What is ambition? Ambition is the desire to do something meaningful, great, and worthwhile. But what makes something meaningful, great, and worthwhile? Is it being successful or making money? Is it having a lot of things or making progress toward your goals? These questions lead us to discover the difference between selfish ambition and godly ambition. If you want to have godly ambition, this means doing God’s will and fulfilling His purpose for your life. Selfish ambition, on the other hand, is doing something to fulfill your desires and dreams apart from God.
Ambition isn’t wrong to possess; it’s all about your heart behind it.
Philippians 2:3-5 tells us the difference between selfish ambition and godly ambition. Paul reminds us to avoid greediness and dishonesty (signs of selfish ambition) and focus on God and others through humility (a sign of godly ambition)…
- “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Selfish Ambition Focuses on You and Your Wants
Most of us don’t like to admit we are selfish. Yet it is something we all struggle with on some level. Selfish ambition and pride tend to go hand in hand. And we know that when pride enters the picture, we are sure to fall (Proverbs 16:18).
Selfish ambition is focused on you and your wants and desires. It centers on what you can get from a person, place, thing, or situation. Selfish ambition thinks of your needs, wants, and desires above others and God.
Galatians 5:16-17 reminds us that our fleshly desires are at war with the Spirit. In other words, in Christ, we are to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives and not waste time by caving into our fruitless desires that eventually lead to destruction. These two desires (ours and God’s) will always be against each other. We must be aware that the flesh (selfish ambition) is always in conflict with the Spirit’s desires for us. When we walk by the Spirit, we won’t indulge our desires at the cost of others.
- “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Godly Ambition Focuses on God and Fulfilling His Will
Godly ambition is focused on God and fulfilling His will. It’s about positioning your heart and mind on Him, ready and willing to move forward as He leads. It’s a redefining success—not based on how much you do or get, but rather on the opportunities to love and serve others and glorify God in the process.
First Corinthians 10:31 sums up how we are to steward ambition. We do have freedom in Jesus, but we also need to know how to use that freedom. In short, Paul summarizes a single principle to drive our choices…
- “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Godly ambition is about the kingdom of God or having a “kingdom mentality” and seeking His kingdom and righteousness first (see Matthew 6:33).
When you walk with godly ambition, you agree with God’s Word about you, Him, and His purposes. Godly ambition positions you to become the person He created you to be so that when people look at your life, they can see Jesus through it: His character, power, love, and grace. You become living proof of God’s love to a watching world.
Godly ambition is displayed through your life as an instrument of blessing for others, just as Jesus said…
- “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”—John 13:34-35
Selfish Ambition Focuses on What You Can Get
Selfish ambition focuses on what you can get. It’s about your wants, not your needs; your own success, not the success of others; and what you can gain, not what you can give. You have a personal agenda and will follow it above all else; you believe the lie that if you can attain a certain goal, status, or financial situation, you will finally be “happy.”
The fact is that earthly happiness is not the same as the fullness of joy. Happiness can get you something temporary, but joy releases something in you that lasts for an eternity.
Psalm 16:11 says…
- “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is the fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
True joy cannot be taken away or shaken from you. Selfish ambition sells counterfeit joy—fleeting happiness—based on what you can get. If the thing is not gotten, the happiness is forgotten. This is the cost of selfish ambition.
- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:19-21
There is a joy available to you that cannot be stolen or destroyed, but it doesn’t look like the happiness much of the world chases after today. True joy can only come from Jesus.
Isaiah 26:3 promises…
- “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
Godly Ambition Focuses on What You Can Give
Godly ambition focuses on living generously and giving to God and others. Godly ambition is what God wants for us. Why? Not only is God worthy of all honor and praise, as Psalm 145 says…
- “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable… I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness.”—Psalm 145:3, 5-6
But God says that when you focus on Him and His desires for your life, you will live abundant, prosperous, and fulfilling lives.
When you focus on God and His desires for your life…
- He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
- He will direct your steps and make your path straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
- He will do a new thing in you and make roads where there were none and water in dry places (Isaiah 43:19).
- He will prosper you in your purpose, and you will be successful according to His will (Joshua 1:8).
- He will supply all you need according to His riches and glory in Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
How can anyone not want to live generously when you adopt a mindset of godly ambition over selfish ambition?
Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). He reminds us in Luke 6:38 that having a kingdom mentality for giving doesn’t add up according to the world.
- “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
The world says take, and you will have abundance. Take because if you don’t, someone else will.
But Jesus has a different message. He says to replace judgment with generosity and condemnation with charity. He reminds you that as a child of God, you have a birthright to an eternal kingdom. So then, you are free to share and live generously. Having a kingdom mentality means you know your King will never run out of riches and blessings…
- “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Do You Have a “Me Mentality” or a “Kingdom Mentality?”
The way you think about your ambitions has a lot to do with where your focus lies.
- Having selfish ambition drives your thoughts and actions to advance your “kingdom.” This is a “me mentality.”
- Having godly ambition drives your thoughts and actions to advance His kingdom. This is a “kingdom mentality.”
When you are ambitious for God’s purposes—His will—you can be sure that He will use you in powerful ways! Operating out of godly ambition makes the good news of Jesus irresistible to others. Ask God how He wants you to step out in faith and walk in godly ambition this season. He wants to use you to bless others.