The Measure Of Success.
Psalm 1; Matthew 16: 24 – 27.
In our topsy-turvy world, we are plagued by certain benchmarks that determine success or failure in any endeavour; from the magnitude of an enterprise’s profits or one’s pay packet, to the size of another’s congregation or ability to preach and influence, or being admired and getting noticed. Furthermore, as finite beings, our premature judgments are more often based on present appearances without any knowledge or appreciation of a differing future trajectory in the lives we had acknowledged or condemned. Disturbingly, our highly subjective human capacity and unconscious predilection towards biasness make us perennially poor judges of failure and success. The Bible certainly does not invalidate conventional wisdom, but its values are said to be diametrically opposed to many of our worldly conclusions on accomplishments or disappointments. The authoritative, the influential, and the wealthy, do not seem to garner particular adulation within God’s purview, despite exemplary Biblical dignitaries, like Abraham, Joseph, and Joseph of Arimathea, committing their resources toward God’s kingdom (Eccl 5:19; Matt 6:19-21; Matt 19:24; Luke12:33; 1 Tim 6:6-10; 1 Tim 6:17-18; James 5:1). It seemed like God expected them to do so. Instead, His consistent attention had been on the handicapped, the insignificant people, and the poor (Lev19: 9-10; Ps 140:12; Mark12:41-44; Luke 1:53; James 2:5) – certainly, within our perspective, not success-oriented entities.
The defining consideration from God’s standpoint, with the resources He has gifted us, is that we are merely His stewards; whatever we possess, whether in terms of talents or wealth, do not belong to us, and we are certainly accountable for how we use them within His economy (1 Chron 29:10-11; Matt 25:14-30). However, our normal human proclivity for possessiveness immediately pits us against the practice of wholehearted servanthood towards others in the discharge of our stewardship – for only with an innate serving mindset could one live such a selfless lifestyle, which constitute Biblical success. Who is then able to measure up to such an unearthly standard? In the Book of Psalms, the psalmist in his first song depicted another aspect of success: where the righteous person is one who delights in God’s laws and meditates on it day and night, and who is wise in his relationships, eschewing those who would compromise his walk with God (Ps 1:1-2). Again, not many are able to appraise themselves righteously in this light!
Judged by God’s standard of success, we fall indelibly short. Thankfully, despite our inclination for discounting the claims of God’s glory on our lives, with the dogged pursuit of our own puny reputation and the tightfisted hoarding of our possessions and resources, we are not disqualified from God’s kingdom. The basis being our salvation through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing less, and as a result, we immediately need the fruits of success that He accomplished for us (2 Cor 8: 9; c.f., 2 Cor 8:1-15). What do we mean?
God had glorified Jesus Christ, that every knee will bow, of those in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, thereby exemplifying Him to us through eternity, as the true gauge of success (Phil 2: 5-11). Our accomplishment on earth can never define success, not in the eyes of heaven, as Isaiah had declared that our righteousness is like filthy rages (Is 64: 6). Our position in Christ totally frees us, as we take up our cross and devote the totality of our resources in the service of Christ’s kingdom. Of course, it does not mean that we become dispositional sluggards, but it does mean that we do not become inured to the standards of this world, whether being successful or failures, realizing that our unmitigated hope and boast is in our Lord (2 Cor 10: 12-18).