ambition (3)

This Week’s Question: Does the Bible refer to prejudicial or discriminatory actions in Scriptures other than James? If so, where, and what is the context?


No other Biblical writer addresses prejudice or discrimination as comprehensively as James, but other books have nuggets to understand why prejudice and discrimination are anathema to God. Genesis 1:26a, and 27 are great verses for initiating this discussion, “Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The truth is all men, women, and children are made in the likeness of God, so there is no justifiable basis for someone to treat, discriminatorily, another person with different physical or social characteristics.


Peter affirms that position in his visit to Cornelius, “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him’ (Acts 10:34-35).” Although Peter’s visit violated Jewish law, he was given clearance by the Holy Spirit to violate that law since Christ broke all walls of separation. Peter justified his visit by saying, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28).” It seems clear that these words apply to everyone and all circumstances both then and now. Therefore, any intentional discrimination is self-imposed, and pits the perpetrator against God.


Paul used Jesus’ kenosis as a model for others to emulate by declaring, “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 (Philippians 2:3-4). To save a dying world, Jesus shed His divinity to become a servant which is contrary to many today who fight aggressively to maintain his/her power, prestige, and position. The problem is the privileges they may receive in this life will eventually be lost because according to Matthew 5:5, it is the meek who will inherit the Earth. The bottom-line is a person should not think too highly of him- or her-self, and should treat all others with respect, honor, and esteem.


John captures the essence of the problem of discrimination as the abandonment of love in several of his first epistle passages. In I John 2:9-11 he writes, “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves .his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” This proposition is frightening for “Christians” who discriminate because Jesus says (this is a paraphrase), when someone thinks he/she is walking in the light but are actually walking in darkness, how deep is that darkness (Matthew 6:23)?”


In I John 3:15-18 readers are challenged to put love into action when John writes, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” It is important that John equates someone who hates a brother or sister to a murderer, which does not bode well for purveyors of past, present or future discrimination. John also makes it very difficult for anyone who lives according to God’s moral code to remain ambivalent of injustice. John’s charge is to take sides with the needy!


Based upon these passages, more people need the love John wrote about, and the evidence of that love is more people would be engaged in fighting the social ills that have plagued America for hundreds of years. Among them are an ongoing fight for civil rights; immigrant rights domestically and at the border; climate change so the world our children inhabit is livable; and Native American rights since they are the only non-immigrants living in this country! Unfortunately, all that was rightfully theirs was stolen due to the greed, pride, and prejudice that are denounced by the above passages.

Next Week’s Question: Since prejudice was systemically built into the moral fabric of America, do you think Americans who tacitly or actively profited from that model (past, present, and future), will be damned eternally?

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Lay Down Your Ambition

Recently we’ve explored how we build ourselves up through our “doing.” This week is more about the “triggers” that lure us into that kind of thinking. Our circumstances are one such set of triggers. Our own passions, and personal ambitions, are another.

First, let’s make one thing clear: God has given us hopes and dreams and ambitions to pursue. Not all of the “good things” we do are bad. Not by a long shot. The struggle is in who gets the credit, and in who’s really being served by what we do. Again, and for probably not the last time: Laying it down is about taking our-selves out of the equation and focusing on what God wants, rather than how we benefit from what we do. What we get out of it is the blessing, not the goal.

More often than not, we make even good things about our work and our accomplishments, as if we’re somehow made superior by them because we’ve accomplished them. We may give God lip service, and maybe even some sincere acknowledgement, but we know who really stepped up to the plate and got it done.

In The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee points out, “The enemy well knows how we need our mind to attend the spirit so that we may walk by the spirit. Thus he frequently induces us to overuse it that it may be rendered unfit to function normally and hence be powerless to reinforce the spirit in time of weakness.” A more modern way of putting that is, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” But Nee hints at an even more significant truth: Satan is more than willing to use our busyness and our ambition to, slowly but steadily, make us bad. As we drift from the leading of the Spirit, we leave ourselves increasingly open to things that aren’t of God.

We’ve seen this far too many times in recent church history, but it’s far from a new problem. People often start off sincerely at first and experience success, but soon it become more and more about the success and less and less about serving God. Eventually success becomes “the spirit” of the thing, rather than being something that’s measured by our obedience to the Spirit. “Spiritual leadership” that isn’t leading others closer to Jesus isn’t spiritual leadership at all.

Jesus calls us to a different work: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It is a challenge so difficult that only one man has ever done it entirely successfully—the One who’s calling us to it right now. And he is the one who will make true success happen, in his way and in his time. So lay down your ambition, and begin following Jesus into something far bigger than yourself.

Lay It Down Today

What gets you excited, and makes you want to get up in the morning—or at least has you looking forward to getting back home? Let’s keep relationships off the table for this activity. For now, think of something that isn’t necessarily life-giving in itself but is life-giving to you—a hobby or activity, or something that benefits others. It might even be your work. Got that in your mind? Good.

Now: How can you invite Jesus (or invite him further) into that activity? It might be as simple as adding prayer throughout your activity (and notice I said “throughout,” not just before or after). Maybe it’s tweaking that activity so your actions are more directly giving God glory rather than just about you “taking a break.” Whatever you come up with, begin making it a regular part of that activity—then see how God begins changing things up as you do.

Also—and here’s the deeper part—consider how this attitude can be brought into the more “serious” parts of your life. Where are you striving to accomplish something, and how much of that is you? How can you begin taking your hands off and letting Jesus guide those things—and when success comes, give him the glory instead of taking the credit? This will obviously take longer to develop, but start working on it today.

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9570802876?profile=original“God is not in the business of granting wishes. God is in the business of raising the dead, not all of whom are willing.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)


To experience the power that raised Christ from the dead is infinitely superior to gloating in our achievements and possessions. Anything that we let take God’s place in our hearts is a false god unable to satisfy our deepest desires (1 John 5:21).


Ambition to succeed by human standards puts us on a path that is invariably frustrating. About the time we think we’ve caught up with the Joneses, they’ve refinanced and started all over again. And even if we think we’re ahead of everybody else in the rat race, who wants to be a rat? No matter how much we acquire or achieve, this world, as Scripture reminds us, is fading away (1 John 2:17). What we hold in our hands is temporary; what we hold in our hearts is eternal.  


The best ambition is to know Christ. But to know him requires that we walk the high road above the moral swamp. Voltaire once remarked that all people are creatures of the age in which they live, and very few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time. The truth is none of us can raise ourselves above the prevailing norms of our day. A moral resurrection from corrupt society is only possible by supernatural power—the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.


Are we willing?


“That I may know him” (Philippians 3:10)



Johnny R. Almond

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Interim Pastor, Nomini Baptist Church; Montross, Virginia

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