Biblical SuccessJune 06, 2017
by Iain Duguid
What does it mean to succeed? We typically think success involves reaching particular personal and professional goals—prospering financially, being respected by peers, raising a solid family, and so on. We measure success in terms of receiving honor, reaching the top, being admired, getting rich, or being noticed. Meanwhile, failure means being poor or insignificant, being unpopular or disliked, or being the object of shame. Even in ministry, we often rate “success” as a large or rapidly growing congregation, combined with a reputation as a fine pastor or preacher, while “failure” means a small or shrinking flock or having to leave a church because of difficulties or differences over direction.
Different aspects of this definition of success are rated differently by different people, of course. One person may have everything financially yet still feel like a failure because he lacks popularity, the one thing that really matters to him. Another may seem to have nothing and yet feel successful because he has achieved his goals in a different arena. In church life, there are pastors of large churches who don’t feel successful because they envy the situations of those whose churches are even more prominent, while some of those who shepherd small flocks feel content in seeking to love well those whom God has placed under them. “Success” and “failure” are highly subjective evaluations of our own status and that of others around us.
Yet, human beings are remarkably poor judges of success and failure. On the one hand, we often use the wrong measuring sticks. The people whom we judge as “success”—the rich, the powerful, the influential, and the attractive—receive no special adulation in God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, those we look down on as failures—the poor, the broken, and the unimportant people—are often those for whom it seems God has a special concern. According to Jesus, it is possible to gain the whole world—to succeed against almost every human yardstick—and still fail at life because you lose your soul in the process (Matt. 16:26). At the same time, Jesus declares that it is possible to lose all your possessions, relationships, and status, and yet succeed in what really matters—in your relationship with God (Mark 10:28–30).
In addition, we often make premature judgments. We judge on the basis of present appearances, evaluating people as if we knew the outcome of their story. In reality, the end of the story will not be told in this world but in the world to come, where some who are now first (“successful”) will be last, while others who are now judged to be last (“failures”) will be first in God’s kingdom (Mark 10:31). The measures of success in God’s upside-down kingdom are not the same as those of this present age.
Of course, biblical wisdom does not simply turn conventional wisdom on its head so that now the poor and lowly are automatically counted successful while anyone with wealth or rank is dismissed out of hand. There are certainly people in the Bible who used their wealth or high position wisely, such as Joseph or Daniel. Even in a pagan environment, these men served the Lord faithfully at the highest level of government. Likewise, Joseph of Arimathea used his wealth to provide a tomb for Jesus after His crucifixion (Matt. 27:57–59). But more than wealth or position, what these men had in common was that they served the Lord and His kingdom first, with the resources He had given them. . . .
Reflections on Science, Cancer, and FaithMay 22, 2017
by Elizabeth Groves