Selfish Ambition

SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:46-48

46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest.

47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side.

48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”


Who defines greatness? Which dictionary should we go by?

Mr. Webster– [1] Exceptional high quality [2] The quality or state of being large in size, the volume, mass, the hugeness, the enormity of a person or thing. A CELEBRITY achieves enormous fame. A PHILANTHROPIST accumulates enormous wealth. The highly successful professional ATHLETE has an enormous contract.

We all know how the world defines success. The world recognizes those who attain fame and fortune.  If we go by the world’s definition, Michael Jackson and Elvis were highly successful and great to some extent but let me ask you a question: will they be great in the Kingdom of God, in the eternal realm. I am not saying they will or will not but I am saying God uses a different standard to measure success and greatness.


In today’s passage, the disciple are arguing about who will be greatest in the upcoming kingdom. They were convinced that Jesus was going to have a kingdom here and now and they wanted the top cabinet level positions. Jesus took a child and used this child as a teaching point, an illustration. “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” With this scripture in mind, I want to make a few points…


By using the child as an example, Jesus is not encouraging them to be immature like a child but pure and tender like a child. When Chloe {age 3} does not get her way, she cries and pouts. No one is shocked when a three year old acts this way. When an adult sulks and pouts, that constitutes a problem.

I am shocked at the disciples behavior: while Jesus had the cross on His mind, they had a crown on theirs. Jesus had just finished His second discourse on His passion but they were concerned about a position. They were no on the same page and this rendered them insensitive. How could they be arguing about rank at a time like this?

It would be like calling your children to your bed side and saying, “Kids, I have a terminal illness and only a few months to live.” They look at you like a calf at a new gate and then begin arguing among themselves about who is going to get what. Can children fight over and estate while their parents are living? Yes they can and do. It is so insensitive, so cruelly selfish.


If you ambition is to be great, you will not be great in Christ’s Kingdom.

Four times in the N.T. we are warned about vain or selfish ambition….

  • Galatians 5:19-21….When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
  • Philippians 1:17….Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me.
  • James 3:14….But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.
  • James 3:16….For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

To aspire to be great is selfish ambition and as Paul said, “It’s a desire of our sinful nature.” Our ambition is not to be great but to serve.


What’s lame about this story is that Jesus knew what they were thinking. This is nothing new–they knew that He could read minds so why did that act so childish?

I’m going to answer my own question: they were childish and selfish because they were responding naturally. Our default setting is turned toward self. It is our nature to think about our selves first. We all do it. The only difference is that the Ruach ha-Kodesh [Spirit of holiness] has shown us our depravity and we deny self. You are the one who chooses to either deny self or give into the selfish nature residing in you.

The bottom line is that Jesus knows me better than I know myself. His knows my thoughts, my intentions and motives. There is no way to deceive Him because He sees everything.


You are not a robot; you are free to obey or disobey. You can deny self or you can allow self to run your life. Matter of fact, if you like, you can be totally selfish. You can think about your self, please your self, protect your self or defend your self. You do not have to deny your self BUT if you do not, you will reap a very bad harvest, one of deep, deep sorrow. Paul said to the Galatians ….Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death. Is this what you want to reap? To insure this harvest of sorrow and death, all you have to do is keep living to please yourself.