Afflicted by the evil of ambition
Ambition is applauded by the world but it is despised in the church of Jesus Christ because selfish ambition is a denial of Gods sovereignty.
Ambition is one of the works of the flesh
In James we read that the wisdom of a ambitious person comes from the devil, not from above, and in his letter to the Philippians Paul warns us that even ministers of the gospel can be self-seeking and vainglorious (Phil. 1:17). So Paul warns us in Philippians 2:3-5, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Ruthlessness of Ambition
Ambitious Absalom had no regard for the truth. So Absalom spoke evil of his father David. He used every trick in the book--innuendo, insinuation, ingratiation, kissing, handshaking, backslapping, flattery, and commiseration--to promote himself and to put his father, King David, down. Why do you think Absalom did all these things? Because Absalom wanted to be king. There was only one problem: it was not Gods will for Absalom to be king. A ambitious person wants very much to achieve that which God denies.
How God Deals with Ambition
But God was for David and against Absalom. So God caused Absalom to ignore the good counsel of Ahithophel. In 2 Samuel 17:14 we read, Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel. Why do you think they said that? The writer gives us the reason: For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.
The Example of Saul
God rejected Saul as king. In 1 Samuel 16 we read that the Holy Spirit departed from him and an evil spirit came upon him. He began to desire to kill, even though he knew David was Gods own choice. This is the nature of ambition. But as we read in the cases of Absalom and Adonijah, selfish ambition cannot compete with Gods sovereignty. After being defeated by the Philistine army on Mount Gilboa, Saul committed suicide. Saul experienced the bitter fruit of ambition.
The Example of Korah
We find another example of ambition in the account of Korah and his followers in Numbers 16. Korah was a Levite who had a very good ministry of transporting the furniture of Gods tabernacle, but he was not satisfied with Gods calling for him. Korah was restless, unhappy, and dissatisfied. He was full of envy and jealousy, and was constantly grumbling about Gods gifts and calling for his life. Why? In his ambition Korah wanted something else. What was it? Moses job.
However, there was one problem: God was for Moses, not Korah. So in Numbers 16:8-11 Moses confronted Korah and his followers and told them, Now listen, you Levites! Isnt it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord's tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood also. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.
Let me assure you, God will deal with all ambitious people. The ambition of Korah was dashed to pieces upon the solid rock of Gods sovereignty. In Numbers 16:25-30 we read: Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He warned the assembly, Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.
So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents. Then Moses said, This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt. And in verses 31-33 we find that is exactly what happened: As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. Korah and his followers tasted the bitter fruit of selfish ambition.
The Example of Joab
We find still another example of ambition in the person of Joab. Joab was a nephew of King David, although David and Joab were probably the same age. Joab had a very high and powerful job as the general of King Davids army, yet in his lifetime he cruelly murdered two innocent generals, Abner and Amasa, to protect his own power and position. Why do you think he acted that way? Because Joab was filled with ambition.
Before David died he told his son Solomon to deal with Joab, as we read in 1 Kings 2:5-6. And in 1 Kings 2:28 we read that Joab ran into the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar to flee from Solomon. But he was cut down there according to the instructions David had given to Solomon. Joab received the bitter fruit of his ambition.
The Example of Shimei
In 2 Samuel 16 we read about a Benjamite named Shimei who cursed David as David fled from Absaloms army. Shimei was also filled with ambition. Because Shimei was from Sauls clan and was hoping that Sauls dynasty would come back to power, he cursed David and threw rocks at him when he saw him fleeing from Absalom. But David, not Saul, was Gods anointed king, and so God dealt with Shimei eventually for his actions against David. Before he died David gave Solomon clear instructions about how to deal with Shimei, and in 1 Kings 2:46 we read that Shimei was killed when he failed to live within the restrictions Solomon had placed on him. Shimei also tasted the bitter fruit of ambition.
The Example of Uzziah
In 2 Chronicles 26 we find another example of ambition in King Uzziah of Judah. Uzziah became king of Judah when he was just sixteen years old and ruled in Jerusalem for fifty-two years. In the early part of his reign Uzziah became very powerful with Gods help.
But 2 Chronicles 26:16 tells us, After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. God had exalted Uzziah and made him a great king--powerful, famous, rich, skillful, and a great military strategist. But Uzziah was not satisfied by his power, wealth, and fame as king of Judah. He also wanted to be the chief priest.
Uzziah was afflicted with the same disease that afflicted Saul--the desire to be like the pagan rulers and consolidate all political and religious power in himself. He wanted to get rid of all the priests and be the sole authority. He was ambitious, in other words, desiring that which God did not intend for him to have.
What did Uzziah do to achieve his goal? Verse 16 also tells us he entered the temple to burn incense on the altar of incense. Uzziah knew this was not the job of the king of Israel, but in his desire to be high priest, he went beyond what God had called him to do. However, in verse 17 we read, Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. They confronted him and said, It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God (2 Chron. 26:16-18).
Did Uzziah listen to the priests? No. He resisted them and so in Gods sovereignty judgment came upon him. Verse 19 tells us, While [Uzziah] was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lords temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him. And then we read a final, sad statement: King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house--leprous, and excluded from the temple of the Lord (v. 21). Uzziah tasted the bitter fruit of selfish ambition.
The Example of Jesus
Finally, let us examine the life of Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of one who embraced Gods calling and functioned within that calling. In Philippians 2:3-5 Paul warns against selfish ambition and then he tells us how to think: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. . . .
Who is Christ Jesus, that we should emulate him? He is God-man, the One who made himself nothing and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the death of the cross. Why did Jesus do these things? Because he was fulfilling Gods plan for his life. Jesus was not ambitious and he never sought to please himself. He always pleased his Father by doing the Fathers will, which included accomplishing redemption for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
In Philippians 2:9 Paul tells us, Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God the Father. Jesus Christ humbled himself, and God exalted him.
May all of us take same path as Jesus Christ did. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are humbling ourselves. And when we do that, we will enjoy the great privilege of being servants of Jesus Christ. God will enable us to function in the positions he grants us, and we ourselves will consider it a privilege to serve our Lord. Jesus Christ died for our salvation; thus, those who are redeemed live their lives in humility and service to him. What benefit is it to us to live like this? True fulfillment, true rest, true refreshment, and true satisfaction will come to us when we abide in the place where God has called us.
Hope for the Ambitious
What will happen if we ignore the warnings of the Bible and continue to walk in ambition? In Gods time we shall meet with the solid rock of divine sovereignty. But let me assure you, such an experience will not be very pleasant. We will taste the bitter fruit of ambition for the rest of our lives.
There is no reason for a Christian to be ambitious, especially within the body of Christ. Therefore, if we have been afflicted by the evil of ambition, deceit and trickery, this wanting to be what God doesnt want us to be.
May we always be satisfied with Gods calling of us and do what He ask us to do and be clothed with humility that God may exalt us in due season.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon