Date published: September 24, 2012
“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 meditates 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.” – Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)
SUCCESS is a word that has been greatly misused. Too often it has been used to mean power, status, self-fulfillment, and happiness. Christians have also stumbled into worldly ideas of success through non-biblical teachings like, to become a Christian means to become rich. It is extremely important for us to return to a correct idea of success. We need to study it, but carefully.
The Bible teaches that both the righteous and the wicked may succeed. The success of the righteous is described in our Psalm 1:1-3. We see it elsewhere in such passages as Genesis 39:23, Deuteronomy 29:9, 1 Chronicles 22:13, and Nehemiah 2:20. In the New Testament we can infer that Simon and Andrew had a successful fishing business when Jesus found them -Matthew 4:18, and the apostle Paul was able to support himself successfully through tent-making – Acts 18:3. Over the centuries, Christians have been successful in a variety of ways and in all walks of life.
But the Bible also shows the success of the wicked in such passages as Job 12:6, Psalm 73:3 and Jeremiah 5:28. The writer of Ecclesiastes in Eccl. 4:4 describes the false success of labour and achievement when it is rooted in jealousy -“And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” In the New Testament, we meet prosperous people like Herod – Matthew 2:3-9, Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11, and Alexander – 2 Timothy4:14-15, but we would hardly want to pattern our lives after any of them. By linking success to evil people as well as righteous people, we cannot say that successful people are godly or that being godly means getting rich.
What then is Success? The Bible answers this question in a number of ways, but underlying them all is the dominant motif character. Successful people are successful because of who they are, not because of what they do. Joshua is the chosen successor to Moses because God’s spirit is in him – Numbers 27:18. He will succeed only to the extent that he obeys the Lord – Joshua 1:7. Later in the Judah’s history, Uzziah is one of the best kings to ever rule. It is said of him, ‘’as long as Uzziah obeyed the LORD, God gave him success’’ – 2 Chronicles 26:5. The writer of Proverbs underscores the secret of success by writing, ‘’Knowledge begins with respect for the LORD, but fools hate wisdom and self-control.’’ SUCCESS IS ROOTED IN CHARACTER.
The Hebrew word blessed that begins Psalm 1 is translated by the New Century Version of the Bible as ‘’happy.’’ The successful person experiences and then expresses ‘’the blessed (happy) life.’’ In this Psalm the characteristics of the successful person includes not listening to the wicked or making their places one’s hangout. Successful people do not do what evil people do. They love the Lord’s teachings and take them into their lives day and night. As a result, they show a strength comparable to trees firmly rooted by riverbeds, producing one good thing after another.
Once again, we see the idea that success flows from character. When the psalmist writes, ‘’everything they do will succeed,’’ that success is based more upon the quality of their lives than the skillfulness of their activities. For this reason, we are on the right track to define success with such words as ‘’holiness,’’ ‘’godliness,’’ and ‘’obedience.’’ In terms of success, the Bible is much more interested in showing us where it comes from than describing all of its results.
Jesus amplifies this theme in the Beatitudes, as He describes various aspect of the ‘’blessed (happy) life’’ in Matthew 5:1-10. We can be considered successful when we know we have great spiritual needs, when we are willing to grieve over our losses, when we live humble lives, when we want to do what is right more than anything else, when we show mercy to others, when we are pure in our thinking, when we work to bring peace to life, and when we are treated badly for doing good. In fact, we can boldly say that the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s views on success. If we would live the ‘’blessed life,’’ we would be considered successful whether we have much or little, whether we live famous or ordinary lives.
But what about conduct – what we do and the way we do it? The Bible is filled with verse after verse describing the lifestyle of the truly successful. Our two primary passages in Psalm 1 and Matthew 5 give hundreds of concrete examples. Ask the Psalmist how many different ways there are to ‘’produce fruit,’’ or ask Jesus how many different ways there are to ‘’work to bring peace.’’ Behind every principle of character there are many specific applications in conduct. Once we make this connection, almost every passage in the Bible opens up as a ‘’manual of success’’ either in terms of character or conduct, promise or forbidding, allowance or warning.
If we wish to include the Bible’s definition of success into our lives, we can do so by studying the lives of the successful biblical people: Moses and David, Ruth and Esther-people who lived successfully in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we can study people like Simon Peter and Paul. Exploring their lives confirms all the things we have talked about up to now, but it does one other important thing. It show us that ‘’success’’ is not the same as “perfection.” Each of these people, while truly successful, made mistakes. Some of them committed heartbreaking sin. The saints are not successful because they are perfect; they are successful because they are rooted in God – ready to repent when they fail God, ready to obey when they follow Him.
To be continued!
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