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Success! What is it?

Have you ever wondered what the Bible says about success? I was asked one day by a co-worker a couple years back to define success. I had to think about it. I knew vaguely what the world would consider success, but I didn't agree at all with that definition because I thought from a spiritual perspective. So I began to pray that God would show me what He considered to be the definition of success. That same evening as I read my Bible, He did just that. I was reading in Philippians chapter 3, and since I happened to be with that same co-worker, I showed her what God had showed me in the Bible about success. If we take a look at what the Bible says here we shall see something that might be considered interesting by some, challenging by others, and enlightening by still others.

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Philippians 3:1-6

As we look at this passage we can begin to see what the world might see as success. Paul was a successful man by the world's standards before he was converted. He had reached the top in his field, the best of the best. He had everything he could have wanted from his job: fame, position, influence, power, respect of his peers, fear from his enemies. Now, I doubt Paul was looking for those things, but he had them. This is what the world would have called success. But wait, let's look at what he has to say next.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3:7-12

What is this? Paul thinks that this kind of success is rubbish?! How is this true? Why is this true? Is this true? Verse 7 clearly identifies what the world would consider successful, when he says "whatever was to my profit..." but then he goes on to say that those things were for his loss. This is quite the conundrum now isn't it? But Paul expounds upon his confusing stance on this issue by stating that the only thing that is important in his life is simply to know Christ, to be found in Him and to have the righteousness that comes from knowing Him. This is why the world's concept of success is wrong - it doesn't save you in the end, it doesn't fulfill you in the end, only Jesus can do that. But let us not dwell too long here, but continue on to read what other thoughts Paul had on this intriguing matter.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:13-16

Here Paul continues to talk about true success, he just contrasted it with the world's success and we see how it is vastly superior. Now he expounds on it a little more. True success is the completion of a goal, but what is the goal? The goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And our reward for our efforts will be realized in Heaven. We may never achieve our goal on earth, like Paul said, "I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it..." But we still press forward, striving to achieve that goal, to be successful not in the profitable way the world would look at it but in the spiritual way that God looks at it. But how do we do this? How do we accomplish this goal? Read on my fellow traveler, read on.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:17-21

Paul identifies several things for our practical application - things to help us achieve our goal and thus be successful spiritually. First he tells us to get involved with Christian fellowship. Fellowship is more than just getting together with other Christians and hanging out. It involves a spiritual develepment of some kind. If the discussion is always of earthly things (ie: work, sports, weather, current events, other people, etc...) and not of Biblical or spiritual matters then it is not of much good towards your spiritual success. You must get together with other Christians and discuss the Bible, talk about it, share what God is sharing with you and with others. Challenge their thinking process, and be challenged in yours. Bear each other's burdens in love. Pray for each other, teach, disciple, encourage, and other such things.

The second thing he identified was like the first, seek out godly examples. I could not possibly be where I am spiritually without the godly examples of my parents. Find some good godly people and watch them. Talk to them, ask the questions, challenge them with some thought provoking topics and just learn whatever you can from them. And of course this includes the examples and the wisdom shared with us in Scripture. So read your Bible, study it, live in it. What else is there to talk about with these people than Scripture?

He also warns us of the outcome of living for a worldly successful life. He tells us that the end of that road leads only to destruction. We should avoid that route ourselves and choose not to look to those people for counsel, or for models either. We should build our life on better models instead.

And the last thing that Paul mentions is the life changing power of Jesus Christ to transform our lives. We have to let Him, and we have to invite Him to change us from the inside out. When we invite Him in to change us, then He will; but sometimes it will be difficult and it will cause us to take a hard look at all the things that we did not want to change. But if we want to be successfull we have to make sacrifices, how much better it will be for us if we sacrifice what weighs us down to gain what lifts us up.

Thanks for thinking about it.


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