Saint Paul's Lutheran Church of Irvine

Tomorrow at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Irvine, The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 23, 2012: “Christ’s Ambition over the World’s”

Dear Christian Friends,


In James 3:13-18, the first bishop of the Jerusalem Church warns us against “selfish ambition” (eritheia) two times. Does this mean that ambition is a selfish thing? Does this mean that one should never be ambitious? The short answer is “no”. In John 4:34, our Savior and Lord described His ambition while conducting His earthy ministry to save us: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'” Saint Paul elaborated upon His new, born-again ambition: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).” These touch on the fact that there are good ambitions indeed.

Luther’s Small Catechism is a veritable outline of our God-blessed ambitions in the table of duties. We should strive to be good husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, children, workers, citizens. We should be ambitious to glorify God in our holy vocations; we should be like our Savior: we ought to be ambitious to do the will of God and to accomplish His work in this world. We should be like St. Paul: we should be ambitious to know Christ and the power of His resurrection!

But James is warning against something different. The word eritheia is something I expand on in tomorrow’s sermon. Allow me to give you right here an important part of that analysis. What is most helpful in understanding this concept of selfish ambition in James 3 is the triad description that corresponds to Luther’s famous “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

 1. This selfish ambition is “earthly” [v 15] (like Luther’s “world[ly]”) = living in such a way so as to have no awareness of God so that thoughts are controlled by what you see in this world. Let this soak in: the Christian by God’s grace approaches the world with the lens of God; God is everywhere and applies to everything, but this is not so with the “earthly” or the “worldly.” In those who are earthly God is absent and all situations are responded to as if God were not there.

 2. This selfish ambition is “unspiritual” [v 15] = takes the situation a step further, not only is the world all one sees, but they are also totally preoccupied with it. All of one’s concerns are directed to his or her existence in this world. This is the “flesh” for Luther which is completely self-serving.

 3. This selfish ambition is “demonic” [v 15] = under the control of Satan. Point blank: other terrible problems arise from such a condition, see v 16: “there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

If we are truthful, we will have to confess that we see this selfish ambition within ourselves. It is the sinful tendency that mars all ambition and it is the sinful tendency that causes us to thirst for worldly “success” like a drug and idol. Thanks be to God that He also reveals in this text the answer to this terrible malady: God’s wisdom that “comes down from above.”

There are many forms of wisdom, but “the One from above” is Christ and Christ is Wisdom (Proverbs 8). John 3:31 identifies our LORD as the One “who comes down from above.” In Him and in Him alone is the antithesis to selfish ambition, but not only for Himself while accomplishing our salvation and our liberation from the bonds of sin’s selfish ambition, but also for us so that in this life we would also know that our LORD’s wisdom applies to our daily lives.

Are we speaking too boldly when it comes to the fruit of the forgiveness of sins that we have in the saving Gospel of Jesus? Not at all. Verse 18: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” This truth, however, must begin with our Wisdom over selfish ambition who made peace for us on the cross of Calvary. It must be through the wisdom of the One who did not come to live for Himself, but to live for us while He did the will of the Father. Peace over the fever of selfish ambition comes only through the forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ Jesus, our Wisdom and Life!

I hope to see you in God’s house tomorrow morning!

In Christ,

Dr. Espinosa

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