Do not be consumed with your own interests but make it your practice to keep Christ first by putting the needs of others ahead of your own. Be grateful for what you have rather than bemoaning what you don’t. In this way, we set ourselves apart and are witnesses to the power of God in our lives.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.—Philippians 2:3-4
I encourage you to stop and reread these verses a second time. Do you feel the same conviction I do? After urging the church to be “in full accord and of one mind” (verse 2), Paul unveiled the most likely culprits that derail such harmony in a congregation. One might think he would warn against poor theology, as dangerous as that is, or perhaps wrong motives. To be sure, Scripture does warn against such corruption. But, in these verses, Paul intended to uncover the dangers of “selfish ambition” and “conceit.” Desired by the enemy, these self-serving behaviors take root in the heart of countless church leaders and members, destroying unity and hindering kingdom work.
Do Nothing from Selfish Ambition…
When we speak, act, or respond with selfishness, we knowingly fail to walk in the way of wisdom. In fact, James 3:14 addresses this head-on. James cautions, “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.” Acting with selfish ambition may be a bigger problem than we realize. This way of thinking is condemned as not only abandoning godliness but embracing evil.
You may be quick to assume this warning does not apply to you because, after all, you are in church each Sunday. You serve in the church, help lead the church, and read your Bible each day. Do not become complacent! You must proceed with caution. This same Greek word (translated here as selfish ambition) was used by Paul once before in chapter one. In verse 17, he described the motivation of other men who were preaching out of selfish ambition. These preachers who knew God’s Word, read it, and preached it, were guilty of this very sin, which is often translated as rivalry.
When it comes to ministry, Paul’s words of caution must not be taken lightly. He spoke from personal experience. He had been the recipient of the damage that selfish ambition creates. Yet, though there may be the risk that people would engage in Kingdom work not for the sake of magnifying the name of Christ, but for the purpose of promoting themselves, we must never see another Christ-glorifying believer as our “rival.” To protect ourselves from surrendering to the temptation of greedy aspirations, we must make a daily choice to place ourselves under the leadership of God. Let it be said of us that we did “nothing from selfish ambition,” rather that we credit Christ for any and all fruitful harvest as a result of our labor.