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Where’s the Line Between Greed and Ambition?

A few years ago, I sat about 10 feet away from Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world and asked him. “What do you want people to say about you in 50 years?”

I wanted to know whether a man with so much wealth would be more concerned about the final disposition of the money he accumulated, or about people and other influences and impacts he made in his life.

He didn’t miss a beat.

“Fifty years from now, I want them to say, ‘Good morning, Warren! How are you feeling today?’”

We all laughed as he waved to the crowd and left the assembly. It was a great line, and he wanted to go out on a high note, but he also left my question unanswered.

While my net worth is lacking a few zeros in comparison to Warren Buffett, I have one commodity in equal measure to him and to everyone else: I have exactly one lifetime to make an impact in this world.

Without trying to pull too hard of a Jesus juke, shouldn’t I want to make an impact for God’s Kingdom as impressive as the one Buffett made in the investment and business worlds? Or is that a completely unhealthy viewpoint?

Jesus told us that the meek and lowly would inherit the earth, so is ambition a good thing in the life of the believer?

When I hit a point like this, where I feel torn in two separate directions, I look to the life of Jesus for guidance.

Jesus set forth to challenge the assumptions of the entire religious structure of Israel before fulfilling a sacrifice that would provide the opportunity for salvation to everyone who would ever live, joining them together in a timeless, borderless community, which would culminate with complete restoration of the relationship with God. So I’m going to go ahead put a check in the “ambitious” box next to Him.

But perhaps Jesus, being God in the flesh, is allowed to have that characteristic, yet the last things recorded by Matthew—one of Jesus’ disciples—is Jesus saying this: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus is telling a handfull of people to go change the world. That’s a goal I would describe as ambitious. So how do I reconcile this to being meek and lowly?

I think that not only are these two ideas of ambition and meekness not opposite, but meekness actually protects us from moving out of ambition into greed.

Here’s what I mean: meekness defines a humble, unassuming person. A humble person does not think only of themselves, but also of others. When we set ambitious goals, if we are not humble, we may seek results that hurt others out of selfish desire—also known as greed.

It is by creating our goals while also caring about other people that we emulate Jesus. He was ambitious without being greedy—quite the opposite, actually. His ambition led to the benefit of all humanity.

Meek inheriting the earth, indeed.

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Still, this is a narrow path, one that can be difficult to navigate. Here are some practical questions we can ask ourselves to determine whether we hold ambition in our hearts, or if we are simply feeding the greed which grows all too easily in the soil of our imperfect nature.

What Are Your Goals?

If you don’t already have some goals for your life, let me encourage you to make some. In the parable of the talents, Jesus makes it clear that He wants us to do something with all that we have been given in this life. Missionary William Carey, the father of modern missions said to “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

What great things do you want to accomplish with your life?

Who Are Your Goals Helping?

Now, next to each goal on your list, write down the people who will benefit from you accomplishing those goals.

Are your goals going to help other people, or primarily just yourself? Greed is serving myself; ambition is serving a purpose. A meek person will care about others even in the midst of their own great efforts.

Who Are Your Goals Hurting?

Now, write down who will be hurt if you accomplish your goals. Will they require you to spend excessive time away from friends and family? Will you be trying to put others out of business or out of work?

Ambition says, “I want to go get this.” Greed says, “I don’t want anybody else to get this.”

I really don’t know what Warren Buffett wants his legacy to reflect, but I know that I want my legacy to involve growing closer to Jesus and having helped others to do the same.

I want to be part of God’s Kingdom come and His will to be done on this earth as it is in heaven. It’s an ambitious goal, I know. And the harder we work for it, the more it will help not only us, but others.

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