April 21, 1998
Ambition. If you do not have it, you will never make anything of your life.
At least, that is current popular opinion. Ambition keeps people going, keeps us committed to excellence. It makes us more inventive, creative, competitive. Without it, we would sit back and let the rest of the world walk all over us on their way to success.
Some ambitions are admirable, like being a good friend, beating your personal best in the Olympics, engineering a new and needed product, discovering new cures or getting an education.
Some ambitions are questionable, like holding the world’s record for the largest ball of string, being the first person to eat a bicycle, collecting a garage full of bottle caps, or like Cool Hand Luke—eating thirty-nine hard-boiled eggs.
Some ambitions are dangerous, such as walking across Niagara Falls on a rope, jumping over semi-trailers with a motorcycle, parachuting from the Trade Center or sticking your head in the mouths of lions.
Some ambitions are without regard for anyone else’s life or well-being, like possessing another person’s spouse, getting a promotion by having an employee fired, or setting speed records with the family car while all of them are in it.
Some ambitions are misplaced. One example was the consuming drive of Agrippina, mother of Nero who was determined to place her boy on the throne of Rome. Seeking the counsel of soothsayers, she was told, “Nero will rule, but he will kill his mother.”
Undaunted, she replied, “Let him kill me then.” Through his mother’s scheming, Nero did become the Emperor of Rome but five years later he ordered his mother’s death.
Most people would think twice if their ambitions would destroy them, but selfish extremists rarely do. Out to conquer any obstacle, they are obsessed with reaching their goals, having their way, tearing down all obstacles. If anyone offers them contrary advice, they ignore it. If others are damaged, they blame them and say they “should get out of my way.”
We condemn selfishly ambitious people, not for their desire to do or be something or to achieve, but for their motivation. It is all for themselves. No one else will benefit. In the end, neither will they. By the end, I mean in the day when God evaluates their lives.
God is not impressed with selfish ambition. Galatians 5 lists it along with other sins that characterize the lives of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Why is it so wrong? According to the Bible description of sin, all people are “like sheep, who have gone astray” and who have “turned to our own way.” Selfish ambition is a visible picture of doing our own thing without any regard for others or for God.
God did not intend we be selfish. He created us in His image and likeness so we could be a visible reflection of Him. When we are driven by selfish ambition, we cannot fulfill His major purpose for us.
God is not selfish. He proved it by coming to earth and taking our punishment for sin on Himself, dying in our place that we might have eternal life. A selfish God would simply say, “Oh if that is the way they want to be, let them go their own way and see what it gets them.”
Nero was a despot who used human torches to light his garden at night. Had Agripinna been more like God intended, she may have looked in the Bible for her life goals and been motivated to teach her son how to love people in generosity and kindness. Instead, he not only killed thousands of other people but his own mother.
So much for selfish ambition.