Success: What Is It?

Theme: How Do We Live in This Mess?

by Clarence R. Johnson

Success! What is it, and how do we achieve it? Of course, we must realize that the word does not mean the same thing to everyone. Webster says success is the “favorable termination of a venture; specifically the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence;” so we see that success is measured by gains, by the achieving of goals.

In the business world, success is most often measured by (1) material wealth-houses, lands, automobiles, boats, bank roll, etc., and (2) title and the power inherent therein—president, vice president, manager, etc. In the entertainment field a persons success is measured by the first of these considerations combined with his current popularity. Taking our cue from the business and entertainment fields, most of us are likely to judge our success and that of our friends by these material standards» wealth, power, popularity, etc. But is that all there is to success?

Leroy Brownlow, in Sermons You Can Preach, tells about an important business meeting held in Chicago in 1923. Present were ten men from the world of business and finance who had risen far above their peers — successful men, as the world views success. Included were presidents of the world’s largest steel company, the largest utility, the New York Stock Exchange, the National City Bank, and the Bank of International Settlement,  as well as a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States and four other men who were equally successful in their chosen fields of business endeavor. But twenty·five years later, two of those same men had served time in prison and another had died a fugitive from justice. Two more of those “successful” men had died bankrupt. Another was insane and three had committed suicide. There must be more to success than material wealth and power.

Into a world where many acclaim success to be determined almost wholly by the abundance of the things which a man possesses, comes the drastically different outlook of Jesus Christ: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15), He goes on to explain, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (vs. 23). He even insists that it is sometimes advisable to forsake houses, lands, etc., in order to provide for real success, lasting success (Mark 10:29-30).

In Luke 16:19-31, the Lord told the story of two men. One was a success, the other a failure. Do we have trouble knowing which man was successful? Most folks in our society would probably be inclined to pick the wrong man — until verse 23 is read. Let it be clearly underscored that the rich man did not fail because he was rich, but his  riches may have been the by-product of wrong goal-setting. The poor man w. not saved because he was poor. There no virtue in poverty, nor is the necessarily sin in prosperity. But there virtue in finding contentment with one lot in life, be it little or plenty, Material gain is not the stuff real success is made of, because material gain is temporary today’s success in worldly endeavor may be tomorrow’s failure.

Jesus spoke in Luke 16:11 of true riches — alluding to eternal life in Heaven. Attainment of the true riches real success, has its basis in goal-setting and priorities, just as the attainment of material wealth does. To go to Heaven a person must set his mind on thing above, spiritual things (Colossians 3:2, He may be blessed with many earthly possessions, but the treasure of his heart is a home in Heaven. This treasure moth and rust cannot corrupt no thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). This is the treasure that death cannot take away from us. This is true success, offered to us and made avail able in Christ.

For the Israelites of his day, Joshua summed up the way to sure success “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8), We live in the day of a better law with better promises and a superior mediator (Hebrews 8:6). If we will meditate upon the precious gospel of Christ and follow its guidance, the goal of Heaven will be obtained. Jesus our forerunner has gone there already to make our reservation (Hebrews 6:19-20; John 14:1-3). Our success is assured, Real success. But if by ignoring the claims of Jesus and His gospel upon us, we refuse Him who speaks from Heaven (Hebrews 12:25), no matter what we may gain, we will miss the true riches (Matthew 16:26). With Christ we cannot fail; without Him we cannot succeed.

CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY, 1984