In the first part we looked at how people in the world around us view success and how this is view is not consistent with what the Bible says is a successful person. Let’s continue examining success, specifically looking at what God and Jesus view as success.
Building monuments to ourselves
We need to look inwardly at ourselves. Are we acting in a good way to try and make us right with God? Well, credentials, accomplishments, or reputation cannot earn salvation. What we must realise is that salvation comes only through faith in Christ. So then, we must be careful with those achievements that we accomplish in this world. In fact, our achievements in this world can be an expression of our own rebellion against God.
Around the year 2,247 BC the people of that time planned to build a great tower. This is what they said:
Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. 1
From these words we can see that our achievements often indicate the central focus of our lives. The tower of Babel was a great human achievement, a wonder of the world. But it was a monument to the people themselves rather than to God. We often also build monuments to ourselves. Like we buy expensive clothes, we have big houses, we have the latest fancy car or we try to get the most important job. And we often do all of this to draw attention to our achievements.
These things may not be wrong in themselves, but they are when we use them to give ourselves identity and self-worth, because then they are taking God's place in our lives. We are free to develop ourselves over the years of our life, but we are not free to think we have replaced God. Think about it, what Towers of Babel are in your life? And what are you going to do about it to bring God back in focus?
Even if we do work for God, this should remind us of God. We should avoid the temptation to think that God owes us for our efforts in achieving some victory in our work for Him.
You may have just spent the last two years of your life working with the elderly and lonely - visiting them and comforting them. This may have taken up large amounts of our personal time. When we work hard for God we should avoid then thinking that God owes us something for this sacrifice of our time. We may even start thinking that he owes us a place in the kingdom. We should never forget that it was God's strength in the first place that gave you the strength to help those in need. We didn't do this on our own; God was always there to help us do this work. We should concentrate on keeping our attitudes, actions and words focused on God instead of on ourselves.
Jesus view of real achievement
So then, how does Jesus describe real achievement? This is what is recorded in the book of Mark:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask". And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" They said to him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" And they said to him, "We can." And Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptised with you will be baptised; but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."
And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all". 2
From these words we can see that achievements do not change our position with God. In this scene James and John wanted the highest positions in Jesus kingdom – they wanted "success". But Jesus told them that true greatness comes in serving others.
Peter, who was one of the disciples who heard this message, expands the thoughts when he wrote these words in a letter to some believers:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 3
Most businesses, organisations and institutions measure greatness by high personal achievement. In Christ's kingdom, however, service is the way to get ahead. The desire to be on top will hinder, not help. Rather than seeking to have your needs met, look for ways where you can help the needs of others. And this is Jesus view on success and achievement.
God’s views of real achievement
So then, what difference do our good achievements make with God. Paul tells us about this in a letter he wrote to the believers in Rome:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded, on what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 4
We should learn from these words Paul has written that the good works we do will not alone make us right with God. No amount of human achievement or progress in personal development will close the gap between God's moral perfection and our imperfect daily performance. Good deeds are certainly important, but they alone will not earn us eternal life. We are saved only by trusting in what God has done for us.
As a further thought on this have a look at what Paul wrote in a letter to those believers at the ancient city of Ephesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. 5
So we will be saved only by trusting in what God has done for us and not by our own achievements.
What Joshua was told about success
Back in the Old Testament, around the year 1450 BC there lived a man called Joshua. This is what God told Joshua he had to do to be a success:
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous, be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 6
So success in life comes from knowing and doing what God says. Many people think that prosperity and success come from having power, influential personal contacts, and a relentless desire to get ahead. But the strategy for gaining prosperity that God taught Joshua goes against such criteria. He said that to succeed, Joshua must:
For us to be successful in life then we must follow the words which God gave to Joshua. By doing this you may not succeed by the world's standards, but you will certainly be a success in God's eyes - and remember that God's opinion will last forever.
God’s version of prosperity
One of the books of the Bible is Psalms. This is what the writer said about God’s view of success:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 7
So once again, we see that success by God's standards is not success by the world's standards. When the Scripture says, "whatever he does prospers", it does not mean immunity from failure or difficulties. Nor is it a guarantee of health, wealth, and happiness.
What the Bible means by prosperity is that when we apply God's wisdom, the fruit we bear will be good and receive God's approval. Just as a tree soaks up water and bears luscious fruit, we also are to soak up God’s Word, producing actions and attitudes that honour God. To achieve anything worthwhile, we must have God's Word in our heart.
So we have seen that success must never be measured by popularity, fame or fortune, for these are temporary measures. Things that which are only short lived. King Zedekiah(8), for example, lost everything by pursuing selfish goals. God measures our success with the yardsticks of obedience, faithfulness and righteousness. If you are faithfully doing the work God gives you, you are successful in his eyes. So we can see from all of this that success by the world's standards shouldn’t be one of our motivations in life.
If we need an example of someone who was a complete success in life then Jesus Christ is the man. Some on hearing Jesus story for the first time may say that he was anything but a success for he was taken by an angry crowd and crucified at an early age. Yet believers in the Bible know differently. We know that his crucifixion was a success for not only himself but for us. For without it we would not have been given the opportunity to enter that Kingdom soon to be set up on this earth.
Christ was the example of the man who was completely successful in his life. For he obeyed the commands of his Father without failing once. If you want to be a true success in life then observe the perfect enduring standards of the Lord God.
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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015