philippians 2:3-11?
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Here is a positive statement approving those who set their hearts on being an elder in a way that plainly views this as a godly ambition. However there are so many other qualifications added here about proven Christian character that it is plainly not a godly ambition when motivated by conceit and a desire for status but only when motivated by humility and the desire to serve.
Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7?
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. (Romans 1:13)
Paul Stevens notes: “While Paul counsels against having a mindset shaped by the ambitions of this world (Romans 12:1) at the same time it is clear that he was also ambitious to have a harvest among the Romans (Romans 1:13) and to evangelize Spain. It has often been suggested that when Paul got converted, so was his ambition: “What Paul can teach us is that there is a gospel-centered way to speak about competitiveness, a way to be ambitious for the sake of Christ, a way to raise the desire for success above the level of self-interest or ideology” (Kuck, p. 175).” (Complete Book of Everyday Christianity)
Discuss: In what ways is ambition good or bad according to Romans 1:13?
You don’t have to look far in the Bible to gain a sense that there are two very different views of ambition, one positive and the other negative. Whether ambition is good or not depends on three things:
- Motivation – Does ambition stem from good motives? Or bad ones?
- Personal character – The aspiration to become a better person is a worthy ambition.
- Goals – If the goal is worthy then ambition is positive.
OPTIONAL CASE STUDY DISCUSSION
After graduating from Harvard business school, Diane Paddison served as global executive for two Fortune 500 companies and one Fortune 1000 company. Today she acts as an independent director for two corporations and four non-profits and writes for Christianity Today’s digital magazine “Today’s Christian Women.”
What if women are not being "held back," but rather women are choosing not to move forward?
If I see a woman making a mature and purposeful choice to "lean back" from work in order to prioritize other things, I celebrate her and praise God that she has the opportunity to make that choice.
The problem is that some women, and especially Christian women, aren't making that choice for themselves. Instead, they're letting guilt make it for them. We've come to see ambition as synonymous with greed, pride, and selfishness. If you offer a young mother-to-be a choice between her family and "selfish pride," she's almost definitely going to choose family. Have you ever heard anyone (male or female) complimented at church for their "ambition"?
Ambition shouldn't be a dirty word. It doesn't have to entail sacrificing family or other good things. It is possible to balance career ambitions with life's other priorities, like family and faith.
It's important to remember that God made you. He built every piece of you. It's not an accident that you have the intelligence and skills to excel in the professional world. These abilities were given to you by God to use for his service.
Not everyone feels a strong desire to advance at work, but if you do, it means that God made you that way. Ambition is a gift, not a curse. It must be stewarded. It must be focused with care. But it shouldn't be crushed or ignored.
Remember that God has a purpose for all of us. He has placed us in and works through our circumstances. If he is prompting you toward success, don't be afraid to follow the path he has drawn for you. And most importantly, don't forget that he is the reason for it.
Discuss the case:
- What do you think about Paddison’s opinion of ambition?
- Do you believe that God gives ambition as a gift?
- If a friend came to you for advice on balancing career ambitions with family and faith, what would you tell him or her?
- What do you think of your own ambitions now?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
- What am I ambitious for?
- What is the motivation behind my ambitions?
- What are my goals?
- What type of person do I want to become?