Maybe we all know someone who plays a team sport as if he was the only one on his team. I think the game of basketball, maybe more than other team sports, can be played in such a way as to maximize one’s own glory and minimize that of the team. As one who has played a fair amount of basketball, I know what it is to be the “ball hog.”

What drives a ball hog to always want to be the one to make the drive to the hoop or to take the deep three when they’re down by a few?

Selfish ambition.

The ball hog can be the most talented player on the team, so it’s not that he shouldn’t take shots. The problem is they are more interested in scoring on their own and trying to single-handedly win the game than by passing and sharing the glory. The most skilled team player would not only score some shots himself, but he would make great moves and passes that would set others up to score, maybe even more often than him. I’m not here pretending to be very good at basketball, but I have seen the tendency to be the ball hog even in my own play.

While certain activities are indeed suited for individuals, missionary work is not one of them. For example, the Apostle Paul was constantly taking others with him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13:13, 16:3, 18:18). Also, when Christ sent out the seventy-two, he sent them two by two (Luke 10:1).

Working with a team across the border these last few months has exposed selfish ambition in my heart. I was recently convicted of that sin as I read these words of John Calvin:

Surely every one of us wishes to be greater than his friends, that is, unless God has tamed us and taught us to give ourselves to meekness. Indeed, it is from this same ambition that all envy and strife proceeds, and with it all contempt, murmurings, criticisms, and the like. Contrary to this, if we hold tight to the principle that is set before us here, we will learn by and by to glorify God when we see any mark of his grace in another. For in envying someone whom God has honoured, and in seeking to deny the gifts and graces that we see in him, we are not only wrongdoing mortal creatures, but God, the author of these very gifts. I may meet someone who can build up the church; God may have gifted him with such graces that we could profit from his labour. But, fearing that he may advance too far, and that I may have to fade into the background too much, I seek to conceal and weaken what God has done in him by my slander and other devious methods. It is just as if I were willfully seeking to hide all the gifts of God and cause them to be despised. And where does this come from, if not from the cursed ambition that I have already described? (From the sermon “A Total Resolve to Serve and Glorify God”)

The missionary work I’m involved in is a team activity. In order to be a godly team member, I must want all the team members to contribute by using their gifts and abilities and to receive the honor that is due them for their service.

Like Calvin says, selfish ambition can be very devious. I may think that I’m looking out for the best interest of others when I don’t want my teammate to teach. Shouldn’t a native be teaching since they can speak the language so much better? Is that really all my motive though, or am I slightly envious of my teammate being the one to teach instead of I? Guilty as charged.

I had to repent today and thank God for using my teammates to lead and teach, instead of I. I need humility and love to genuinely praise God when another advances beyond me and causes me to fade into the background. It’s not about me. It’s about Christ. He shall use all the members of his body to accomplish his purposes as he pleases.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)