Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
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.
15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
If you are “young enough” to remember the long-running children’s television show Sesame Street, then you remember Cookie Monster. He was a Muppet covered with blue fur and possessing a pair of googly eyes. He was a gluttonous monster with a voracious appetite primarily craving cookies. He said the now well-known phrases “Me want cookie!”, “Me eat cookie!”, or simply “COOKIE!” He would often consume anything and everything in his path. Whenever Cookie Monster ate something, he made a loud, very distinctive munching “noise”, “OMM-nom-nom-nom…”
Cookie Monster was gruff and initially a tad intimidating. He was clumsy and somewhat awkward. Often making a mess whenever he appeared. But like many childhood monsters he was completely benign, if not appealing in his own way, and even friendly.
He simply could not resist gobbling up anything and everything he could get his paws on. He could well have been a charter member of “Overeaters Anonymous.” His motto could have easily been, “I want, what I want, when I want it!”
If Cookie Monster ever looked behind, he would see a messy trail of cookie crumbs, piecrusts, and whatever else fell out of his mouth or paws as he ambled through life.
Somehow, in one way or another, we can identify with him. Why? Because Cookie Monster lurks in the heart of every child of the King. It is almost as though he is part of our fallen DNA. He cares only for himself and getting his own way. Cookie Monster is the archetype of one grievous aspect of the human condition “selfish ambition.” Cookie Monster is a make-believe monster. However, “selfish ambition” is very real.
“‘Selfish ambition’ stands at the heart of human fallenness, where self-interest and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others primarily dictate values and behavior” (Fee).
REFLECT & PRAY
“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live” (Oscar Wilde).
Dear Father, selfish ambition is so destructive. Enable me to see it whenever it lifts its monstrous head, and take it under control.
If Sesame Street had been around when the apostle Paul lived what would he say about Cookie Monster? The apostle Paul is explicitly clear that the attitude and behavior of Cookie Monster, selfish ambition, is totally unacceptable for the Father’s children. Paul himself had been driven by it. For him, Cookie Monster was not a ravenous appetite to eat. It was something far worse. He was a violent, ravenous persecutor of the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. He could never do enough harm. Wherever he went he made a mess of people’s lives.
Galatians 1:13 You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion – how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it.
And worst of all, Paul was totally deceived and thought he was serving the living God through his aggressive, hostile actions. When he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He realized the error of his ways.
He immediately changed his way of thinking and living. He managed to take control of his Cookie Monster and lock him in a cage deep within his heart and toss away the key. He encouraged each of the Father’s children to do the same.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
The Greek word translated selfish ambition is eritheia. This word is all about “me” and my self-interest. It encompasses the idea of the strong desire for personal success without regard to the consequences. Cookie Monster personifies the idea. “I want, what I want, when I want it.” The result of such selfishness is frequently strife and contention. Doing things for selfish purposes often results in divisions and partisan cliques.
Folks with selfish ambition simply want to win at all costs. This is often seen in modern politics. “Some politicians care nothing about the truth; they just care whether their party wins. They are passionate about their point but care little about its veracity. They do not care about the welfare of their constituency; they are simply squabblers in a petty campaign. They fight to win, not to find truth” (Richison).
The Greek word translated conceit is kenodoxia. Kenodoxia is composed of two Greek words kenos – vain, empty, and doxa – glory. It could be literally translated vainglory, self-exultation or empty pride. The primary idea behind this word is “empty opinion, error.” “Thus it could depict a person who, though conceited, had no reason for it” (Ash, The College Press NIV Commentary).
During World War II, magicians were retained by British intelligence to create illusions on a massive scale. Jasper Maskelyne was one of the more well-known magicians working for British intelligence. He created large-scale ruses and deceptions using camouflage and mirrors. He “magically” created masses of armed forces that were not really there. It was all about appearance and façade. But there was nothing of substance to back it up. One example was an inflatable tank that looked the same as a real tank from the air. He also developed “magical” methods of hiding in plain sight, large assemblages of armed forces and military weapons that were actually there. He made them “disappear.” Bombers flying over were tricked and would hit the wrong targets.
Sadly, Cookie Monster hides in a dark place in each of our hearts. Every now and then he jumps out and gobbles up whatever interests him. When you look back over your shoulder, what do you see?
The tragedy of life and of the world is not that men do not know God; the tragedy is that, knowing Him, they still insist on going their own way (Barclay).
James encourages us to live an honorable life with humility and wisdom and eschew selfish ambition (James 3:13-15).