Those who promote themselves without God’s authorization (i.e., recognition granted to them by the church – see Acts 13:1–3), gain position by giving it to themselves or taking it from others. Instead of waiting on the Lord to receive a ministry at the right time in the right way, those who are committed to making themselves great are unconcerned for how their ministry might impact others. They see a path to service and the popularity found from others is sufficient cause for continuing.
Throughout the Bible we find a divide between wisdom and folly, righteousness and sin, givers and takers, children of God and children of the devil. As Jesus said, he did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34–35). And that sword not only divides humanity, which provides the context of his words in Matthew’s Gospel, it is also a sword that judges the thoughts and intentions of men. Indeed, God’s Word does more than declare behavior right and wrong; it does surgery on the heart, exposing why we do what we do.
In the Bible, and in the church, few things are more difficult to discern than motivations for ministry. For truly, as many good motivations as there are, there are also bad motivations. There is ambition that is godly and ambition that is anything but godly. And in every child of God who serves faithfully, there will be both impulses.
Just consider the Apostle Peter, who could confess Jesus as the Christ at the same time that he would deny him his cross (see Matt. 16:13–23). Indeed, at one time or another, all the disciples had a mixture of true and false ambitions, which is why Jesus had to correct their views on greatness (Mark 10:42–45). Truly, we are fickle creatures. And the best of men is both taught by God and tempted by the devil. Again, read Matthew 16.
So, knowing that, we should always be open to examining our motivations for ministries, and that is what this series is about. It aims to address false ambitions and to set a course towards true ambitions for ministry.
In Part 1, I offered two lessons from the life of Adonijah.
- We should not seek positions in ministry; we should seek the righteousness to receive such a place of service.
- We should abide by the word, and wait for an invitation to serve.
And now, in Part 2, I will suggest a third lesson from Adonijah’s life:
- When kingdom-seekers exalt themselves, their ambition follows a discernible pattern.
This pattern consists of five actions that Adonijah pursued in his attempt to be king in Israel. And, as the story goes, he nearly succeeded. What ultimately prevented him from claiming the throne illicitly is that genuine servants of God stood to oppose him. His false ambitions were thwarted because the ambitions of others were rooted in God’s Word.
Sadly, this sort of conflict continues today.
In truth, only when righteous men and women stand against falsehood will truth prevail. Yet, this is exactly why it is vital to learn the pattern of those who exalt themselves. For in ministry, when good works are pursued with bad motives, it can be very difficult to discern. Often, the falsehood of good works takes years, even decades, to discern. Yet, Scripture does give us light, if we are willing to look. And that is what we find in Adonijah’s play for David’s throne.
When Adonijah exalted himself to a position of royal authority, he followed a pattern of action that many have followed before and since. Indeed, this pattern of self-exaltation is the exact opposite of Christ’s self-effacing, self-sacrificing service (see Phil. 2:5–8). Instead of humbling himself and waiting to be exalted, Adonijah used his resources to collect a following. And then, he attempted to build a kingdom with his followers. From his sinful example, we are warned of an ambitious nature that seeks ministry by means of self-promotion.
Now, of course, the pursuit of gospel ministry does not look like glory-seeking for most people. Yet, among those who worship in David’s rebuilt house (i.e., the church), there remains a temptation to self-exaltation. And tragically, those most skilled for ministry are most easily tempted. As with any good thing, it can become a god-thing (an idol). And that is one of the warnings that the story of Adonijah offers. For those seeking ministry and for anyone who might encounter someone promoting themselves in ministry. (And I would put myself in the camp of those who have had to learn to put selfish ambitions to death.)
Indeed, self-promotion is often covered by words of truth and acts of service. As a result, recognition of such self-serving can be missed or dismissed. Even more, many in the church can be deceived by zealous “servants” who exalt themselves with their service in ministry. This pattern of selfish ambition in God’s kingdom is not easily spotted, but it does have certain discernible patterns. For nothing is new under the sun, and in Adonijah we can see at least five steps to such self-promotion.
By examining his life, may we learn to seek new life in Christ.
Five Steps of Self-Promotion
In Adonijah’s case, he not only exalted himself, he vowed to himself, “I will be king” (v. 5).
The power of a self-made man is in his secret vow to do great things. In truth, not everyone who achieves great things is self-seeking, but many are. And when they are, they are often driven by some inward compulsion.
That compulsion may come from any number of family situations (e.g., the absence of a father, the neglect of a mother, competition with a sibling), or it may come from somewhere else. But wherever it comes from, the need to actualize self is not a godly motivation to serve from a heart overflowing with God’s love. It is profoundly human motivation, one that comes from a heart needing to find love or praise or glory from others.
And thus, the first step of self-promotion is a subterranean urge to be great. This urge may come forth viscerally in verbal statements marked by pride, competition, envy, or self-glorification. Or, it may be more subtle. It may be hidden and only seen in promises made to self or hidden in a diary.