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Guard against selfish ambition


Ernest Onuoha

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too,” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Ordinarily, ambition “is an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honour, fame or wealth and the willingness to strive for its attainment”. It can enable one to become something in life, such as a pilot, engineer, lawyer, doctor and so on. Notice that if there is an element of humility attached, it accommodates others and by extension within the Christian setting there will be no strife or dissention.

Understandably, Apostle Paul was really concerned with the Philippian Church, which was a cosmopolitan one, for it had all sorts and classes of people. The Church’s composition reflected great diversity, with people from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life.


Acts 16 gives us some indication of the diverse makeup of this Church. The Church included Lydia, a Jewish convert from Asia and a wealthy businesswoman (Acts 16:14), the slave girl (Acts 16:16, 17), probably a native Greek and the jailer serving this colony of the empire, probably a Roman (Acts 16:25-36). With members coming from such different backgrounds, unity must have been difficult to maintain. Although there is no evidence of division in the Church, its unit had to be safeguarded (3:2, 4:2). Paul encourages us to guard against any selfishness, prejudice or jealousy that might lead to dissension. Showing genuine interest in others is a positive step forward in maintaining unity among believers.

Indeed, for the unity of brethren, they need to guard against selfish or too much ambition, for such could cause one to be disliked by his colleagues or fellow believers. Even in the political circle, sometimes some people are prevented from reaching their peak, if it was discovered that they have selfish ambition over and above their party. Yes, they can be denied such things like party tickets in order to teach them a lesson. What the party often requires from members is faithfulness and not selfish ambition. The same is applicable in the Church. No wonder it is very dangerous in the Church circle to put an ambitious person in a honourable office.

Therefore, those who must be used when occasion calls for it must be humble, faithful and selfless, as the case may be.

I think Julius Caesar saw the danger of vaulting ambition and made it a theme in his famous drama: MACBETH. The main theme of Macbeth – the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds; yet, he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment and afterwards stewed in guilt and paranoia. Towards end of the play, he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, pursues her goals with greater determination; yet, she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts. One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband to mercilessly kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in afterward. But she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition— helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches—is what drives the couple to ever more terrible atrocities. The problem, the play suggests, is that once one decides to use violence to further one’s quest for power, it is difficult to stop. There are always potential threats to the throne—Banquo, Fleance, Macduff—and it is always tempting to use violent means to dispose of them. Should it be so?

Therefore, as people of God, we need to guard against selfish ambition in whatever form it may present itself. Rather, like St. Paul, we should always be putting the society and others’ interest over and above our own, as this is the only way we can build up one another in the Lord. Please, don’t allow your selfish ambition to be a stumbling block in your Christian race. Cheers!

Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.

In this article:
Ernest Onuoha
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