Success is defined as “a degree or measure of succeeding; a favorable or desired outcome; the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” People have different preferences regarding the goals of life. While one’s achievements may be remembered after death, the success that he or she experiences lasts only as long as the individual lives and sometimes not even that long.
For example, an important meeting of the world’s greatest financiers took place at Chicago in 1927. Present were Charles Schwab, President of the largest steel company; Samuel Insull, President of the largest utility company; Authur Cutton, the greatest wheat speculator; Richard Whitley, President of the New York Stock Exchange; Albert Fall, a member of the Cabinet; Jessie Livermore, the greatest bear on Wall Street; Ivar Kreuger, head of the world’s greatest monopoly; Leon Fraser, President of the Bank of International Settlement; and Howard Hopson, President of the largest gas company. All these men were considered to be outstandingly successful, yet what happened to them?
Charles Schwab died bankrupt. Samuel Insull became a fugitive and was considered to be insolvent. Authur Cutton died abroad insolvent. Richard Whitley was sent to prison. Albert Fall was pardoned in prison, and died at home. Jessie Livermore committed suicide. Ivar Kreuger committed suicide. Leon Fraser committed suicide. And Howard Hopson went insane. Surely something must be have been wrong with the goals of these men and with what people believe success to be, even if only temporary. It is true most of us equate success with financial success. But this success lasts at most only for a lifetime, and the old saying is certainly correct: “You can’t take it with you.” While financial success or popularity may be regarded as success, it is not the success that really counts! Financial success or eminence in this world is not true success. What we need to become aware of and evaluate is true success.
Consider this: Jesus said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). By this statement Jesus made it clear that the only success that really counts is gaining eternal life. The Apostle Paul, one of the brightest and most highly educated Christians of his day, made eternal life his chief goal. He said it was his desire to know the power of Christ’s resurrection so that, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:11). “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13-14). We all know that a modicum of financial security should be a goal in life, but if it is the only and all consuming goal, it is the wrong one. It has been said that it is not money that is important, but what money can buy. People do lust for the physical amenities of this life and the power that can be gained by the acquisition of wealth.
The Apostle Paul warned:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim. 6:7-10)
What happened to the men mentioned in the second and third paragraphs of this article certainly attests to that. True success in this life requires a fundamental change in one’s thinking. The fact is: What men regard as success is not what God regards as success. Gaining entrance into the Kingdom of God is (Luke 16:16). Many people fawn before the wealthy. God does not.
The Apostle James was inspired to write:
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. (Jas. 5:1-6)
Does the Bible condemn affluence? Not necessarily. What it does condemn is the abuse that affluence often leads rich people to heap upon others. John D. Rockefeller once said: “Competition is a sin.” His modus operandi was to eliminate all competition, which he ruthlessly did. Certainly a wealthy man can be a Christian, but in this modern competitive world it could be difficult. The fundamental change that takes place in the heart and mind of a Christian makes him a “new man” so to speak. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new [creation]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). How did Christ regard wealth? Jesus said: ” . . . The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). The Apostle Paul wrote: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus gave up His power in the heavens, and became a man so that we could become rich spiritually, that is, to help us achieve true success-entrance into the Kingdom of God.
What, then, are some of the rules we can employ to achieve true success?
Appreciate and Obey the Law of God
Mainstream Christianity continues to disregard the Law of God. While lip service is given to accepting and obeying Christ, many theologians have little understanding that the God of ancient Israel, the One who spoke the words that are recorded in the Old Testament passages, was none other than the One who became Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The Ten Commandments were given to Israel by Christ, and consequently to mankind. Today the moral values of our nation have sunk so low that in sexual abuse cases what is important is not whether adultery or fornication was committed, but whether the act was consensual. At least one denomination has appointed a homosexual bishop. The Moffatt Translation comments on the high disregard for the marriage institution. In Malachi 2:15 we read: “Not one of you has any trace of moral sense . . . .”
Professing Christians are told that they need only accept Christ and believe in Him, that they are not under obedience to the Law of God but under grace. Grace is viewed as a condition of the believer, not a quality of God. In reality: Grace is free, unmerited pardon granted by God when one repents of sin. And what is sin? “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Grace is not license to commit sin.
Yet as Jude wrote:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)
Indeed, grace has been turned into lasciviousness-so called “Christian freedom,” that is, permission to practice evil by disregarding the Law of God. Christians are told there is no need to keep the Law of God. All that is necessary is to believe in Christ. But is this enough?
Not according to the Apostle James:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law . . . . What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? . . . Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (Jas. 2:10-11, 14, 18-20)
Jesus plainly said: ” . . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The Old Testament Scriptures are the Word of God. What do they say?
Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. (Ps. 112:1)
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)
The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. (Ps. 111:7-8)
I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad . . . . O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day . . . . Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way . . . . Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Ps. 119: 96-97, 104-105)
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2)
These are the inspired words of Christ. The commandments of God stand forever. Why, then, do so many teach that all that is necessary for salvation is to believe? The Bible teaches that true success in the sight of God requires appreciation for and obedience to the Commandments of God.
Character has been defined as how we really are, as opposed to how we appear to others. We all possess a “real me.” Often the “real me” and what others think we are conflict. This definition, while true, is not definitive and lacks substance. What is character? From the Bible point of view, character is the ability to recognize right from wrong and to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. But who decides right and wrong? Those who believe this is a human privilege have presumed too much. We merely have to look at all the conflicting ideas about right and wrong to see that men are incapable of such a charge. In the world chaos prevails. There is an authority, though, that is Omnipotent and consistent, One who in the illimitable past already decided right and wrong. That authority is God, and right and wrong is defined by His Law. “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Isa. 33:22). The Apostle James wrote: “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy . . . ” (Jas. 4:12). Character, then, is determined by how well we understand the commandments of God and how well we observe them.
The character building process is a lifelong endeavor. Character cannot be developed in a moment of time. We all possess human nature. The Bible does not portray human nature in a good light. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). The evil in human nature must be overcome. This is what character building is all about. The Apostle Paul acknowledged: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (v. 18).
Jesus defined the kind of perfection for which we must seek. He described the application of the spiritual intent of the law in Matthew, chapter five. He stated that if one could accomplish these requirements, he would be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Even the disciples were astonished by some of Jesus’ teachings. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt.19:25-26). God did not assign man the impossible. He promised that with His help men could achieve the goal of building character. We read in the book of Revelation: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). True success, then, is building holy, righteous character- defined by the Commandments of God. The end result is eternal life in the Kingdom of God. This is the true success.
The Necessity of Love
It matters little how much one may understand and obey God if he or she lacks love. Love can best be expressed as outgoing concern for others. People often speak of loving someone, and while this is good it is often limited to those closest to them. As such, this kind of love is a reflection of the self because it is restricted to those in whom we have a deep interest. The kind of love Jesus talked about is explained in Matthew five.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (Matt. 5:43-47)
The Apostle Paul described the kind of love Christians should manifest. It is beautifully described in the Moffatt Translation.
Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy; love makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is never rude, never selfish, never irritated, never resentful; love is never glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient. Love never disappears. (1 Cor. 13: 4-8)
This kind of love can only be manifested with the help of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of love. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). ” . . . The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit] which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). The Ten Commandments teach us how to love-how to love God and our fellow man. The first four show how to love God; the last six show how to love our fellow man. In effect, obedience to these commandments is the embodiment of love. When led by the Holy Spirit, this love transcends human love. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:5). “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
One of the characteristics of the last days is an absence of love. Jesus warned: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). According to Jesus, iniquity, that is lawlessness, would be rampant near the time of Christ’s return. Today’s society can easily have an adverse effect upon those sincerely trying to obey God.
Here is how the Apostle Paul described the last days:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
This is not a pleasant description, but it is accurate. This is why Christian love is so important. It is a scarce attribute in the world at large. While many manifest a love for their family and friends, the kind of love that is important is outgoing concern for all men. To be realistic, one cannot change how others think and behave, but one can, with God’s help, change oneself. The selfish, introverted love so many manifest today can become a love that expresses an outgoing concern even for one’s enemies. Jesus said: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:46-48).
The Need for Humility
Why is it that many successful people tend to be arrogant? They equate success in material things as a matter of great importance. But how great is this success in the sight of God? We think of great conquerors. Yet the Bible says: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). Real success in the sight of God is overcoming the influence of this world, mastering the evil pulls of human nature, and living a righteous life. Men who are successful in this world have little understanding of the truly great values of life. While they may control the lives of countless individuals, and effect even the livelihood of thousands or millions, they have little control over the vanity of their own minds. They fail to recognize their station of life in relationship to their Creator. One who recognizes his station in life relative to his Creator will demonstrate self-control.
The Bible relates many examples of God’s servants. Those who were successful in His sight were men of humility. They had fear and respect for God and recognized their position in life. An example is Gideon, one of the Old Testament judges. “And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. . . . Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:12, 14). God did not make a statement that was not true. Israel had been oppressed for some time by the Midianites, and Gideon, no doubt, was instrumental in the resistance. He had a reputation as a warrior, but he was not arrogant. He replied: ” . . . Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). The Lord then told him: “. . . Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (v. 16).
The Bible says a great deal about humility. How does God regard the humble? “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Ps. 138:6). One who recognizes his place in life before God and his fellow man has a tremendous advantage. This does not mean he is negative and depressed. Rather, he is realistic recognizing that in this world there are people of distinction and with great talents and abilities. Unfortunately, most who feel they are more competent than they really are fail to recognize this fact. This is why the Bible states: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).
Jesus gave this example:
And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 14:7-11)
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).
How do men really compare with their God? Do they really believe they can solve all the problems on the earth without His help? A description of the condition of the behavior of men near the time of the end should quickly dispel that notion.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. (Rev. 9:20-21)
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain. And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. (Rev. 16:10-11)
In the above text the Apostle John describes the arrogance, selfishness, and lust of men, in general. Men simply refuse to acknowledge their station in life and to accept God’s will. They are not humble.
Here is what God reveals:
“Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:1-2).
How many men tremble at God’s Word today? What does God say about His Word? “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
So, what is the success that really counts in the sight of God? It is not the success of the world, though if one achieves a measure of success lawfully, this is to his credit. Real success in the sight of God is to attain to the resurrection of the dead (Phil. 3:12-14). This is achieved by obeying the Law of God, by building the necessary character, by growing in the love of God, and by being humble in the sight of God and man. The man or woman who achieves these goals will indeed be successful.