To Live Is Christ – Neither Ambition Nor Conceit

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

  • Philippians 2:3

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

  • Luke 1:51-55

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

  • Matthew 23:12

“Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

  • 1 Kings 21:29

For to me, to live is Christand to die is gain.

  • Philippians 1:21

Do nothing from. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter What you’re a part of, what he says after those three words cannot be a motivating factor for Christians. Ever.
“The first forbidden motivation is ‘selfish ambition.’ Nothing must be done from a place of selfish ambition. So woe to us if we’re thinking, Well, they’re making this amount of money, so I’ve gotta make that amount of money. Woe to us if we’re thinking, They’re at this level of happiness, so I’ve gotta be a little bit happier than them. If they live in a big house, I’ve gatta have a bigger house. It’s not just keeping up with the Joneses, as sinful as that is—it’s living in such a way as to say, ‘In your face, Joneses!’ Some translations render selfish ambition as ‘rivalry.’ It is living as if Christ hasn’t settled the score. As if we have not already been given the victory in Christ. As if we haven’t already received the infinite riches of the eternal Christ. That sort of thing? Have nothing to do with it. Do nothing from it.
“Next is something similar but slightly different: do nothing from conceit. So if selfish ambition is thinking, I’ve got to beat them, conceit is like being a sore loser when you don’t. Conceit is about appearances, about saving face. Conceit is like pretentiousness, a pride that connects our feelings to our image. So do you compare yourself to others and become bitter when you think you don’t measure up? Do you struggle with envy, jealousy, anger, or malice because you keep seeing the successes or joys of others and compare them with your own (perceived or actual) failures? Do you find yourself despising other people?”

  • Matt Chandler, To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

Rev. Chandler focuses on the first half of Philippians 2:3.  We are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit.  He defines those terms.

It is too easy to say that we are humble.  C. S. Lewis said that humiliation would not hurt as bad if we were humble.  People may make a meteoric rise in the world today, but their fall is painful to watch at times.  That is where the conceit comes in.  With the rise, there is more money available, more money to use for saving face.

The problem with a meteoric rise is what Rev. Chandler hinted at.  It is a matter of who you stepped on or over to get there.  Everywhere I worked, there was a system of “dues paying,” but those graduating college today, many whom I have talked to, are not satisfied with paying dues.  They want top dollar and a management job almost immediately, many of them getting manager jobs, supervising older employees as their first job out of college.

I got out of the military, having managed a civilian organization three times the size of the company I went to work for – at least that division – but they placed someone with no management experience over me who had no management skills either.  But he had paid his “dues.”  Oddly, since I was an older “new” employee, I was not allowed to do the necessary jobs in order to pay my dues.  Something they lied about when I interviewed them.

All these reversals of fortune humbled me, and in some respects, I did not take it well.  It was decidedly unfair.  I had to prove myself in other ways, which in turn made the “dues paying” bosses even angrier at me for showing that I could do the management work.

But while God was grooming me, I had to learn humility.

In my last fulltime job, I taught steel workers on three different continents, actually with people from two other continents attending some large gatherings.  I was the teacher, the in-coming expert.  Yet, to relate to these people, especially in the USA, I came across as “a dumb old farm boy from Mississippi.”  I blended homespun humor, stories from my experience (and that of others), and my broad knowledge of the subject.  After all, I wrote the textbook that we were teaching from.  But I had to know the culture of the audience.  I had to be humble so that I could relate to the class, but I had to show my education and experience.  There had to be balance.  The rapport was necessary for them to trust me, but if I did not have information beyond what they already knew, why listen anyway?

As a result, I learned the distinction between self-confidence and arrogance.  With self-confidence you know your limitations.  With arrogance you boldly stride forward and use your conceited excuses to save face when you stepped beyond your limitations.

When dealing with others, as Philippians 2:3 states, you must value others above yourself.  It is why I studied the culture where I went and adjusted my approach accordingly.  One size, or one technique, does not fit all.

You cannot simply say that you love others.  You must show it in your actions and your compassion when working alongside them.

Lord, guide me.  Help to show us where we need to humble ourselves.  If we are, like I was for a brief time, too blind to our lack of humility, You have Your ways of humbling us, and it does not feel good when that happens.  And help us to work humbly alongside others, helping them and showing Your love to them.  In Thy Name I pray.  Amen

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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