The Tempting Apple of Ambition

I keep an old trophy displayed where I can't miss seeing it—not as a reminder of all that I've accomplished but as one of all Christ has accomplished for me and in me.

I call it my apple of ambition trophy because it is affixed with a bronze apple inscribed with "Partner in Education." This coveted award is given annually to the volunteer of the year named at my children's elementary school. I remember how I beamed with pride as my name was announced at the year-end banquet and I stood to receive accolades with the other winners in the school district. Countless service hours and years of investing in education had, at last, culminated into a six-inch golden prize.

This is the story of how the apple trophy became my quest for significance.

A Wrong Motive

When I became a mom and exited the corporate world, I was accustomed to working hard and receiving recognition in return. Climbing the ladder in the workforce and as a community volunteer afforded me constant strokes of affirmation. The problem is this feeling of worthiness was fleeting. Soon after the applause died down, I had to set my sights on the next accomplishment that warranted a standing ovation. Sure, I was making valid contributions to the workplace and community, but making a difference wasn't my first motive.

My true motive was fueled by ambition.

Without salary incentives or achievement plaques as proof of doing a worthy job of raising children, I was tempted to search for validations in the mommy world to justify myself. While I loved being a mom, carrying the title of Mother—instead of Assistant Vice President—didn't have as much significance to me as it did to God (1 Tim. 5:10).

First John 2:16 gives warning of three sources of temptation that are as old as the enticing apple hanging from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

I couldn't resist taking the mouth-watering bite.

  • What must I do to be noticed, accepted, and admired?
  • How am I measuring up to other moms—are my home, mommy wardrobe, and minivan good enough?
  • Am I considered a model mother?

The deceptive fruit promised to deliver a juicy treat, but once in my mouth, its rancid taste was anything but sweet.

A Wrong Righteousness

Worldly ambition demands an exorbitant price that is never satisfied.

Bowing down to appease its entreatments produced a destructive cycle of euphoria and despair, exhaustion and emptiness—the by-products of foolish fleshly pursuits. Through a series of overcommitments, frustration with people, and lackluster results, the teetering tower of ambition constructed to make a name for myself finally came crashing down. In God's loving mercy, I was forced to fall upon the Rock of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4–6) before being crushed by the all-consuming weight of self-righteousness.

Worldly ambition demands an exorbitant price that is never satisfied.

In brokenness, I learned I no longer had to chase after another award to be found worthy. Since I am united to Christ by faith and died with Him, my trophy case is, at best, rotten rubbish left buried in the grave. Who needs worldly trophies when knowing Jesus and being clothed in His righteousness (Isa. 61:10) is the great reward of great grace?

Sisters, we are living trophies of God's unmerited favor. Although the world dangles seductive fruit from its limbs to lure us back, my heart is now branded for something and someone else . . . the pursuit of Christ's unsurpassable significance to be made known through my insignificance.

The Right Righteousness

I'm in good company with an apostle who understands. (Maybe you, too?) Paul, whose résumé as a Pharisee was impeccable (Phil. 3:4–6), expresses the natural temptation of depending on our own credentials to obtain righteousness:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:7–9).

How gloriously freeing it is to depend on nothing else but the perfect provision of the righteousness of Jesus who lived, died, and rose to life in our place. Only a fool (like me) would try to add to the finished work of the cross of Christ.

The Right Motive

Each Tuesday of this school year, I committed to reading to a struggling first-grade student. As I walk down the hall of the elementary school, I smile knowing in my heart that I'm not showing up to validate my worth or to be noticed. I'm not in competition for another trophy. I'm there simply to love a little girl who doesn't have a mother in her life with the love of Jesus and to give her the same attention we see our Savior giving to children in the Scriptures (Mark 10:13–16). Once a week, Christine and I smile and laugh a lot while we make learning fun. No one else pays much attention to me and my young friend. But Jesus does. He notices, cares, and smiles along with us.

And that's more than good enough for me.

How are you tempted by the desires of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life to find significance? Can you identify ways you may be striving for self-worth apart from the finished work of the cross of Christ?

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online … read more …

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