Editors’ note: 

This is the second in a three-part series by Dave Harvey. Please see part 1 here.

In talking about humility and ambition, think spiritual crime scene. Ambition starts out as a business partner with humility, but doesn’t want to share control. An argument ensues. Ambition gets carried away, whacks humility and the next thing you know humility is a chalk line on the sidewalk. Ambition becomes a partner of one.

But here’s a plot twist. Is there ever a time when ambition is the victim of humility? I think there is, and I think it requires some serious investigation.

In Philippians 2, Christ’s humility is displayed in his action. “He made himself nothing,” “He took the form of a servant,” “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient.” To “have this mind among yourselves” is to follow an example of action, intention and initiative. Christ’s humility did not restrain his enterprise, it defined it.

G.K. Chesterton saw the rise of ambition-less humility among Christians in the social and economic world of eighteenth century Great Britain. He called it “humility in the wrong place.” Chesterton appealed for a return to the “old humility” saying, “The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

When we become too modest to aspire, we’ve ceased being humble. Humility should never be an excuse for inactivity. It should harness, but never hinder, zealous, godly ambitions. Humility provides the guardrails for our aspirations, ensuring they remain on God’s road and moving in the direction of His glory. Talking about our dreams for how we want to spend our life for God isn’t proud, it’s essential. If we’re too humble to dream, then we may have unknowingly settled into Chesterton’s fruitless “new humility.”

John Stott has it right,

Ambitions for self may be quite modest … Ambitions for God, however, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. There is something inherently inappropriate about cherishing small ambitions for God. How can we ever be content that he should acquire just a little more honour in the world? No. Once we are clear that God is King, then we long to see him crowned with glory and honour, and accorded his true place, which is the supreme place. We become ambitious for the spread of his kingdom and righteousness everywhere.

Are you getting the picture? The stoking of godly ambition is far from inconsequential. Without it, exploration dies, research stops, kids spoil, industry stalls, causes fail, civilizations crumble, the gospel stands still. We can’t let all of that happen in the name of humility. If our ambitions are worthy of God’s glory, they can never be modest. The servant who is faithful with little is faithful precisely because he has an eye on much.

What do you have an eye on? What are you reaching out to grab? What are you trying to climb over? Set your sights on that which pleases God and don’t let anything, even misplaced humility, undermine the ambition it takes to get there.

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