The Great Enemy of the Apostle
All ministries have enemies, but the enemy of ambition presents an especially deadly, silent killer that targets successful leaders and plots their demise. The more we can learn about the symptoms of ambition and the devastation it causes, the more successfully we can guard ourselves from it. The ministry of an apostle, which is such a vital provision to the church of Jesus Christ, seems to be especially targeted by ambition. By God’s grace, I have had the privilege to work with apostles in India for almost 20 years. This experience has opened my eyes to the value of this ministry, as well as to the subtlety and pitfalls of its enemy, ambition. I hope to shine some light on this threat and offer some suggestions to overcome it.
I recently completed a five-week itinerary through the country of India where I hosted six apostles conferences and taught about the enemies of different ministries, especially of apostles. The men and women who attended these conferences urged me to write this exposé on ambition so that other apostles and leaders can be aware of this dastardly nemesis and overcome it.
Several years ago I was introduced to the teaching of the five-fold ministries as represented by the five fingers on the hand. The thumb is said to represent the apostle; the forefinger, the prophet; the middle finger, the evangelist; the ring finger, the pastor; and the little finger, the teacher. This analogy has helped me see the strengths in these ministries but also the potential weaknesses within them too. Though we are in the process of studying ambition as one of the apostle’s greatest enemies, it may help to see it in the context of the other four leadership ministries’ weaknesses and possible enemies. The apostles present in my recent teachings were extremely interested in the enemies of all five ministries, so I will briefly share a little on all of these before focusing on the enemy of ambition.
The prophet, represented in the analogy by the forefinger, points the way for the body of Christ; his/her greatest enemy is rejection. The evangelist, represented by the middle (and longest) finger, has the longest extension into the world; his/her greatest foe is recognition. The pastor, represented by the ring finger, is the one who provides security; his/her greatest enemy is the lack of security. The teacher, represented by the little finger, is the one who goes to the smallest places and does the smallest things; his/her greatest enemy is intellectualism. (At some point I would like to write an article on each of these, but for now we will focus on ambition, the powerful enemy of the apostle.)
We can also see the strengths of the five ministries through the hand analogy. The thumb is the only digit on the hand that readily contacts all the other fingers. It can gather them all together in a powerful, clenched fist or release them to be utilized in the most delicate of all functions. Another of the thumb’s strengths is to provide grip to the body. This is very important, as it matters not how sharp the sword, if there is no grip to hold it. However, if the thumb holds the fist too tightly and does not ever release the fingers, that strength can become its own enemy. Likewise, the apostle can gather all the ministries together for powerful warfare and also release them to do their work in the body of Christ. But if the apostle becomes controlling, he/she may actually prevent the other ministries from being released. The strength of any ministry can become its enemy if it is misused through an improper motive. If the motive becomes “self” instead of the Lord, that strength will be turned into an enemy.
Ambition needs to be addressed and honestly looked at by all ministries, but especially by the apostles. The truth of ambition being the apostle’s enemy is glaringly obvious the more we look at it. As a matter of research, I discovered this enemy almost as much from observation as from reading the Scriptures. So, not only will we explore some profound examples of ambition from the Bible, but we will also look at a couple of examples I have observed in current times. The church is often shocked and heartbroken when ambition destroys a ministry; yet we should not be surprised by the effectiveness of its deployment, since it was the initial poison that consumed Satan. Why wouldn’t he use it on those who are serving the body of Christ? Indeed, he has used it slyly through the years, trying to buy and sell some of the chief leaders in the church. He even tried it on Jesus, but thankfully he failed. We must admit that the devil has often been successful with this tactic, so it’s time we strip off his mask and reveal the monster of ambition that has consumed so many of our brethren.
Definition of Ambition
When I write, I usually like to give a dictionary definition for the topic, but in this case, I will use the definition that I received personally from the Chief Apostle Jesus. When I tell you what He said, you will see that it truly came from Him—because I am not that smart to figure these things out.
To set the stage, on this trip to India that I just returned from, I was resting in my room after an intense teaching on ambition in one particular conference in Chennai (Madras). (I had taught an apostles conference there almost 15 years before and was eager to see what had resulted from those teachings.) On this particular occasion, the Holy Spirit energized me with an unction to stay on this subject all through the morning period until lunch break. During the lunch break, as I reclined on my bed, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “You are right on what you have been teaching on ambition.” (I had been teaching on Absalom, one of King David’s sons, and how ambition shipwrecked his life.) The Lord contributed, “If you want another example—how about Judas?” The example of Judas sort of stunned me, maybe because it was so obvious and I had not thought of it. As I pondered the reason for Judas’ betrayal, I asked the Lord, “So ambition is wanting more than what you have?” He replied, “No, wanting more is not a problem. Ambition is taking what doesn’t belong to you.”
This profound revelation allowed me to understand ambition in a new way. So, for the sake of definition, I will refer to ambition as “taking what does not belong to you.” The reverberation of this is still echoing in my head, and more and more examples keep popping up in front of me. I do not want to be categorical by saying that ambition is the “greatest” of all weapons against the apostle, but I have it on a good source that it is certainly a problem. Jesus said so. As I taught this in the various apostles conferences, it was interesting to observe the reactions of the mighty men and women who were in attendance. The Holy Spirit often revealed to me how the confrontation was working on their hearts; sadly, it also seemed to bounce off the heads of some who might have been the most prone to this kind of pride and deception.
The Test of Success
An open door through which the enemy of ambition can pass to affect the ministry of an apostle is success. Derek Prince, one of my heroes of apostolic ministry, shared once that “the greatest test is success.” From observations I have made since hearing him say that, I believe the reason for this is because success has the potential to fuel the flames of pride and self-accomplishment. Genuine apostles generally have strong leadership qualities, as well as a lot of charisma. The Scriptures tell us of Lucifer’s abilities and leadership qualities, so he would have certainly been prone to ambition. We also know he fell prey to it because the Scriptures tell of his fall that resulted from his plans of self-imposed loftiness. It is only natural that he would use the same tactic that poisoned him to target successful leaders in the church to stop them from furthering God’s kingdom.
In church vernacular, ambition can be defined as someone building their own kingdom rather than building God’s kingdom. It is trying to take what is not yours. The only ones who can even hope to build their own kingdoms are those who have experienced some measure of success. In Jesus’ case, His potential for success was blatantly pointed out when John baptized Him and God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17b). Immediately afterwards, Jesus was driven into the wilderness where one of the temptations He faced from Satan was the offer of all the kingdoms of the world and the glory that came with them. Jesus didn’t bite, because it was not His to take. However, not all people (including apostles) are so noble or immune to the alluring fame of recognition and self-achievement.
Humility—the Antidote for Ambition
Among the best Scriptures that address ambition as the apostle’s enemy are those where we see Jesus’ response when this topic arose among His 12 apostles. Consider that these men were chosen by Jesus, and they were likely men of ability. These would be men He could train to take His place, and so He would not have chosen mental midgets or weaklings. The twelve were an interesting and gifted lot, which made them ideal targets for ambition. There were also leadership distinctions amongst them, which meant not everyone had the same privilege or responsibility. We can see this from His appointment of Peter, James, and John as the leaders of the group. It is interesting to note that Jesus gave the bag to Judas, not to tempt him, but because he had the ability to steward the money.
Jesus was direct and sometimes intense when questions arose about ambition, as seen in the following record.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 18:1–4
Using the word “greatest” sounds like an advertisement for Muhammad Ali (former heavyweight boxing champion), and the question of who fits in that category drew a quick response of reproof from the Master to the ambitious ones. By displaying a child as the greatest in the kingdom, He drives home the truth that humility is the key to entering the kingdom.
In this record, disciples were asking the question, but He repeats the truth of humility as the antidote to ambition in other records as well. Due to the fact that there were 12 testosteronal leaders living and traveling together with Him full time, it should come as no surprise that “boys will be boys” and therefore the same question would arise among these men as well. It happens in schoolyards across the world, and it happened in the microcosm of Jesus’ group too.
In Mark 9:33–37, He had to address the issue directly with the 12 apostles as they traveled together.
Then He came to
. And when He
was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on
the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among
themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and
said to them, “If anyone desires to be
first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” ~Mark 9:33–35 Capernaum
Jesus basically taught them that the greatest leader would be the greatest servant; in other words, humility is the antidote for ambition. In Luke chapter 9, He dresses them down again with the same lesson, using a little child to illustrate the one “who is least among you all.”
Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.” ~Luke 9:46–48
Then in Luke chapter 22 he taught them that His kind of leadership is not the Gentile-lord-it-over-you type, but rather it is carried out through serving—again emphasizing humility.
But there was also rivalry among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” ~Luke 22:24–27
And lastly, my favorite account pertaining to Jesus’ lessons on humility is of Him washing the feet of His apostles shortly before He was betrayed, beaten, and led to the cross. Even with the knowledge that this was coming, He still humbled Himself and served with love. But what really drives the point home is what He said to them afterwards.
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. ~John 13:12–17
He displayed a blueprint for them to follow, and then told them why He had done it. He finished His lesson by telling them that “if you know these things, happy are you if you do them.”
Most of these lessons were for the 12 apostles. Do you think that ambition is an issue with apostles? Humility, the antidote for ambition, was what Jesus was trying to teach in all these records, but it became the most clear when He washed the feet of the 12. Here’s the kicker—He washed the feet of his betrayer, Judas, and of the one who would deny Him three times (Peter). This exemplified the new kind of love that He was bringing with the new covenant. What a portrayal of humility, service, and love! This is how disciples are known (John 13:34), not by how high and mighty they appear, or by who has the highest seat on the stage.
Sadly, this kind of Christian leadership is rare. There are good guys and great gals that serve the Lord and really get this right, but more and more they seem to be less and less. I have seen the fallout of ambition in India, as well as all over the world. When this enemy plays its full course and comes into maturity, innocent by-standers are devastated by the betrayal of their leader.
As an international apostle, one of my jobs is to bring international perspectives to the body of Christ. So I am here to tell you that it does not matter your culture, your country, your ethnicity, or your language, the devil is going to try and buy you out by tempting you with what does not belong to you. He tried it with the Chief Apostle; he tried it with the 12, and he will try it with you. Remember that intrinsically, apostles are proactive kingdom advancers and warriors. As such, they are the great prizes that the devil loves to hang in his trophy room. Satan knows that it is often easier (and more effective) to buy someone than it is to kill them. He knows that if he can buy them, they will be working for him and manifesting his nature instead of the true God’s.
Ambition is a treacherous, slippery slope.
Examples of Ambition
Examples of ambition should include those who have fallen to it as well as those who overcame it—the chief overcomer being Jesus of Nazareth. At a time of great weakness from fasting 40 days, Satan showed up to tempt Him with ambition.
Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” ~Luke 4:5–7
Although a time was coming when the Father would exalt Jesus, this was not the time, nor the way; and if Jesus took it then, ambition would have conquered Him as it had conquered Satan. Jesus didn’t bite because He saw the hook. He was submissive only to His Father and not to Satan’s temptation of ambition. He did not fall down and worship Satan; instead, because of His humility and obedience to God, He gained far more than Satan promised Him.
But [He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~Philippians 2:7–11
Jesus humbled Himself and became a servant in obedience to the Father; Satan exalted himself and was driven by ambition, motivated fundamentally by greed and self-adoration. Satan’s attempted ascent to the Mount of God was because he wanted something that belonged only to God and decided to try and take it. Bad move. To think that he could take something that belonged only to the omniscient and omnipotent God shows his stupidity; but ambition can also blind the hearts and mind of believers from such obvious facts. All that Satan could see was what he did not have and how much he wanted it. His greed drove him into insanity. He was blinded by ambition.
David set a good example of overcoming the blindness of ambition in his handling of becoming king over
Having the opportunity to kill King Saul on several occasions, he opted to wait
on the Lord to receive what God had promised him. David was a ruthless murderer
in the eyes of many, yet God saw him as a man who would repent because he was a
man after God’s own heart. God promised David the throne, but David had the
wisdom to wait on Him instead of taking it for himself. While teaching in India, the Lord
gave me a prophetic utterance that went like this, “Wanna bet if David had
killed Saul that someone would have killed David?” The throne had already been
promised to David, so his temptation was not to take something that wasn’t his,
but to take it before God’s timing. Because of his love for the Lord, he chose
to wait on Him instead of taking it for himself.
The comparison between David and his son Absalom is perhaps one of the starkest when looking at examples of humility and service versus ambition and selfishness. As previously mentioned, David was patient, waiting on the promise of God. Absalom, on the other hand, decided to take what he desired, even before it became available. If you take the time to read the record of his life in 2 Samuel chapters 13–19, you will find that not only was he extremely good looking, he was also courageous, quite the planner (or schemer), and a great leader. Even though he was not David’s firstborn son, he could have potentially been his choice to inherit the throne. However, because he was driven by selfishness and ambition, his life was a convoluted mess instead and he suffered a horrible early death.
Years before that, he killed his half-brother, Amnon, for raping his sister and was subsequently exiled for many years from the kingdom until Joab (who eventually ended up killing him) convinced David to let him back in the kingdom as long as he caused no further trouble. However, as soon as he was back in town, he started scheming to take the throne from his father. It culminated with him actually driving King David out of
and going into David’s concubines in the presence of all Israel as an
insult to his father. He chased after David with the intent to finish the fight
but was foiled by the will of God, lest he would have been successful in taking
over the throne. In the ensuing battle for the ,
Joab killed Absalom when he thrust him through with three spears. When hearing
of his son’s death, the Scriptures say David mourned more for Absalom than he
did for the soldiers who had just given their lives for him to retake Jerusalem
and his throne. kingdom of Israel
In my opinion, I believe that David wept so hard for Absalom because in his heart, he knew that he may have been the best choice to follow him as king. Regardless, Absalom’s ambition and his overall lack of character caused the hand of God to fall against him. Destruction and judgment are consequences of ambition when it is not repented of and, instead, is allowed to fully mature. While people driven by ambition may possess all the skills and perhaps even the calling to do a certain thing, it will also compel them to want it ahead of time, to the end that they will take that thing in their own way rather than waiting patiently on God.
I mentioned earlier in this article that as I was teaching this subject in India at one of the apostles conferences, the Lord gave me a revelation about ambition. I had just been teaching on Absalom as an example and was resting in my room between sessions, reclining on my bed with my favorite baseball cap pulled down over my eyes. Suddenly He spoke this into my spirit, “You are right about the ambition thing.” He asked me if I wanted another example (besides Absalom). Of course I did, so I immediately replied, “Yes, Sir,” and He said, “How about Judas?” I instantly felt a wave of understanding wash over me as I saw the obvious greed and ambition of Judas.
This is when I asked Him, “So, ambition is wanting more than what you have?” and He responded, “No! Ambition is taking what doesn’t belong to you.” He was telling me that if He has not given it to the person then it doesn’t belong to them. This was what I got from Him: There is nothing wrong with wanting more and even having a desire to do more. This is part of being an apostle—to be a kingdom taker. But taking it when the Lord has not given it is ambition.
A number of years ago, I tried to help a man’s ministry by arranging a couple of meetings for him and also taking him with me on a missionary journey. He was a really cool guy who was very gifted in his ministry and I just wanted to help him. Funny thing though, I consistently heard from those attending the ministry engagements I set up for him that he was saying demeaning things about me in order to promote himself. Of course, I wanted to confront him and was determined to do so, but the Lord told me to sit and watch what would happen. I told the Lord, “Okay, I’ll forgive him but I still don’t like him.” I was surprised when the Lord responded, “I don’t either,” so I said, “Lord I thought you loved everyone.” He replied, “Yes, but I get to like who I want to.” I said, “Okay I get it. I love him too, but I still don’t want to hang out with him anymore.” Jesus schooled me further when He added, “I don’t hang out with ambitious people. I do not like people with pride. I actually resist them. It pleases me to dwell with people who are of humble and contrite (broken) spirits.” The Lord likes to hang out with people who have humility.
To finish the story when the Lord said to wait and watch, this fellow continued his self-promotion itinerary and actually forced his way into some places commending himself in his own anointing. The sad part is that the anointing on him was genuine, but the ambition caused its sweet fragrance to putrefy, and his gift to this day has never been fully appreciated.
As I was teaching about ambition in
India, my country coordinator, Dr.
B.V.S.N. Rao, told me a story that I am reluctant to tell because it is so sad.
However, I know it needs to be shared, because it is real and relevant. Dr. Rao
was an event coordinator for an Indian evangelist of mega-fame with meetings
that sometimes numbered in the hundreds of thousands. He was a hit with the
Hindus and led a lot of them to salvation. He was big money in India and the USA; however, as time passed and
his fame grew, he began talking less about Jesus and more about himself. When
his crowds began to shrink, he talked even louder and more about himself.
Subsequently, his crowds dwindled even smaller, at which time he decided to go
into politics instead. He was a nationally famous evangelist well known by both
Hindu and Christian sectors alike. His brother, who was before him in the Lord
and ran a big church that they shared, opposed his decision to go into
politics, because he knew that all the money they had raised for the kingdom
would be spent on that instead. Their disagreement was so great that it even
hit the news media. At that point, the once-famous evangelist took a contract
out on his brother to have him killed. Two hit men ran his brother off a road
one night and then finished him off. The former big-time evangelist pursued
politics and did exactly what his brother said he would do—he spent all their
money on his campaign. However, after a couple of years, the same two hit men
were caught in a separate scandal and offered the authorities the details of
the hit on the evangelist’s brother. They turned in state evidence and the
authorities arrested the former evangelist who is now in jail facing charges of
first-degree murder. And the body of Christ walks away from this with a big
black eye because of one man’s ambition.
Ambition is taking something that the Lord did not give you. These are hard lessons, but they are necessary, just as it is sometimes necessary to rebuke people “in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear,” according to 1 Timothy 5:20. These lessons are vital because if an apostle, or any leader in God’s kingdom, falls because of ambition, the consequences will not only stain his life and reputation but also the name of the Lord he supposedly stands for.
We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, so the caution against ambition should reverberate in all our souls. You certainly do not have to be an apostle to be tempted with this device that Satan has tried on every man and woman, especially those with extraordinary ability and influence.
The age-old question is still, “Is your soul for sale?” If you have a price, the devil can pay it. Take the story of the old man who asked the young girl if she would stay the night with him for a thousand dollars. “Okay,” she said. He asked, “Well, would you do it for ten dollars?” The young lady responded, “Absolutely not. What do you think I am?” “That,” the old man said, “has already been determined; now we are haggling over the price.” The point is, if you have a price, the devil is willing to pay.
The example of Judas still lingers in my soul. I know that the reason Jesus gave him the responsibility of overseeing the money and administrating their finances is because he had the ability to do it. It was not to tempt him, but to challenge him because of his gifts and talents. But Judas got ambitious. Many have speculated his motives, and some have said he had a plan to force Jesus into a military campaign or a religious showdown with the hierarchy. However, the Scriptures affirmatively state that he received 30 pieces of silver for the deal. That reason we know for sure. If each piece of silver was an ounce, at today’s rate of approximately $20/ounce, then Judas cut a deal to deliver the Messiah and King of kings to the religious fight club for a lousy $600 in today’s currency. Either way we cut it, he sold out for a bag of money. He took what was not his!
Ambition is pride on steroids. It is the lust of accomplishment for self-exaltation that is fueled by greed and selfishness. It is a deadly enemy. When we look at the wake of death and destruction it has left in its path as it has wormed its way secularly across the world, it seems that the
the called and elect of God, would be above such temptations. Sadly, this has
not been the case. church of Jesus Christ
Jesus’ character carried Him through and above this temptation. He is our example of sacrifice, love, and humility. We are to follow Him in the example He set, and this is especially true of His leaders in the church who are truly called to be servants. His breathtaking example of washing the feet of the 12 sets the standard for this. What He said afterwards to His apostles sums up the whole matter.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. ~John 13:14–15
Jesus demonstrated the greatest of all leadership qualities—to be a true servant with humility. God does not give humility but He has been known to send humiliation, which often comes after ambition has wreaked its havoc. Ambition is taking more than what God has given you, but humility is being thankful for what you have. Humility is the antidote to ambition.