How do I know I’m not writing from Selfish Ambition?
This is a very good question and is something many Christians struggle with. How do we balance our desires with God’s will? Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
This promise has to be viewed in light of the rest of the Bible. The Bible also says that selfish ambition is a threat that comes from our flesh (Philippians 2:3, Galatians 5:20). Also, James 4:3 warns us that if we ask amiss – to consume our requests upon our own selfish desires, our prayers won’t be answered.
Therein lays the wrestling of the Christian’s heart. As a writer, I have a desire to get my work into the hands of a reading audience. Are my motives purely spiritual, and absent of any selfish ambition? If I’m honest, the answer is no. In fact, every person struggles with the flesh and we all have a level of selfishness. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t honestly examining their heart. Just let a pastor show up to see one person in the pews and see the reaction. Who preaches with more passion, the pastor to a crowded church, or the one to a nearly empty one? Or how do we respond when someone gets credit for our work on the job?
Selfish Ambition – or healthy affirmation?
People need affirmation. Part of this is a need designed into our makeup. Every child thrives better when they hear, “Good job.” Even if we are not openly praised, we do well when we know someone believes in us. The opposite is also true. People are deflated when under derision and scorn. This is part of God’s design, for we are not called to be islands, but part of a body of believers. Individuals thrive when they feel like part of a community, but become downcast when they don’t feel that belonging. This is true, even when the exclusion is unfounded. We need each other.
Within the proper boundaries, our desires are good and within God’s design. Food is a necessity, but gluttony is called a sin. A relationship between a man and a woman is called a gift of God within the boundaries of marriage, but it becomes corrupt when taken out of that design. Money is not evil, but the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
I say all of this to lay the groundwork for answering this question. Is writing a sin if I’m seeking something to gain from it? This is the heart of what is being asked here. Writing is like standing up on a platform and saying, “Everyone look this way. I have something important to say.”
By its very essence, writing brings attention to the author. And as authors, we want to bring attention to what we’ve written. Otherwise, why put in the effort? I recently published a book. Part of publishing is to market, or bring attention to the book. This is the most difficult part of writing for me. I would much rather write the book, toss it out there, and let someone else talk about it. But the truth is, that won’t happen. Since I feel the message in the book is important, telling people about it is just as important. Is this selfish ambition, or a part of a Christian author’s duty?
Is there a difference between marketing and selfish ambition?
Like all people, I want to be affirmed in what I have written. To have someone speak highly of the book tells me that the effort was not in vain. Isn’t seeking affirmation and success a form of selfish ambition? In some ways, yes. But not in a way that the Bible condemns.
The Bible uses a few words for ‘selfish ambition’. In Galatians 5:20, selfish ambition comes from the word, ‘eritheia’, which means to put oneself forward, to court a distinction between yourself and others, or to have a fractious spirit. In other words, to jockey for position so you can be exalted over other people. In Philippians 2:3, we are told to do nothing out of selfish ambition (or vainglory). This is the Greek word, ‘kenodoxia’, which means: empty pride, or groundless self-esteem.
The Bible is not condemning us for pursuing our passions (providing they are healthy passions). The Bible condemns boasting, putting ourselves over others, and stepping over people to put ourselves into a better position.
Each person has gifts and desires that are healthy and good within God’s design. Our first call is to delight ourselves in the Lord. From a healthy relationship with God, healthy desires flow. Then we have the assurance that God blesses those desires knowing they are from Him. When the gift displaces our relationship with God, it loses true meaning – for all good comes from him. But when we are pursuing our passion through faith, we have true confidence knowing it has been given to us by God, and has value within his design.
Keep in mind that the Bible is filled with promises for us as individuals. Read the letters to the churches in Revelation 1-3. One of those promises is, “To him who overcomes, I will give power over the nations.” Seven times in these chapters we are given promises as a motivation to overcome. Is it selfish to keep God’s word and strive to overcome and obtain these promises? No. These are given to us for the purpose of striving for something valuable and eternal. The Bible tells us to run in such a way that we may obtain the prize. Selfishness, on the other hand, is not striving to obtain, but living life as though our desires are all that matters – or that we are more important than others.
Writing is the same way. If you believe God has gifted you to write, then write. Write to obtain the goal you believe is important in light of your calling, without losing an eternal perspective. Strive to keep a godly perspective, and write. Don’t feel guilty if you enjoy writing or find success in your efforts. Those who delight first in the Lord will maintain a healthy perspective. Success and the fruit of our labors are gifts from God (Ecclesiastes 3:12-14).