I recently studied Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia and came to Galatians 5:19-21 where he lists “the works of the flesh.” I’ve probably read the list 50 or more times in my life. So, I was stunned to find these two words staring me down:
Our society teaches us that we should pursue personal gain and self-improvement. Corporately, leaders are supposed to “climb the ladder.” Even those of us who call ourselves Christians are supposed to climb, albeit in a “God honoring manner.” Thus, ambition is typically viewed positively, and rarely is it viewed selfishly.
But it is selfish.
In the verses that follow, Paul cites the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-26). Notice how different, how other’s centered, the spirit-enabling fruits are. This leads us to the final words in verse 26: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Aren’t these the outcomes of selfish ambition? Aren’t these what wreak havoc in our organizations when others are pursuing personal gain at all cost?
Notice, Paul isn’t saying that we aren’t supposed to work hard. In a separate letter to the church in Thessalonica, he not only warned of idleness, but encouraged hard work so that the believers there would not be a burden (2 Thes. 3:6-10). Similarly, here he is warning against the destruction selfish ambition brings on. It is serious because it disconnects us from the spirit, realigning our focus to self and not others. It is probably not coincidence that “jealousy” and “fits of rage” are included in the same list (Gal 5:20).
I challenge you to consider selfish ambition.
Is it creating conflict? Is it tempting you to pursue certain outcomes at the expense of other, more important, responsibilities?
Is it wreaking havoc in your life?
My application in reading this text was to change my approach to succession planning with my sisters. Working towards a “title” is foolish. Rather, the aim should be, and is, determining how the three of us can peacefully work together as equals.