The Futility of Selfish Ambition


Day 246

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:7; Psalm 47:1-9; Proverbs 22:16

The Futility of Selfish Ambition

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes turns to a reflection on the futility of human beings’ pursuit of selfish ambition. This pursuit has led to bitter tyranny and oppression (4:1-6). Man’s envy is self consuming: “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh” (4:5). Selfish ambition leads to a lonely alienation and foolish self-centered existence:

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
-Eccl. 4:7,8

The sin of selfish ambition is the sin of presumption upon the grace of God. The words of our mouth are arrogant in what we purpose and vow to do. Our dreams and plans for ourselves are often not God’s ways and plans. Selfish ambition is futility.

Ultimately, the selfish pursuit of more and more wealth will prove to be unsatisfying and stressful. The more you have, the more worries, because there is more to lose. And at the end of the day, it will all be lost. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (5:15). So hold earthly wealth loosely; enjoy it while you have it–and count your blessings as a gift from God (5:18-20)!

Selfish ambition for earthly and temporal gain ultimately leads to despairing because the future is so unpredictable:

For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
-Eccl. 6:12

Like Jesus, the Preacher calls us to turn away from ourselves and surrender to the way and will of God. The re-orientation of our lives away from self and toward the Lord not only brings significance back to both the prosperity and adversity of life, but secures an eternal reward for all who trust in Him.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
The Church of St. John the Divine
Houston, TX

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