SUCCESS

He must increase, but I must decrease” – John 3:30.

INTRODUCTION

To what extent should Christ’s followers today pursue success? John’s declaration that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) seems to repudiate the idea of personal achievement, recognition, or material gain – common measures of success in our society. Indeed, John himself showed none of the outward trappings of a successful ministry

So should believers avoid success as the world defines it? Can people be successful in their careers as well as their spiritual lives, or are the two mutually exclusive? Some Christians say that success on the job creates credibility for them to talk about Christ with coworkers. Others, however, claim that they no interest in being successful. But is that a genuine conviction, or are they merely avoiding the rough-and-tumble of a competitive marketplace? Would God prefer that His people be failures on the job, in society, or in life?

Questions like these barely scratch the surface of the complex, emotional issue of success. The people of Jesus’ day were no less interested in prospering than we are, even if they defined success in slightly different terms. So it’s not surprising that Scripture speaks to human ambition and achievement. It seems to affirm at least three important principles, as illustrated by John the Baptist:

1) Success is always measured by a set of standards established by some person or group. Many people of John’s day felt that they were assured of the blessing they were descendants of Abraham. Their religious leaders aggressively promoted and reinforced that idea (Matthew 3:7-9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39). John challenged them to reconsider that way of thinking. What mattered, he said, was faith in Jesus. That was the ultimate criterion by which God would measure people’s lives. Thus, unbelief would result in the ultimate failure – eternal death.

2)Why and how we pursue success is just as important as whether or not we achieve it. John’s listeners were ordinary people caught up in the everyday scramble to get ahead. But in their pursuit of gain they tended to ignore the needs of others and to take unethical shortcuts. John challenged them to make internal changes (that is, to repent) and to demonstrate those changes in their day-to-day responsibilities through charity, honesty, and justice (Luke 3:8, 10-14).

John himself was able to carry out his ministry because he had the right perspective on the assignment that God had given him. He recognized that he was merely a forerunner.

God would measure people’s lives. Thus, unbelief would result in the ultimate failure – eternal death.

3)Why and how we pursue success is just as important as whether or not we achieve it. John’s listeners were ordinary people caught up in the everyday scramble to get ahead. But in their pursuit of gain they tended to ignore the needs of others and to take unethical shortcuts. John challenged them to make internal changes (that is, to repent) and to demonstrate those changes in their day-to-day responsibilities through charity, honesty, and justice (Luke 3:8, 10-14).

John himself was able to carry out his ministry because he had the right perspective on the assignment that God had given him. He recognized that he was merely a forerunner to the Christ, not the Christ Himself (John 3:28-29). He knew that Jesus’ ministry was going to grow and expand, slowly eliminating the need for John – hence his statement that “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

God would measure people’s lives. Thus, unbelief would result in the ultimate failure – eternal death.

4)Why and how we pursue success is just as important as whether or not we achieve it. John’s listeners were ordinary people caught up in the everyday scramble to get ahead. But in their pursuit of gain they tended to ignore the needs of others and to take unethical shortcuts. John challenged them to make internal changes (that is, to repent) and to demonstrate those changes in their day-to-day responsibilities through charity, honesty, and justice (Luke 3:8, 10-14).

John himself was able to carry out his ministry because he had the right perspective on the assignment that God had given him. He recognized that he was merely a forerunner to the Christ, not the Christ Himself (John 3:28-29). He knew that Jesus’ ministry was going to grow and expand, slowly eliminating the need for John – hence his statement that “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

5) Obtaining success always carries a cost. John warned the people of God’s judgement using a simple, well-known image: “Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). Just as lumberjack would lay his ax at the foot of a tree while he decided which trees in a forest to cut, so God had sent John and Jesus as His final messengers before letting His judgement fall.

The people could choose what they wanted to do – whether to continue in their self-satisfied ways of unbelief, or turn toward God in repentance and obedience. Either way, there would be a cost involved. Unfortunately, most of them chose to reject John’s message and later Jesus’ message, with tragic results (see “Jerusalem Surrounded” at Luke 21:20).

For John, the cost of faithfully proclaiming his message was imprisonment and, eventually, execution (Matthew 14:1-12). Yet he gained a treasure all out of proportion to the price of martyrdom – the praise of Christ (11:7-11).

So should believers pursue success? Judging from the experience of John the Baptist and the people who followed him, the issue seems to be not so much whether we should pursue it, but how. In light of John’s message, it’s worth considering three crucial questions:

  • Who sets the standards by which I measure success?
  • What are my motives and behavior in pursuing success?
  • What price am I willing to pay to achieve success?

Solomon is a case study in how a person can be successful in terms of power, wealth, and prestige, yet lack the true success that comes from knowing and honouring God the way someone should. See “Solomon: Successful but Not Satisfied” at 2 Chronicles 1:1.

Jesus told a parable in which He showed that “True Success Means Faithfulness.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Culled from The Word in Life Study Bible.

A Hymn A Day:

I Want A Principle Within – MHB 626

  1. I want a principle within
    Of jealous, godly fear,
    A sensibility of sin,
    A pain to feel it near.
  2. I want the first approach to feel
    Of pride or fond desire,
    To catch the wandering of my will,
    And quench the kindling fire.
  3. That I from Thee no more may part,
    No more thy goodness grieve,
    The filial awe, the fleshly heart
    The tender conscience give.
  4. Quick as the apple of an eye,
    O God, my conscience make;
    Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
    And keep it still awake.
  5. O may the least omission pain
    My well instructed soul,
    And drive me to that blood again,
    Which makes the wounded whole.

Charles Wesley, 1707-88 

Stay blessed!
Please continue to join us on Asempa 94.7 FM – Sundays 5.30 am.,
Sunny 88.7 FM – Tuesdays 5:30 am; and
Uniiq 95.7 Fm – Saturdays 7:30 pm; for our Radio Bible Study as well as Sunny FM 88.7 FM every Sunday at 3:30 pm. for Hymn and their Stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *