If you are conceited, vain, or self-righteous, you probably want others to know how great you are. There are different ways you can do that. Three key terms for these strategies are boasting, showing off, and selfish ambition.
Boasting may come in an obvious form or it may be more subtle. If someone openly proclaims to you how much money he is making, there is no mistaking what is going on. The more sly boasters have perfected the art of dropping names and letting slip what they have accomplished or purchased or experienced. But this artfulness is really no different from more transparent forms of boasting; it is all meant to impress. Scripture takes a realistic view of boasting. “When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
We are told in God’s Word that if we want to boast, we should learn to boast about the right thing. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord’” (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
But in addition to attracting attention to oneself with words, a person can do the same through actions. That’s showing off.
Showing off may be pardonable in children. Every parent has heard a child cry, “Look at me!” and has indulged her by watching as she performs a cartwheel or him as he rides by on his two-wheeler. But in grown-ups, showing off is not so cute.
What is displaying one’s intellect except showing off? What is clowning around so that the attention stays riveted on you? What is making sure others see your new car or fancy clothes? All this is the equivalent of calling out to the world, “Look at me!”
Is this acceptable behavior in God’s eyes? Hardly. “Don’t try to impress others,” He instructs us (Philippians 2:3).
Also, we are not to let selfish ambition determine how we live our lives. Certain types of ambition might be good, such as striving to do well at work in order to be able to provide for your family better. But selfish ambition is the single-minded pursuit of what you think you deserve, regardless of what it might cost others.
The man who becomes a workaholic because he wants others to see him as a success, even though the overwork makes him a stranger to his family, is selfishly ambitious.
The church member who pursues a leadership position on a church committee because of the prestige it carries, not out of a desire to serve, is selfishly ambitious.
Our society applauds hard-charging, “self-made” men and women. But if that go-getter quality is actually an expression of selfish ambition, it is foolish and ungodly. “If…you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:14–16).
If you need to think less of yourself, begin the spiritual healing process now by allowing the Holy Spirit to help you identify ungodly pride in your life and replace it with Christ-like humility.
The preceding article is an extract from Chapter 9 of Soul Prescription by Bill Bright and Henry Brandt. To purchase the entire book or e-book click here.