Is Pope Francis right? Is it wrong for Christians to be ambitious?

The annual gorefest that is The Apprentice is providing us with its usual selection of daft quotes from would-be Alan Sugars. What they have in common - apart from the total lack of self-knowledge that must be one of the qualifications listed on the entry form - is that they are wildly, obsessively, compulsively and disgustingly ambitious.

We don't warm to that, which is why we enjoy The Apprentice - the sight of yet another millionaire-in-the-making crashing and burning because she can't sell a bottle of shampoo leaves us with a certain sense of pleasure.

And it turns out that Pope Francis is on our side. In a homily at the canonising of three new saints, he had a go at the whole mindset that drives these people. "Ambition and careerism are incompatible with Christian discipleship; honour, success, fame and worldly triumphs are incompatible with the logic of Christ crucified," he said.

Pope Francis yesterday said ambition and careerism are incompatible with Christian discipleship.Reuters

In the context of today's Western world in which worldly success is held up as the ultimate virtue, this is a really strange thing to say. It's rich and successful people who get our attention. They're the role models for our young people. Our education system is designed to produce successful people, for a given value of success. We even like our politicians to be people who've made money - and making it for themselves is better than inheriting it. In America, Donald Trump's business ability has won him a respect and a credibility which it might be thought that his actual opinions and conduct don't really deserve.

But surely it can't be right to tell a young person at the beginning of their career that it's wrong to be ambitious?

Yes: that's exactly the scriptural logic that Francis is applying. At least, for the usual understanding of the word 'ambitious'.

Ambition, as we usually use the word, is a selfish idea. It means wanting promotions, power and wealth just for themselves. It's often related to unhealthy insecurities and profound psychological problems. It can be destructive to relationships and to organisations: the financial crisis was created in good part by the behaviour of men - and yes, it was usually men - who were driven by an overriding urge to win, at any cost, and who would let nothing and no one stand in the way of the next sweet deal.

What the Bible tellls us, as Francis points out, is that ambition doesn't have to be like that. The Bible replaces the ambition to dominate with the ambition to serve.

Francis cites James and John, whose mother asks for them to be given the places of honour beside Jesus in the great Kingdom banquet (Mark 10:37). Jesus says: "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant" (verses 42-44).

It's easy to see this working in the context of the Church - and in the Roman Catholic Church, which offers all sorts of opportunities for advancement, perhaps clergy need reminding of this.

But how does this play out in the lives of ordinary Christians, who live in the world and want their way in it? There seven things that can help us.

1. Don't do your work well because it will bring you more money or success. Do it as well as you possibly can for the sake of the work itself. Whether you're a doctor saving people's lives, an entrepreneur launching a new venue or a waiter serving people's food, focus on the job, not on the reward.

2. Remember who you're working for. George Herbert wrote a hymn which begins: "Teach me, my God and King, in all things thee to see/ And what I do in anything, to do it as for thee." It continues, "A servant with this clause makes drudgery divine..." You can sweep a room and do it for God.

3. Don't seek to be promoted beyond your ability. Instead, be content with working well at the level you're capable of. You might like the extra money and prestige that comes with a better job and a bigger office, but you aren't helping anyone if you aren't really up to the role. That's not Christian service.

4. Don't undervalue yourself, because that isn't a good use of your gifts and talents, either. God gave you skills, abilities and aptitudes. Godly ambition means that you should aim to use them to their fullest extent.

5. Never try to get ahead by keeping other people back. They have a right to flourish too. If you can help other people develop their potential, even if it might seem as though you're damaging your own prospects, you should.

6. Trust God with your career. Your priority should be to demonstrate integrity and excellence. If you do that, most employers will recognise it and value it.

7. Remember that if you have a job, you're fortunate - but never let sucess or failure at it define you or take over your life. It's important, but your home, your family and your relationship with God are even more important.

It's not wrong to want to do well at your work, whatever that work might be. But the Christian's motivation for wanting to excel is fundamentally different from what seems to drive those Apprentice contestants. We don't want success for the sake of success, we want it for the sake of Christ.