Success is consistently defined for us. We are bombarded with images of wealth, power and fame that tantalize the mind and can cause the imagination to run wild. We consistently are sold and purchase a bill of goods that we can be famous, we can be wealthy or we can be beautiful and if we win really big we can be all three.
This is the world’s message and it is expected.
Does the Bible or God have as problem with you being famous, wealthy or beautiful? Not at all; He is the one who made you. Where we run into problems in the Christian church is when we begin to evaluate our lives according to the standards of what the world labels “success”.
- Wealth is equated to success yet divorce and depression plague the wealthy, the middle class and the poor.
- Fame is equated to success yet we constantly hear of the personal struggles the “famous” go through and many of them seem to be self inflicted.
- Beauty is equated to success, billions of dollars are spent each year in its pursuit (by women and men) yet we all age and will eventually die.
This modern mentality has caused dreams and success to be equated with the possessions we own rather than the relationships and accomplishments of our lives. There is a fine line between success and wealth. Many who are successful are wealthy, but being wealthy does not always mean you are successful.
Here are some “successful” people who do not profess to be Christians:
- J.K. Rowling’s net worth is estimated at $1 billion
- Oprah Winfrey’s net worth is estimated at $1.5 billion
- Sir Elton John’s net worth is estimated at $500 million
- Deepak Chopra’s net worth is estimated at $22 million
- Ellen Degeneres’ net worth is estimated at $65 million
- Will Ferrell’s net worth is estimated at $31 million
- Hugh Hefner’s net worth is estimated at $43 million
- Marshall Mathers’ net worth is estimated at $100 million
Each of these people are famous; they have entertained millions and millions and have been rewarded financially for doing so. Some profess a type of spirituality and some do not; none that I know of are Christians. Should their wealth or success be despised by Christians? No. Their lives should be valued by Christians as people whom God loves and Christ died for. Worldly success must always be contemplated in the light of this verse:
What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? (Matthew 16:26)
My goal in writing this is to direct your focus back to the things that God places value on.
The Bible has many examples of the wealthy, the poor, the successful and the unsuccessful. Their lives can be an example to us. Their pursuits should speak to us. Our mind needs to be renewed with God’s idea of success.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had (Philippians 2:5)
Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold. (Genesis 13:2)
“I am Abraham’s servant,” he explained. “And the Lord has greatly blessed my master; he has become a wealthy man. The Lord has given him flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, a fortune in silver and gold, and many male and female servants and camels and donkeys. (Genesis 24:34-35)
Wealth and riches were a part of Abraham’s life, but he is remembered as the father of faith. We read about him today and preach about him today because of his relationship with God. We don’t remember him because of his wealth.
Abraham’s greatest success was his faith in God. He showed remarkable faithfulness and obedience to the Lord. He waited decades for the promise of God to be fulfilled, yet remained faithful the entire time.
There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area. (Job 1:1-3)
We don’t really remember Job for his wealth either. We remember him for the suffering he went through. We remember the things He lost (his children, his home and his wealth). We remember his success – his faith. He said things like:
He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. (Job 1:21-22)
“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! (Job 19:25-27)
Job never changes his mind about God or never doubted God’s love for him. His life completely fell apart. He went from wealthy to destitute yet remained unchanged in his faith. He was tested and tried and found to be genuine. The end of the story is awesome:
So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life. (Job 42:12-17)
We could speak of Solomon – extremely wealthy, extremely wise and devastatingly unfaithful to God.
We could speak of Samson – extremely famous, extremely strong and yet he suffered greatly when he sacrificed his faith for pleasure.
We could speak of Zacchaeus – wealthy but unloved by society yet he became a great disciple of the Lord Jesus.
We could speak of Daniel – powerful, wealthy and wise and used by God to declare the fate of kingdoms
We could speak of Paul – educated, influential and given some of the greatest revelation by God ever – yet he spent years in prison and was eventually executed for his faith
We could speak of Nicodemus – a politically connected and influential in his nation yet a devout follower of Jesus Christ
We could speak of Joseph – a favored son who was sold into slavery by his brothers only to rise to become a great leader who saved millions of lives
Success. Failure. These are relative terms.
Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. (Psalm 37:1-5)
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today”. (Matthew 6:24-34)
The way I read it, our earthly possession, our needs and even our desires are all important to God; but more important to Him is our faithful obedience to His word, our worship and our love. God wants to be the most import thing in our lives. He wants our focus to be on Him. He promises throughout scripture to give us the things we need and even want if we will simply make Him #1 in our lives.
So, as a Christian, how do you measure success and how do you measure failure?
- It is not our possessions or lack of possessions
- It is not our status or lack of status
- It is not our beauty or our fame
- It is in our love and in our fruit
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
- Some of us have a great job, some of us have an OK job and some of us are unemployed – yet each of us has a function to fulfill in the Kingdom of God.
- Some of us are attractive, some of us are pretty normal and some of us help attractive people look even better – yet each us is to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
- Some of us live in a house, some of us live in an apartment and some of us seem to be always looking for a new place to live – yet each of our real homes is in heaven.
Change your mind about success. Pursue God, clean living and sharing the gospel and you will find that your life will be successful. You will find that if you take care of the things that belong to God that He will take care of the things that belong to you.
You will find that the more time you spend with God and working with and for Him the more your desires become His desires and His desires become your desires.
- If you are wealthy – awesome – give thanks to God and use your wealth in a righteous way
- If you are not wealthy – big deal – give thanks to God for what you have. Work hard, serve the Lord and love people.
- Success will be measured in our fruit – the lives we leave changed for God’s kingdom.
- Success will be measured by our faith – will we hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?
- Do not evaluate your life based on Forbes, People, Cosmopolitan, Maxim or even Charisma magazines’ definitions of success. Evaluate your life on God’s definition of success found in the scriptures.
You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. (1 Corinthians 12:27)