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Ten Concepts, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

29- Difference between spiritual and sinful ambition


Sinful ambition: whenever it attains some level, it is puffed up and becomes arrogant. Whereas spiritual ambition rejoices in the Lord in humbleness.

Both kinds of ambition can be apparent in religious life. A person having sinful ambition likes to attain the gifts of the Spirit to be glorified by people, whereas a person having spiritual ambition strives to attain the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23), through which he can enjoy God's love and hidden virtues. Such a person who struggles in the spiritual path, does not take pride in what he attains, but finds spiritual pleasure in his attachment to the Lord. The more he attains, the more he becomes humble, knowing that the way of perfection is still far away. He looks at the lives of the saints and finds that he is no comparison! Whenever he attains something, he remembers the words of the Lord, "When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say,

'We are unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). Image: Modern Coptic art of Saint Martyr Demiana and the forty Virgins. صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أيقونة قبطية حديثة تصور القديسة الشهيدة دميانة والأربعين عذراء. Image: Modern Coptic art of Saint Martyr Demiana and the forty Virgins.

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أيقونة قبطية حديثة تصور القديسة الشهيدة دميانة والأربعين عذراء.

Therefore, many saints who attained very high levels continued to weep for their sins, because in their spiritual ambition they saw higher and higher levels they have not yet attained.

Spiritual people differ from worldly people in regard to the measures of ambition.

+ A person who has worldly ambition likes for example to become more wealthy and to increase his money day after day and may become greedy. But the ambition of the spiritual person is in giving out his money to the poor to have treasure in heaven.

+ A person who has worldly ambition likes to be always the first if not the only. He likes the front seats, whereas a spiritual person finds ambition in acquiring the virtue of humility and takes the last seat. He puts before him the words of the Apostle, " honour giving preference to one another" (Rom. 12:10), and thus he tries to be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).

Such a person turns into a servant, who loves to serve others and grows in his service, so all people love him for serving them.

A worldly ambitious person competes with people to take their place.

But a spiritually ambitious person helps others to attain what he attained. He does not rival people in the course of life, but with all his heart he wants to attain to God.

Unlike this type, the worldly ambitious person likes to surpass others or detain someone else to beat him.

When Joshua son of Nun saw two men prophesying, he wanted to forbid them -seeing that prophesying should be confined to his master Moses- Moses rebuked him, saying, "Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:26-29).

A person who has spiritual ambition, wants to attain the utmost of spirituality due to his love to God, never thinks of rivaling or competing with others or even surpassing them in spirituality.

The ambitious who wants to be superior is overcomed by the self.

God's grace is ready to help everyone achieve their goals, as we have discussed this issue before here on in other sections. Why then is there competing and rivaling in the way of ambition since there is room for all?

Or do you want -with this ambition- to win over others in spirituality? And for what reason? Can you find through this victory the spirit of love which your ambition seeks?

The ambition of a person who does not only want to be the first but even to be the only one, is undoubtedly evil ambition.

Such ambitious persons do not like the benefit of others, and this is evil. Ambition like this has deviated and turned to self-love or to selfishness.

Spiritual ambition seeks to rise above certain levels not certain people.

You may rise above certain persons but your spiritual level remains as it is, besides, the desire of surpassing others might lead you to fall into the sin of envy and jealousy which contradicts the spirit of true love. It makes you watch the person who competes with you and you may rejoice for his failure to get an opportunity to surpass him, and thus you lose the purity of heart.

Seek then not to promote yourself in order to conquer over others, and if you do not come first, see that you do not envy him who becomes first but rather rejoice for him.

This is spiritual ambition; to overcome oneself not others.

Let the objective of your seeking perfection be to please God, not to acquire vain glory.

It is a divine commandment that you be perfect

(Matt. 5:48), and if you attain this, you ought to rejoice that you will have pleased God by carrying out His commandment. Let this rejoicing be without pride and without comparing yourself to others.

A spiritually ambitious person develops continually.

That is because development is a practical quality for ambition. However in development, a spiritually ambitious person rejoices to see others develop as well. Spiritual ambition seeks spiritual growth in prayers, contemplations, knowing God, love of God, serving Him and love of others; all of which are not fields for competition.

In prayer, a spiritually ambitious person likes to develop and grow whether with regard to the time he spends with God or to the fervency, depth, contemplation, love and faith in his prayers. The same can be said with respect to other virtues; he advances steadily.

Unlike this is the person who has no ambition, who might stop at a certain position and achieve no progress, and this might perhaps lead him to become slack.

In practical life, a person ought to be ambitious.

He should put before him as a goal to succeed in whatever he does as it was said about Joseph the Righteous that he was a successful man, the Lord was with him and made all he did to prosper in his hand.

(Gen. 39:2,3).

Someone may ask at this point: Does ambition contradict contentment? No.

Contentment concerns material matters, while ambition concerns spiritual matters.

Both go together and strengthen each other. Some may ask how can ambition attain perfection while perfection is an attribute of God alone. I reply that what is required from a person is relative, not absolute, perfection. If you cannot attain perfection, you should at least grow so that God might see you progressing every day.

Be like the tree which grows every day; for the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree (Ps. 92: 12). Do not let your ambition in your work hinder your ambition in your spiritual life.