Have you ever met someone selfishly ambitious? What characteristics come to mind?
Look no further than the Bible for examples:
- Cain murdered his brother.
- Jacob deceived every relative.
- Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.
- David pursued Bathsheba, murdering her husband.
Since most of us couldn’t relate to these drastic examples, let’s zoom in on a pair of brothers—the Sons of Thunder.
Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus (with her sons)… She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. What is your request?” He asked. “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on the right and the other on your left. Matthew 20:20
These brothers loved Jesus enough to leave their families and livelihoods to follow an unknown Man. I wouldn’t call that selfish.
But Jesus’ followers comprised a band of strangers suddenly living and working together. I imagine selfish contention crept into their circle. (Have you watched The Chosen?! It’s a free MUST watch!)
God addresses these heart issues delicately but truthfully.
1. First, He declares bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are a dastardly duo.
But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. James 3:14
The Greek word for selfish ambition, eritheia, means a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and fractious spirit, contention, strife. Enter James and John with their Mother.
But how does this relate to wisdom for healthy relationships today? How about—marriage, family, groups existing around commonalities like work, school, retirement communities, churches, exercise, sports, politics, hobbies?
Throughout our lives we belong to social groups, and where groups thrive, selfish ambition and jealousy exist.
In addition, boasting and lying dance with this devastating duo.
A 2002 famous study found, “People tell a considerable number of lies in everyday conversation… Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.” R.S. Feldman
And pride leads to boasting. Ouch!
2. Calling the pair unspiritual and even demonic, God says where they abide, He cannot.
For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. James 3:15
3. Lastly, He links disorder and every kind of evil to this precarious pair.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16
When our girls were younger, this verse took me by storm. Disorder and every kind of evil in my home? No thank you! With new passion, I began watching for signs of selfish ambition and jealousy, finding teachable moments to speak truth and life to their tender hearts.
Think of any group you’re a part of. You may have experienced selfish ambition and jealousy running amuck, leaving destruction and pain in their wake.
What would cause us to lean into selfishness or jealousy?
- Unresolved past hurts
- Excessive perfectionism
- Unchecked pride
After soul-searching with Jesus, I discovered a few questions I ask after conversations:
- Was I humble or boastful?
- Did I listen attentively?
- Did I consider other’s interests, or promote my own?
- What were my intentions during the conversation?
- Did I agree just to remain on someone’s good side?
- Was I silent to appear agreeable when I should’ve spoken in love?
- Did jealousy lead me to say things I now regret?
- Was my goal to be right?
- Did I lie, exaggerate or tell partial truths?
- Did I speak from love or selfishness?
Depending on your temperament, some questions will strike a chord, and others won’t even resonate.
Admittedly, I’m often disappointed in myself. But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave us in our selfishness; He promises to continue the good work He began in us! (Phil 1:6)
Seeing the Sons of Thunder as they would one day be, Jesus wasn’t disappointed by their question. James was the first disciple to give his life for Jesus, and John wrote 5 books of the New Testament!
The same is true for you, dear one!
Jesus doesn’t condemn; He tenderly transforms.
What step can you take with Jesus this week? Maybe soul inspection or intention investigation?
We all struggle with temptation, fear, past hurts, selfishness. Let’s journey together towards transforming our relationships as we lean into God’s wisdom, allowing His truth to illuminate our soul—soothing and healing the raw, aching places.
We’ll conclude our series next week, discovering God’s answer to our current cultural crisis of selfishness, sometimes labeled narcissism, learning His wisdom for healthier relationships!