Ambition sermon ideas

Ambition is a strong desire to achieve. Ambition may be noble or selfish, and it's often hard to figure out which type of ambition is dominant in another person, and even in ourselves. Christians shouldn't shrink from attempting fine things just because they are unsure whether their aim is selfish or noble. God's kingdom will come whether in working toward it we have good motivations or not. In helping to shape how we live, sermons frequently talk about ambition, about the desire to achieve. Our prayers, songs, and sermons can point to God as the author and perfector of every good thing. 

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What does the Bible say about ambition?

The Bible passages below can be used in sermons, prayers, pastoral care, or worship planning focused on ambition. 

  • Genesis 11:4, the building of Babel, a city with a tower reaching to the heavens
  • Proverbs 21:21, pursuing righteousness and kindness will bring life and honor 
  • Isaiah 14:12-15, those who thought too highly of thmeselves are brought down
  • Matthew 4:8-10, the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain to test him
  • Matthew 5:6, Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for rightousness will be satisfied
  • Matthew 6:33, Jesus says that if we strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he will provide for our daily needs as well
  • Luke 9:25, Jesus asks how we profit if we gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit oursevles
  • Romans 2:7-8, there will be retribution for those governed by selfish ambition
  • Romans 15:20, Pauls's ambition is to proclaim the good news to those who have never heard of Christ
  • 1 Corinthians 14:12, encouragement to excel in spiritual gifts for the building up of the church
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-9, walk by faith and not by sight, with the aim of pleasing the Lord
  • Galations 5:19-21, those enmeshed in idolatry and other sinful behaviors will not inherit the kingdom of God
  • Philippians 2:3, Paul's entreaty to do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but to be humble with respect to others
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, from Paul: make it your ambition to love others, live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands to win the respect of others
  • 1 Timothy 3:1, aspiring to the office of bishop or overseer is aspiring to a noble task
  • James 3:14-16, envy and selfish ambition will bring disorder and wickedness

Sermon ideas about ambition

Sermons about ambition should acknowledge that ambition is morally ambiguous. On the one hand, selfish ambition can be morally and spiritually devastating. According to traditional Christian thinking, ambition caused the fall of the angels and of the first humans. They had a strong desire to "be like God." They wanted to vault over the line between creature and creator.  

Life and literature since then have been full of people who hungered for fame, power over others, and unsurpassable wealth. Adolf Hitler's dream was to turn Germany into an empire that would conquer and exploit most of Europe for a millennium. His ambition caused indescribable suffering. Ambitious striving may lead to idolatry and strife and sometimes even to tyranny.  

Lots of type-A hard drivers want God to get out of the way so they can build their towers and collect their kudos. Foolish pride bedevils us still. There's a story of a man, an expert skier, who lost his life while skiing off-trail in an avalanche area of the Rockies. He knew perfectly well that what he was doing was risky. But his ambition was to leave tracks across impossible terrain so that anybody who rode up an adjacent chairlift would see those tracks and admire the skill that made them. 

On the other hand, sermons about ambition should convey that ambition may also be noble, as when a Christian "strives first for the kingdom of God." Paul was ambitious in spreading the gospel where it hadn't gone before. He craved the difficult work of trailblazing. Jesus challenged his followers to "hunger and thirst for righteousness," and Paul called us to distinctly Christian ambitions: to live quietly, to build up the church, to please the Lord. 

The same ambition for high accomplishment that drives the arrogant and the foolhardy also gives us great cathedrals, glorious music, terrific sermons, and flourishing businesses. Where would Christians be without ambition? The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) should remind us that "safety first" was not Jesus' motto. For him, obedience comes first, and that often means taking a reverent risk for the kingdom of God. But if we are slackers inside the kingdom, one of the most terrible things God could ask any of us on the day of judgment is "Do you mean you never even tried?"  

How to think about the push and pull of ambition 

As you think about writing a sermon about ambition, consider these seven observations about the push and pull of ambition: 

  • The energy that fuels accomplishment is a gift of God. All real energy comes from the ultimate power source in the universe. Taking pride in doing a job well is just as often a virtue of the diligent as it is a sin of the arrogant. In any case, it's not a bad idea to buy the goods and services of people who take pride in their work. 

  • It's one thing to want to do a job well because it's right to do it that way and because it therefore pleases the Lord and contributes to the kingdom. It's another thing to want to do a job well because you will then get your name splashed across social media. 

  • Although it's not hard to figure out which of these last two attitudes is better, it is hard to know which has the upper hand in another human being. Take a person who's never satisfied with her work. Is she humble or proud? Or take a hard-charging minister. As Eugene Peterson has said, it's pretty hard to tell whether a minister's ambitious leadership amounts to courageous faith or mere self-importance. But whether or not we know, we still must make solid decisions in the church. 

  • When we do fine things, even for God, we might sometimes do them for partly sinful reasons. Again, that's just the way it is. And we ought not to stop trying to do fine things just because we are afraid of lapsing into vanity or some other folly. The truth is that we will lapse at times, and when we do, we ought to get on our knees about it. And then we ought to stand up and go back to work, trusting God to help us do better. Even if God can hit straight shots with crooked sticks, our job is to be as straight as we can—and in any case to keep soldiering on. 

  • We may fight self-importance by accepting our failures and then by accepting the liberating grace of God that follows them. 

  • "Be all that you can be" comes from the U.S. Army, not the Bible. In biblical perspective, it's okay not to do everything, not to try everything, not to develop all your gifts. Maybe we should develop just the ones the kingdom needs from us right now. There is a life to come, after all, and there will be plenty of time then to practice photography or the saxophone. 

  • The final truth is that God's kingdom is going to come whether we fly high or not. We do have to answer for what we make of our lives, and regular self-examination is therefore in order—even about our virtues. But the rest of the time we ought to walk out into the sunshine, do our work, and delight in the opportunity God gives us to play a role in the coming of the kingdom. The attitude we bring to our work, paid or volunteer, should be neither arrogance nor despair, but joy—sheer joy at being part of something immeasurably bigger and more mysterious than any of us could ever have dreamed. 

Excerpts about ambition 

Following are sample excerpts from Zeteosearch.org sermon resources about ambition: 

"In today's Gospel, the apostles James and John ask Jesus to be given positions of glory in Christ's kingdom. Jesus reminds us that his moment of glory is his death on the Cross, and that if we want to partake in this glory we must commit to a self-sacrificing love, not a self aggrandizing ambition." Scripture Meditation or Sermon by Bishop Robert Barron from Word on Fire  

"The point is to call us to the wonder of the living God, and, by the strength of his Holy Spirit, to urge us to take on godly ambition—the zeal to serve others." Article about Scripture by  Edith M. Humphrey from Ancient Faith

"Jesus knew that ambition can distort our view of life and the world. Seen through ambition, others can become objects, tools to use, instead of being our sisters and brothers." Scripture Meditation or Sermon by Wiley Stephens from Day1

"Believer, it ought to be your ambition to please Christ in every act you do. Do not say 'How will this please myself or please my neighbour?' but 'How will this please my Lord?'" Scripture Meditation or Sermon by Charles Spurgeon from the Spurgeon Center

"Jesus far from rebuking James and John for their ambition to sit at his right hand, instead encourages that ambition. Indeed, given the way that James and John are depicted in the Gospels as constant companions of Jesus and part of his inner circle it should not be assumed that they want to be at Jesus' side for reasons of power, but rather for reasons of love." Scripture Meditation or Sermon by Calvin T. Samuel from The Methodist Church 

Worship ideas  about ambition 

Following are sample excerpts from Zeteosearch.org worship resources about ambition: 

"Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your best side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition, but I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so we can make of this old world a new world. Amen." Prayer by Martin Luther King Jr. from Gathered Prayers 

"Forgive us and help us celebrate the fact that You loved us enough to sacrifice Your only Son on the cross and, as a result, we no longer need to impress You and others." Prayer of Confession by The Pastor's Workshop 

"Our hands are not clean. We confess that we have desired power and status, and have neglected our duty as your servants. We have allowed ourselves to become preoccupied with things we own or want to own, freely putting on the chains of consumerism." Prayer of Confession by Carol Penner from Leading Worship