Investing in Others (James 4:1–12)
Although James uses the metaphor of adultery, he is talking about selfish ambition in general. In the workplace, one temptation is to use others as stepping stones to our own success. When we steal the credit for a subordinate’s or co-worker’s work, when we withhold information from a rival for promotion, when we shift the blame to someone not present to defend themselves, when we take advantage of someone in a difficult situation, we are guilty of selfish ambition. James is right that this is a chief source of quarrels. Ironically, selfish ambition may impede success rather than promote it. The higher our position in an organization, the more we depend on others for success. It can be as simple as delegating work to subordinates, or as complex as coordinating an international project team. But if we have a reputation for stepping on other people to get ahead, how can we expect others to trust and follow our leadership?
The remedy lies in submitting to God, who created all people in his image (Gen. 1:27) and who sent his Son to die for all (2 Cor. 5:14). We submit to God whenever we put our ambition in the service of others ahead of ourselves. Do we want to rise to a position of authority and excellence? Good, then we should begin by helping other workers increase their authority and excellence. Does success motivate us? Good, then we should invest in the success of those around us. Ironically, investing in others’ success may also turn out to be the best thing we can do for ourselves. According to economists Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, investing in other people makes us happier than spending money on ourselves.
Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).