Success—At All Costs?
THE determination to succeed indicates that one has a definite goal. What is your goal in life? What are you prepared to do in order to achieve it? Indeed, what should be your foremost pursuit in order to be truly satisfied and happy?
In many Third World lands, the general standard of living leaves much to be desired. In view of problems faced there, considering appropriate counsel from God’s Word will help us to evaluate better our own goals and success, no matter where we live.
With poverty abounding, many people have pursued financial success to the exclusion of everything else. Some resort to dishonesty so as to achieve this. On becoming true Christians, though, they should have left this attitude permanently behind in order to conform to the Bible’s righteous standards.
However, even some Christians get caught up again in aiming at worldly goals. They may fall into unchristian conduct to achieve success. Parents neglect their families. Individuals neglect their service to God. What do you think would be the result as to satisfaction in life and happiness?
Alerting us to the result, the Bible warns: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires . . . For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
“All sorts of injurious things.” ‘Stabbed all over with many pains.’ That certainly does not sound like a description of satisfaction and happiness, does it? Yet, the experience of millions of people throughout the centuries, even right up to today, proves how true that Bible statement is. What, then, does this recommend as to a Christian’s goals and life course?
In what ways can Christians be led astray from the faith? Some have gone as far as to reject totally godly morals and beliefs. In other cases individuals have been sidetracked from the course of godly devotion, even exploiting such devotion as a means to gain influence over others. So the Bible speaks of “men corrupted in mind and despoiled of the truth, thinking that godly devotion is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5) While not wholly abandoning Christianity, they may find themselves violating Bible principles that are essential elements of the Christian faith.
Jesus told his followers not to be like people of the world who lord it over others. He said: “This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister.” In condemning Jewish religious leaders, Jesus went still further. He indicated that great love of worldly prestige earns God’s disapproval. (Matthew 20:26; 23:6-9, 33) Thus, Christians should seek to serve one another rather than to outshine or dominate others. The lover of money who seeks success at all costs can be easily led astray from this course.
How do you compare in this regard? Do you find yourself measuring your success by the extent to which you exert authority over others? Do you manipulate or bend Christian principles and doctrines in order to assert authority or to acquire it? Do you feel that you must achieve more than your peers no matter what the cost? Do you take great pleasure in talking about your wealth or career attainments? If so, then you need to analyze whether you are being led astray from the faith.
The Pains of “Success”
Jesus also said: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . You cannot slave for God and for Riches.” (Matthew 6:19-24) Are parents who direct their children primarily toward material goals and worldly careers following this counsel? Is emphasis on worldly success worth the cost if children abandon the truth and adopt unchristian life-styles? Is it worth it to sacrifice or, at the least, to jeopardize their spiritual lives for the sake of “treasures upon the earth”? Parents who do this often find even they are ‘stabbed all over with many pains’ out of concern for their children and of regret over the spiritual—and sometimes physical—loss of them.
The love of riches is a demanding master. It exacts people’s time, strength, and abilities; and it chokes out godly devotion. It usually entices people to seek even greater wealth and worldly prestige, thus drawing them ever further from the faith. The Bible rightly says: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income.”—Ecclesiastes 5:10.
Even after becoming a Christian, one African businessman’s love for financial success kept on taking first place in his life. He neglected Christian activities in favor of social visits with worldly business associates. He made no spiritual progress, despite efforts by elders of his congregation to help him. He thus found himself in a spiritual quandary—in a no-man’s-land where he was hardly a Christian yet wanted to be recognized as one. All of us can appreciate that his situation was not conducive to deep satisfaction in life or to lasting happiness.
Such persons are bound to face spiritual pains. Business and social interaction with people who have few scruples about honesty or sexual morality exposes one to unwholesome influences. Christians who are thus exposed have to fight against these influences and usually have a struggle with their conscience. Some eventually become like their associates and are totally led astray from the faith. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Of what benefit is financial success that leads to such spiritual and moral failure? As Jesus said: “What benefit will it be to a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?”—Matthew 16:26.
A Better Kind of Success
Experience has confirmed that it is wise to heed this Bible counsel: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but . . . prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Yes, we are wise if we do not copy the world or pine for what it has to offer. Our prime concern should be for God’s approval, which cannot be obtained by pursuing the things of the world.—Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15, 16.
Jesus illustrated this with a farmer who trusted in his wealth but to whom God said: “Unreasonable one, this night they are demanding your soul from you. Who, then, is to have the things you stored up?” Summarizing his illustration, Jesus said: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” Jesus was showing that “even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.”—Luke 12:15-21.
Jesus used the living example of a rich young ruler to show the same thing. This man was successful in a worldly sense, and he evidently wanted to be morally upright. However, Jesus did not hold him out as a symbol of success. Rather, Jesus said it would be difficult for such people “to make their way into the kingdom of God.” Most people in that situation are not prepared to sacrifice materialistic interests and to seek God’s Kingdom as the primary goal in their lives.—Luke 18:18-30.
Further emphasizing the priority of spiritual interests, Jesus said: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” So, even with regard to necessary things, we must have our priorities right. For us to be truly successful—to achieve happiness and find genuine satisfaction—the spiritual must come ahead of the material.—Matthew 6:31-33.
Keep Seeking Spiritual Success
So the wise course obviously is to seek success by pursuing God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. This involves studying the Bible so as to “prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” His will involves your putting his service first in your life, your having a full share in the Christian ministry, your not neglecting Christian meetings, and your leading a morally upright life in harmony with God’s righteousness. These things should not be set aside for, or overshadowed by, materialistic interests. This was what was implied by Jesus’ counsel to the rich young ruler: “Sell all the things you have and distribute to poor people, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come be my follower.”—Romans 12:2; Luke 18:22.
In doing this, you will be building up your own spirituality and that of your family. Instead of becoming high-minded or resting your hope on uncertain riches, you will be among those who are “rich in fine works, . . . safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.” Yes, your goal can be everlasting life in the restored earthly Paradise because “the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” There is no greater success that you could ever achieve.—1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 John 2:17.
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Is money the key?
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Will parents send their children off to pursue success through higher education?