3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2.3-4 (NIV)
Today, I want you to learn a new word. In the Greek it is eritheia, in the KJV it is translated strife, but here in the NIV it is translated “selfish ambition”.
It is a difficult word to translate from Greek into English. It might be best translated “electioneering”. You know when a politician acts in a certain way not because it is from the heart, not because it is conviction, but because it is what they think will please the crowd and they think that being a crowd-pleaser will get them promotion.
It’s more than that though, it’s also about deliberately causing fights to get the upper hand, playing people against each other, and playing games to get promoted. It includes subtly putting other people down to make yourself look better. Basically any behaviour you would get from a politician!
The New Covenant is absolutely and totally explicit: do nothing out of eritheia. So many people are striving and fighting and playing games to be in control of things that they were never supposed to be in control of. It is a symptom of a lack of trust in God. In the New Testament days, people were even preaching out of eritheia (Php. 1.16), and both Paul and James warn strongly against it. It is one of the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5.
So make no mistake – it is something that is still going on today. There are still people in churches:
- Preaching in such a way that they are trying to please the crowd and put other preachers down.
- Playing church politics by acting in certain ways to try and gain a position in the church or in the hearts of people in the church
- Not looking to the Lord for their position, not being content with their sphere of authority but fighting to maintain a position God never gave them. In Psalm 131, the Psalmist says “I do not concern myself with great matters”. In other words, we do not worry about things that are outside our authority. Otherwise, we will get into the flesh and that’s not good.
- Deliberately trying to split up a church to get their pet (and probably petty) doctrine or practice to the front of the church.
- Playing party politics. I will come to church if X preaches but not Y. I will come if I get to do this. I will tithe if I get to lead worship. I will come to small group if I can share, if not I won’t.
In short, people are playing games to get power. If you have to play games to get it, if you have to flatter people, intimidate people, put down other people, to get power – then that power is not from God and is not healthy.
James is just as explicit as Paul: For where envying and eritheia is, there is confusion and every evil work (James 3.16). Eritheia brings confusion. If you are confused right now, I guarantee there is selfish ambition somewhere. If you are confused as to your destiny, selfish ambition is in there somewhere. There is still a sense that you need to play politics and hold on to certain things to “help” God get you into your destiny.
I had a difficult decision to make this week, and I was confused, both options looked healthy. But then I realized one option was only healthy because it helped me politically. It would put me in a better position. The other option was the choice that would help people, extend the kingdom of God and glorify Christ. I repented of my selfish ambition and repented of my lack of faith that promotion comes from the Lord. Then all confusion left and I knew what I had to do, and all I needed to do was ask for some timing and some small details.
Confusion is rooted in eritheia, so is every evil work. If you translate every evil work from the original Greek it comes out as: every evil work. All evil is called by our political games. All church splits are caused by selfish ambition. All people who fail to enter their destiny – it is caused by eritheia. All people who backbite and pull others down – it is all caused by eritheia.
Let’s build church the way Paul built church – by louding declaring and believing and acting and believing: WE WILL DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION. WE ARE NOT POLITICIANS, WE ARE SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.