God warns us of the dangers of selfish ambition throughout the Bible, yet today's world puts a high value on being better than others and getting ahead. Many of us have the desire to serve others through heart-centered businesses. It is possible to be a successful service-oriented business owner without sacrificing your soul, and true leadership demands this of us. Just as today's churches need to have a security plan, as a business owner you must have a plan to guard against the temptation to engage in negative practices that hurt you and your business.
Learn the ways that selfish ambition can damage a leader's soul and how to avoid falling into this trap.
1. You lose sight of God's desires for you and focus solely on how much money or other accolades you can receive.
God often puts the desire in our hearts to serve our neighbors through a heart-centered business. But it’s easy to forget your true purpose and fall into the trap of chasing the almighty dollar instead of your business’s true purpose, which is to serve God and carry out His will for you and everyone around you.
If you are spending more time at work than at home or church, agreeing to do jobs that require you to compromise your values, or asking yourself what’s in it for YOU as soon as you get a job offer instead of asking yourself how it can help you serve others, you may have fallen into this trap. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:24:
No man can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Simply put, the two most important aspects of your life should be God and family. It’s important to make a living and provide for the people you love as well as help your neighbors. But if you put your business too much in the forefront of your life, you will gradually drift away from God. You could also end up heartbroken and alone if your spouse gets fed up enough to leave you or your kids grow up to have no relationship with you because you put work ahead of time with them.
2. You forget that your purpose is to serve, instead of expecting your business and your customers to serve your needs.
On the face of it, it seems absurd that your customers would part with their money if they didn’t feel you were serving their needs. But as Proverbs says, a fool and his money are soon parted, and it’s easy to be seduced into believing that your customers exist to serve you rather than the other way around.
If you feel resentful of your customers’ requests of you, you may be starting to fall into this trap.
God-centered business owners are grateful for the customers God has provided them with. A difficult customer may be an angel in disguise. Perhaps God wants you to learn how to deal with a specific type of person in your life, and treating this annoying customer well will allow you to be blessed. If you turn customers away because they demand a lot of you, God will not continue to bless you with more customers. Do not be like Moses, who God barred from entering the Promised Land because he lost faith, got impatient, and acted incorrectly!
Some business owners act as if their customers “owe” them something. They get angry if a customer doesn’t want to buy from them or won’t take “no” for an answer. If you’re pressuring customers to buy what you’re selling, it likely comes from fear that God won’t provide.
Reread Matthew 6:25-27 to remind yourself that God provides for all your needs and then reread your business’ mission statement so you can reconnect with how and why you intended to serve others through your business.
3. You turn a blind eye to injustice and/or fail to speak up against it out of fear that it will damage your ability to make money or that people will disapprove.
God calls upon each of us to speak out against injustice wherever it may be found, whether that means refusing to engage in business practices that harm others, speaking out about things in the news that contradict God’s will, or responding to accusations of discrimination in your own business. But some business owners keep quiet when they should speak up out of fear that potential customers will express their disapproval by taking their business elsewhere.
If you do this, you are not only failing to trust that God will provide for you, but are reinforcing injustice by failing to speak out against it. This goes against God’s commandment to “do justice and righteousness.” Remember that Jesus’ Crucifixion occurred not only because Judas betrayed Him but because Peter denied he knew Him when he could have put an end to this by speaking up for Him. Do not be like this.
It is especially important to root out injustice in your own business. Let your practices be without reproach. If an employee comes to you with a complaint about being harassed or discriminated against on the job, do not let that complaint fall on deaf ears. Investigate it thoroughly and take needed corrective action, even if it means letting go of an employee you value and like. To do otherwise would be to reinforce injustice, and God will not reward you for that.
4. You actively harm others in the quest to get money, fame or power.
The Bible is full of stories about people who put their selfish ambition first, hurting others around them to get money, fame, or power. Those people never prosper and in some cases suffer greatly.
See, for example, the story of King David. David sent his rival into battle to get him out of the way so that he could have the romantic relationship he desired. As a result of David’s inappropriate behavior, his own infant son was killed.
The consequences for us are no less severe. Perhaps your children will not literally die, but you will suffer greatly if you harm others to get ahead. Whether you engage in unfair competition, sell products you know are harmful, or betray someone’s confidence to get an edge up on the competition, you hurt yourself in the end.
God gifted us with a conscience for a reason and yours will not leave you alone if you do these things, nor will you and your business receive God’s blessing. Instead, take the time to think about the potential consequences to other people when you are offered a lot of money or are tempted to engage in deceptive and harmful business practices.
5. You use God as a selling point, claiming yourself to be a God-centered or God-driven business, but do not truly put Him first, giving people of faith a bad name so that you can make money off of your professed faith.
One of the worst consequences of selfish behavior is that it reflects poorly not only on you, but on the God you are meant to be serving. This is why Jesus warns us not to be like the hypocrites who pray loudly in the street to show how pious they are; when we proclaim our faith loudly but act in selfish ways, people associate that kind of hypocrisy with God and turn away from Him! Churches already have a hard time getting parishioners to worship regularly; don't be part of the problem.
As a God-centered business owner, you have special responsibilities. Your job is not just to make money in your business. You are selling not just your products and services, but also selling God! Make sure your behavior is in line with His desires for us.
That means that if you have a choice between making a big sale that helps only you or filling a smaller order that helps people in need, choose the smaller order. It also means not cutting corners to save money at the expense of your customers and not lying, cheating, or engaging in unfair business practices to get ahead. Always put God before profits and follow Jesus’ command to be the light of the world rather than bringing more darkness to it.
6. You encourage the oppression of other of God's children to score points as a leader.
God frowns upon any practice that harms other people, and He especially dislikes oppressive business practices. He commands us to welcome foreigners with open arms and Jesus takes that a step further, saying that whatever one does to the least of God’s children is done to Him.
As a business leader, you have many choices to make each day. Some of those choices include whether or not to do business with companies that actively oppress certain groups of people or whether to refuse business to customers whose choices are not in line with your religious beliefs.
Remember that God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and Jesus Himself says that’s the most important of God’s commandments. It can be tempting to turn a customer away because that customer is not following God’s word, but if you engage in discrimination or outright oppression of other groups because others in your church might approve, YOU are not acting in line with God’s word! Nor will you be able to save that customer if you make them feel judged rather than acting with compassion as God commands us to do.
Being a God-centered business owner can be challenging. The dominant culture in corporate America is a self-centered, winner-take-all culture in which business owners may feel pressured to do whatever it takes to get ahead — even trample over other people to get to the top. But that is not God’s way and if you engage in hurtful or deceitful practices, you will ultimately hurt yourself.
Every time you do something dishonest, harmful, or against God’s will, you chip away at your own soul and give the Evil One more of a foot in the door. You also turn others away from God by claiming to act in His name while doing negative things.
If you choose to go into business, make sure that God is always at the center of your business. A truly God-centered business will change the world for the better and make it a little bit more like the world God envisioned when he created it.