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What is True Success?

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The rewards abounding in our thrill-seeking culture appeal to billions around the world. But what truly defines success? Wealth? Status? Physical pleasure? Most people want success in life. But what is true success, and will you ever achieve it?


The rewards abounding in our thrill-seeking culture appeal to billions around the world. But what truly defines success? Wealth? Status? Physical pleasure? What is true success and will you ever achieve it?

Most people want success in life. But what defines success? For millions, financial gains define success. In Spring 2000, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and NASDAQ indicators reached a peak. Technology stocks were climbing in price, and investors were enjoying their elevator lift to higher value. But from March 24, 2000 to November 17, 2000, the market plunged—and the total paper value of stocks lost an incredible 2.4 trillion dollars (USA Today, November 11, 2000, p. B3).

Consumer confidence plunged. Retirement accounts plummeted in value. Many dreams of wealth and material security were shattered, confirming the wise words of King Solomon thousands of years before, who urged that we: "do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:4–5).

Over a period of several months in the year 2000, $2.4 trillion made wings and flew away. Many whose security was in their bank accounts were crushed by this downturn. But where is your security? What is your idea of success? In this article, we will see what the Bible says about three common criteria for success—wealth, status and sensual pleasure—and we will see how these contrast with true success.

Wealth and Possessions

Are this world's wealthy tycoons its most successful individuals? Should we look to their examples as our model? God certainly wants us to be faithful stewards. He wants us to use natural resources and our God-given talents to help others. He expects that we will work to earn a living and provide for our family. The Apostle Paul gave this counsel: "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12).

But does the possession of great wealth bring true happiness and success? Ancient King Solomon was extremely wealthy and wise. From his point of view, he had everything—there was nothing in the world that he could not have. According to 1 Kings 11:3, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! Did Solomon achieve the epitome of happiness? He wrote: "I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me" (Ecclesiastes 2:7–9).

Solomon was striving to experience "life to the full." But what was the result of his experience? "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11). The NIV states it this way: "everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

The wisest and wealthiest man of his time concluded that all his treasure did not produce lasting happiness. He experienced temporary satisfaction, but all of his pleasure and wealth amounted to "vanity and grasping for the wind"—to futility or grasping for the elusive. Solomon did not achieve true success through accumulating wealth, because his possessions produced nothing of lasting value! When you die, you do not "take it with you." In his wisdom, Solomon saw that human activity apart from God amounts to vanity—meaninglessness and futility.

Many years ago, I had a friend who graduated number one in his economics class from an eastern university. He had his Corvette convertible, his women and his wine. But he confided in me that something was missing. His wealth and business success did not bring him happiness. We all must learn that fundamental lesson of life. In the book of Luke, Jesus gave what is called the parable of the rich fool. See if this parable does not describe the attitudes of our 21st century. "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry"'" (Luke 12:16–19).

This rich man placed his confidence in the security of his possessions, which let him indulge in life's pleasures. But notice the wake-up call immediately afterward: "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20–21). We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, as we learn from 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10. Now is the time to repent of our covetousness, lust and greed.

In his article titled "Civilizing Greed," Dinesh D'Souza writes of a "resurgence of greed in the new economy" as he discusses entrepreneurial capitalism. "More than any other social type, except perhaps the clergy, the entrepreneur is in everyday conduct oriented to the noble task of helping and serving others.… An entrepreneur's profit is merely the register of how much he has improved the lives of his fellow human beings" ("Civilizing Greed," Dinesh D'Souza, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 11, 2001, p. G1).

Can entrepreneurs—indeed all businessmen, and all of us—live up to such a standard? Can we follow the second "Great Commandment," which Jesus Christ gave in Matthew 22:39, that: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"?

D'Souza wrote that Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Built to Last, "indignantly asked: 'What happened to the early Silicon Valley ideal of making better products and lasting companies so that the world would be a better place?' Collins charged that today's entrepreneurs have simply lost their sense of higher purpose. 'All that you greedy capitalists want,' he complained, 'is to go out and make obscene amounts of money'" (Ibid.)

It appears that "greed is in," but we might ask: "Was it ever out?" You might recall the 1987 movie Wall Street, in which Michael Douglas, playing financier Gordon Gekko, philosophized that "greed is good"—a statement adapted from a real-life commencement address given by U.S. financier Ivan F. Boesky, who told graduating UC Berkeley students that: "Greed is all right, by the way… I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself."

The Bible strongly condemns this philosophy, reminding us that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10). You cannot be greedy and still feel good about yourself. Covetousness, or greed, is called idolatry in Colossians 3:5. The worship of wealth is considered idolatry, which is sin, bringing the penalty of death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Putting your trust in financial gain leads to pain, sorrow, idolatry and death. As Jesus said: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). What does your life consist of? Are you falling into the traps of greed and lust for wealth? Are you trying to be rich? As many stock market investors have found out, Proverbs 23:5 certainly rings true, "for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven."

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon wrote lasting lessons to which we should pay heed. He begins the book with these words: "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 'Vanity of vanities,' says the Preacher; 'vanity of vanities, all is vanity.' What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:1–4).

The word "vanity" or "vanities" occurs 35 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. This theme of futility, and meaninglessness is illustrated throughout the book. Have you ever felt that life had no meaning, or that life was a drudgery? Solomon continues: "All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing" (Ecclesiastes 1:8, NRSV).

Is mankind ever satisfied? Does he ever get "enough"? Vanity, in the context of Ecclesiastes, is anything that does not have lasting value! But God has created every human being to have lasting value. The key to true success is to understand what life is all about! Why are we here on earth? What is our ultimate destiny? The Tomorrow's World magazine and telecast can help you understand the answers to these vital questions.

Status, Power and Position

Worldly wisdom teaches us to climb to the top of the corporate ladder at others' expense, no matter what it takes to get there. Many are attracted toward high position in society. Even the mother of James and John, two of Jesus' disciples, came to Him and asked that her sons be given a high position in His kingdom. "She said to Him, 'Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.' But Jesus answered and said, 'You do not know what you ask'" (Matthew 20:21–22). He explained that these positions were for ones chosen and prepared by God the Father. (v. 23)

Jesus then offered a key to true success. "You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25–28).

Who would be the greatest? The one in a high government position lording it over others? No! The greatest is a true servant—one who truly cares for and helps others! Notice that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, took little children up in His arms. He stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples (see John 13). Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for us all! "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus' example was one of service, sacrifice and love. "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10).

Whatever position one may hold in this life, it will never bring true success unless it is used in service toward others. Jesus gave the principle of service: "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). And notice this warning for those who want the chief seat: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (v. 12). One of the measures of true success is the degree of service one is willing to give. False success depends on the get principle—the default characteristic of human nature!

Intellectual prowess—accumulating knowledge—is another false measure of success. God wants us to use our minds to learn true values and true knowledge. Unless one has chosen biblical humility, his material knowledge may lead to intellectual vanity—a feeling of superiority and even of arrogance. Knowledge puffs up, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1. Today's common anti-God forms of education are simply vanity. Paul wrote: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their own craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile'" (1 Corinthians 3:18–20). How many times have you seen so-called "experts" use their expertise to pervert or dismiss the plain truth of Scripture? Truly, "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." Writing to the Greek Corinthians (who, as he observed earlier, "seek after wisdom") Paul wrote: "For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:22–25).

True knowledge—lasting knowledge as opposed to vanity—is available only to those who humble themselves to live by God's wisdom rather than the world's. As Jesus prayed: "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes" (Matthew 11:25). Babes in Christ will have the greater wisdom and understanding. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).

Pursuit of Sensual Pleasure

Some seek pleasure as life's ultimate goal. King Solomon, who "had it all," wrote: "I said in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure'; but surely, this also was vanity" (Ecclesiastes 2:1). Today's society seeks pleasure through sexual licentiousness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and every imaginable form of stimulation. The Apostle John warned: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15–17). True success is lasting—it does not pass away—but lust and pride will meet their end, and those who embrace these will pay the price.

Sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase in the United States. The book of Proverbs contains a father's warning to his son, urging him to avoid harlots. "For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell.… Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house lest… you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed" (Proverbs 5:3–11).

Millions—even billions—are deceived by sexual temptations. They are sowing to the flesh and, as Galatians 6:8 warns, of the flesh they will reap corruption. But God intends us to experience sexual pleasure in marriage. He wants us to enjoy life to the full within His laws and His precepts. Jesus Christ came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). God's way brings fun today without bringing regret and suffering tomorrow. "The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it" (Proverbs 10:22).

After all of King Solomon's experimentation, he came to a final conclusion. "And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:12–14). The NRSV states it this way: "Fear God, and keep His commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone."

Some religions teach that it is impossible to keep God's commandments. They invent amazing interpretations to excuse their lack of submission to God and Christ. Yet as the Apostle Paul stated: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). The Bible reveals the unseen and immutable laws of life. When we are in harmony with those principles and instructions, we are blessed. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, you will find that obedience to God's way of life brings blessings, and disobedience to His way of life brings curses. The world's criteria for success—possessions, power, position and pleasure—only bring pain, suffering, failure and death. Those whose measure of success is self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and self-centeredness harm themselves and others.

True success comes only through the Savior of the world, who taught us to live by every word of God. When we do that through the power of the Holy Spirit—God's gift to those who repent and are baptized—we live truly happy and successful lives, and help others into the kingdom of God and the family of God. Jesus told His disciples: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). We strive to do that in this magazine. The Tomorrow's World telecast, magazine, Bible Study Course and all our other free booklets and tapes are dedicated to educating all who will listen to biblical truth, so that they may be successful in this life, inherit the kingdom and experience true success for all eternity.

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