After challenging the living saints in Philippi to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind,” Paul then says in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit…” Paul used 10 joy1the phrase “Selfish ambition” to describe those who preached Christ from the wrong motives back in Philippians 1:17. Paul uses the same phrase in Galatians 5:20 where he lists the “works of the flesh” in contrast to the “fruits of the Spirit” of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Selfish ambition is a destructive force in all of our relationships. It will destroy any joy we might experience. The most important things in life are not things at all but people. If our relationships are bad, life is bad!

In my previous studies of Ecclesiastes, the wisest man in the world (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8) used three different grammatical devices to describe “selfish ambition.” James Reitman, in his commentary describes these: “With proverb, vignette, and direct imperative he showed that all selfish ambition is rooted in human contention for a better lot than God has given…” The problem is instead of advancing one’s lot in life, it does just the opposite. Earlier Paul expressed how he maintained his joy in the midst of all his trials by trusting in God’s love for him and holding firm to the truth of God’s good intentions for him even in hard times. Paul was able to maintain his joy through times of suffering by trusting God.

Further, Paul said that all the suffering he underwent worked out for just the opposite of what was intended. His enemies wanted to silence the message of God’s love in Christ by arresting him and putting him in prison. But just the opposite happened. Through his testimony throughout the praetorium guard and through the believers who drew courage from Paul’s imprisonment the Gospel was proclaimed even more. The pursuit of “selfish ambition” works the exact same way. Instead of advancing one’s position in life, it actually results in the exact opposite. It retards us. The discontent with our lot in life eventually leaves us “utterly destitute and disillusioned and in a state of despair.” This is always the result when we reject our God-given portion in life. Later in the letter to the Philippians, Paul explains how he’d learned to be content in all circumstances. He was happy when he had it all. He was happy when he had nothing. When we trust God with our lot in life, we too can have the kind of joy that Paul commends.