Sleep on This: March 20
Good evening friend:
“Selfish ambition.” That’s the phrase Paul uses in Philippians 1:17 to describe his “competitors.” Preachers who were using the opportunity of Paul’s imprisonment to advance their own reputation. With Paul on ice, these jealous rivals snatched the opportunity to steal some of his followers and impugn his reputation. It is really quite awful, this instinct we preachers sometimes have to celebrate the downfall of Christian celebrities. But apparently it goes back to the first century.
“Ambition.” It’s not a bad word. The desire to achieve something; to accomplish something great or meaningful. “Selfish ambition.” That’s when the instinct turns rancid. When our desire to achieve is primarily about vaunting ourselves, perhaps at the expense of others.
“Selfish” is the poisonous opposite of what Jesus modeled. Jesus who declared himself a servant of all. Jesus who knelt to wash the filth from his apprentices’ feet. There was nothing selfish about Jesus; to the contrary, as Paul describes later in Philippians 2, Jesus “emptied” himself when he came to earth; he set aside his privileges as the eternal son of God so that he might take the form of a servant…a dying servant.
“Selfish ambition.” The phrase jumps out at me in this moment because it is our instinct, particularly when frightened or panicked, to think first of self. To think only of self. Even at the expense of others. We see a picture of that when people are wheeling cartloads of toilet paper out to the car, more toilet paper than could be used even if the plague were dysentery. That act of hoarding says, “I care only for myself. My ambition…my desire…is to protect my own interests at all costs. Too bad for you.”
Christ calls us to something else, something better in this moment. He calls us to share. To think of others. To defer. As you reflect back upon your day and upon this tumultuous week, I invite you to recall the ways in which you served others at your own expense. As these days and weeks pass, let THOSE stories multiply. Do that, and the name of Christ will be proclaimed.
Lord, as I lay me down to sleep, remind me of your servant’s heart; of how, out of your deep love for me, you put my needs before your own. By your Holy Spirit, may I become less and less selfish, more and more self-less, and in so doing, bring honor to your holy name. Amen.