What does the Bible say about being selfish?
Scripture is consistent in condemning selfish ambition. Some might struggle with how to accurately determine when ambition is selfish. How do we know when our ambitions are selfish, and how do we know when they are healthy and ordered?
Philippians 2:3–4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Paul goes on to instruct the Philippians to have the same mindset as Jesus when relating to others, and he details just how humble Jesus was. What does it mean to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit?
Selfish ambition is the opposite of serving the needs of others. The passage is aptly summarized by James 3:16: “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” James highlights a particular practice that overcomes selfish ambition: peacemaking. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:18). In typical fashion, he alludes to a workplace—grain harvesting in this case—to make his point. He names several elements of peacemaking: grieving for the harm we do others (James 4:9), humbling ourselves (James 4:10), refraining from slander, accusation, and judgment (James 4:11), and mercy and sincerity (James 3:17). All of these can and should be employed by Christians in the workplace.
I wrote in my prayer journal recently: “I have had an epiphany: Earthly ambition is the nemesis of Godly anointing. I find that in accepting Jesus' invitation to lay down ‘my’ ambition there is a peace that floods my heart where there was none. I now discover a renewed desire to serve. To paraphrase John Gray, ‘...to serve others as if it were my last day upon this earth, and my only purpose is to squeeze the very last drop of the fragrance of Jesus from within me.’ I guess this must be Godly ambition. I pray it lasts.
If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
More Bible verses about being selfish:
“True things must be preferred to false; eternal things, to those that are temporary; useful things, to those that are pleasant. Let nothing be pleasing to the sight but that which you see to be done with piety and justice. Let nothing be agreeable to the hearing but that which nourishes the soul and makes you a better man...If it is a pleasure to hear melodies and songs, let it be pleasant to sing and hear the praises of God...For he who chooses temporal things will be without eternal things. He who prefers earthly things, will not have heavenly things” (Lactantius).
James tells us in James 3:14 that envy and selfish ambition harbored in our hearts is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic wisdom. Take note of where this envy and selfish ambition lies – it lies quietly in our hearts where no one may see it…but there it lies and it leads us down a path into disorder.
This next quote is LONG lol! but bear with me as John McArthur says it so much better than I ever could: “So earthly wisdom is spawned by demons, it is reflective of sensual feeling and it goes no further than the fallenness of mankind. That is earthbound sensual demonic wisdom. And that’s the way most people live. But Satan calls it wisdom.
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