SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

MISUSING ENTHUSIASTIC AMBITION

Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) was still concerned about people trying to work their way into perfected holiness as a guarantee for heaven. Apparently, they thought that the more they did to earn God’s favor, the better their chances were of occupying a higher position in the New Jerusalem. So, the Archbishop expressed himself this way:

I am not surprised that you should have a sort of jealous eagerness and ambition to advance in your spiritual life and be in the confidence of noteworthy servants of God. But beware, self-love naturally seeks this kind of success. They know it gets applause when anyone reaches that goal. However, the real thing that matters is not to satisfy your ambition, by some brilliant advance in accumulating spiritual assets, nor have distinguished persons confide in you. The real achievement is when you starve the tendency of wanting to flatter your self-love. You do this by humbling yourself; you don’t care if anyone is looking or notices all the fine things you do for others. Let God’s endorsement be the cherished stamp of approval.[1]

People cannot become perfect by hearing or reading about perfection. The chief thing is not to listen to yourself, but silently turn your ear toward God. It is to renounce all pride and apply yourself to fundamental virtues. It means talk little and do much without caring to be seen. God will teach you more than the most experienced persons or the most spiritual books can do. What is it you want so much to know? What else do you need to learn but be poor in spirit? As Jesus said, those who know there is nothing good in themselves are happy because the holy kingdom of heaven is theirs.[2]Knowledge puffs up,” only “love builds up.”[3] How much do you need to know to love God and deny yourself any credit but give Him all the praise, glory, and honor in love?[4] You already know a great deal more than you practice. You do not need half as much fresh knowledge as you need to put into practice what you already know.

Oh, how people delude themselves when they expect to advance using debate and inquisitiveness! Be humble, and never expect to find in people those things that only God possesses.[5]

The Bible classifies this self-love as false pride and arrogance. King David concluded that what we say and the words we use could become traps to reveal that our pride has said things that were not true.[6] He also points out that although the LORD is exalted, yet He pays attention to the humble.[7]

King David’s son Solomon must have learned many things from his father. In the wisdom God gave him, Solomon is quick to point out that when self-pride arises, disgrace will pull it down. That’s why the humble stick with understanding.[8] He also mentions that disrespect gains nothing but discord. When you are willing to take advice, you grow in wisdom. Solomon also saw that egotistical people do not impress the Lord, and He doesn’t interfere with the backlash they receive.[9] That’s why when you see pride, you know devastation is not far behind. So, it’s best to be humble and eat with the down and out than banquet with the rich who are proud.[10] The finest thing to do, says King Solomon, is to let others brag about your great work.[11] That’s why he said that the way things end is often better than when they begin. Therefore, those with a patient spirit accomplish great things than those who insist on doing things right away.[12]

It took the prophet Obadiah to put it in the language we understand today. He said that self-pride deceives those in elevated positions, who live in high-rise dwellings, and says, “no one can replace me.”[13] It may have inspired the Apostle Paul to say: “I ask each one of you not to think more of themselves than they should think. Instead, think in the right way toward oneself by the faith God has given you.”[14]

In another letter, Paul goes on to say that if anyone thinks they are really something when they are, in fact, of little value, they’re only deceiving themselves. That’s why each person should examine their work, and if found to be of value, they can put their approval on it and not bribe someone else to do it.[15] Paul says, don’t try to outdo each other, encourage others to do their best, and help where you can, even when they are not as skilled as you are.[16]

The Apostle James was quick to say, be submissive to God’s Word and His Will and let Him promote you.[17] But I like the way King Solomon put it: Just as it is harmful to eat too much honey, so also it is wrong for people to keep patting themselves on the back over all the honors they think they deserve![18]


[1] Matthew 6:33

[2] Ibid. 5:3 – New Life Version

[3] 1 Corinthians 8:1

[4] 1 Timothy 1:17

[5] Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, p. 26; Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda.

[6] Psalm 59:12

[7] Ibid. 138:6

[8] Proverbs 11:12

[9] Proverbs 16:5

[10] Ibid. 16:18-19

[11] Ibid. 27:2

[12] Ecclesiastes 7:8

[13] Obadiah 1:3

[14] Romans 12:3

[15] Galatians 6:3-4

[16] Philippians 2:3

[17] James 4:10

[18] Proverbs 25:27

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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