First, a sermon on the subject of success, preached last Sunday (January 6) at my church.
The man who preached this is pastor of central operations. (My church is part of a multi-site megachurch.) He has been preaching, teaching… and accounting… for this church for nearly two decades. He brings a unique perspective: he is Jewish, having grown up in a Jewish family in Boston. He converted to Christ in college after encountering fellow students belonging to Campus Crusade for Christ who witnessed to him. For years he has referred to himself as the church’s “Jewish bookkeeper”. As far as his sermons and public ministry go, he has also been the resident Old Testament scholar and Hebrew language specialist. (I have heard many of those sermons over the years. I think every congregation should be so blessed as to have a Jewish bookkeeper who also preaches and teaches!)
You’ll notice he defines “success in God’s eyes” as integrity, excellence and obedience to God–in all circumstances. His primary exemplars for this are Joseph (Old Testament) and Paul (New Testament). You’ll also notice the absence of money and personal wealth and prosperity in this definition.
Spiritual Rags to Riches in Glory
The sermon dovetails nicely (though not explicitly) with the principles and teachings of another man who, though not a pastor or ordained minister or elder, has devoted his life and calling to exploring–and explaining–what the Bible teaches on practical matters such as wealth, success and individual and corporate obedience to God in all areas of life and in every sphere of our existence, including our institutions (family, church and state), with special emphasis on our stewardship of God’s resources: economics.
Of course I’m talking about Gary North.
Gary doesn’t preach on the subject of success. But he certainly does write about it — in prodigious amounts — with the intent of expounding everything the Bible has to say on the subject.
Case in point: about ten years ago he wrote a book: The Five Pillars of Biblical Success.
If you want instant, Bible-based gratification, you can click here for a free PDF download of the book:
His thesis is similar to the thesis of all of his other books: namely, that not only is the Bible our final authority on any given subject — remember Van Til’s famously uncompromising proposition: “The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.” — but there is a five-point covenant model governing any and all areas of life having a covenantal basis to them. Obedience to this model brings blessing (success), and disobedience to it brings cursing (failure).
That includes all of our institutions, and it also includes our concept and definition of success.
Actually, our concept and definition of success are fatally flawed: they’re not based on the premise that all success depends on the absolute sovereignty of God and on nothing else. Success, as North says, is a gift that depends on God’s grace, much like salvation. He grants it. We receive it.
Fortunately (for us), we have a consistent and predictable way and means of achieving “success” in His eyes and in this world. It is called His Covenant. Specifically, it is called obedience to His Covenant.
This is what Joseph and Paul (and so many others in Scripture) demonstrated, and it is what we are to emulate.
North’s over-arching point — as it is in all of his books and articles — is that, in the long term, covenant-keepers will enjoy temporal as well as eternal success, and covenant-breakers will, ultimately, suffer both temporal and eternal failure and loss.
That’s putting it mildly.
Granted, in the short term, this situation is often flipped, with covenant-breakers frequently enjoying temporal triumph and success, and covenant-keepers suffering continual temporal loss and defeat.
The “injustice” of this is made even more demoralizing (and success-attenuating) when you couple it with an eschatology of defeat–the doctrine of the church and Gospel in history (pre-Second Advent) losing to Satan: amillennialism and premillennialism.
Combine these two ingredients and you have a recipe for individual and corporate impotence and large-scale cultural defeat. Under such a scheme, the only success that really matters is eternal and spiritual. Temporal, earthly success becomes merely a cheap and inferior (and even satanic) substitute.
Success: A Covenantal Perspective
Reading Dr. North’s book, however, you find that looking at success through covenantal eyes changes your perspective–and therefore your actions.
In its opening pages, North makes no bones about what the first of those “actions” should be:
The first public step in the application of the first principle of success in history is to rest one day in seven.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:9–11).
The second step is to tithe the required 10 percent. Tithing is the beginning of the process, not the end.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone (Matthew 23:23).
The third and subsequent steps are not to leave the other things undone.
The first principle—a day of rest—should remind us that success is not earned. It is instead received. Success is based entirely on grace, and in no way on works—at least not our autonomous works. Success is a gift undeserved by its recipients.
All the other action steps, biblically speaking, flow from this “first principle” and out of this “beginning of the process”.
So, here is my recommendation. If you are someone who makes “New Year’s Resolutions”, I think the best resolution you could make for 2019 is this:
Resolve to be a “success in God’s eyes” — the way He defines success and the way he prescribes achieving (receiving) it — by first understanding what constitutes biblical success, and then by acting in obedience to this revealed truth.
A simple (though not necessarily easy) way to begin this process is by reading Dr. North’s book. It isn’t very long, at least by North’s standards — a mere pamphlet, a tract — about 160 pages.
Then do what it says.
Remember this basic principle: obedience to God’s covenant brings blessing; disobedience brings cursing. Choose you this day which one you would like to receive!
Here’s the link again:
I wish you much success — “in God’s eyes” and the way He defines it — in 2019.