St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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“Test me, O Lord, and examine me. Refine my thoughts and my emotions.*” – Psalm 26:2

In this psalm, David is asking the Lord to consider his motives. He is saying, “If my doctrine is pure and nothing is lacking in the Word and preaching, then my heart should also be pure. Yet I still feel the evil ways of my sinful nature, a tendency toward pride, lust, hate, and envy. The poison of selfish ambition is always there, and even those with a good understanding of the Word quickly stumble by pride.”

Selfish Ambition is the cause of all heresies. The old saying is true, “Ambition is the mother of heresies and sects,” and today all the division in the western church is mainly because of selfish ambition. Consider how some people always want to be important and followed by many. They’re never content with just being equal to everyone else, and their ambition blinds them as they wander off the true path unknowingly. We must be in constant prayer that God would stifle this inner nonconformist in each of us, especially our pastors and church workers. Paul writes, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Paul, knowing himself and his struggle with his “old idiot” who wants the center of attention, exhorts all Christians, especially those who lead, to remain humble. Consider how a person, as soon as he learns something and can speak about Christ, want to be noticed. The emotions flare up, and the ego seeks praise and says, “You’re good, you can do it, you’re now educated, you’re better than the rest and what you have to say is certainly something no one else has ever considered! Time to go tell the world how wrong it is and make them listen to you.” All the while, faith in Christ and trust in God’s Word take a back seat, and what takes over? Human reason and pride. Thus, the Word of God becomes a slave to human reason, and the person becomes the world’s judge and god because of pride.

In all ways we must protect ourselves from this mother of wickedness. Human vices, such as lust and greed, they’re easily distinguishable because of their crudeness. But selfish ambition is subtle and sneaks up and even pretends to be honorable to God and faithful to the Word, but behind it is a secret rebel who hates God and His church and seeks to destroy it all. And consider how America and its “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” feeds into this wickedness, not to mention the presuppositions of Postmodernism which insists there is no absolute truth, that “everything is relative.”

How do we keep from becoming conceited and giving into our inner rebel? First, repentance and humble acknowledgment that our old nature is still there giving us reason to rebel. Second, by silencing the pull of human reason as our guide and the litmus test for what is true in the Scripture. Let the Scripture speak for itself and let all reason and the pull of human emotion be damned. God’s Word is true and we are but gnats compared to His knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Even if we think we know something, it is not our knowledge or ability to comprehend, it is God the Holy Spirit who teaches us and He does not want us trusting in our own understanding. Finally, we daily pray the Lord’s Prayer or a prayer which follows its pattern, so that we learn to trust in God and His promises alone. Anything else is of the devil and that ancient sin of ambition.

Heavenly Father, put to death in me today all selfish ambition and pride, and give me Your Spirit that I might always look to Your living and active Word as the source of all life and good. For You live and reign with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

* The Hebrew is literally translated as “heart and kidneys,” and was a phrase used to describe a man’s inner thoughts and feelings. KJV translates it as “reins and heart,” and the ESV translates it as, “heart and mind.” The translation used here is the EHV (English Heritage Version) of the WELS Lutheran church. In our society today, one which its people live by their emotions, it’s important that the “emotions” are stressed here since our emotions are never a trustworthy guide to anything without thoughts, and our thoughts and feelings are both deceptive without the Word of God.