The word “success” doesn’t actually appear in the New Testament, in any of the many translations I searched. And the Old Testament word that occasionally gets translated “succeed” or “success” seems better rendered “prosper” or “prospering”—and over and over again, it’s God who’s doing the prospering, of people and their endeavors. (“Unless the Lord builds the house…” “Unless the LORD watches over the city…”)

However, Jesus did address financial success:

  • He told a rich young ruler to give away all of his.
  • Right after He prospered that bunch of fishermen with a haul too huge to handle, He told them to relinquish the pile and leave it behind.
  • He likewise summoned Matthew the tax collector away from his tableful of funds.
  • And He told all His disciples not to worry about even what they’d eat or wear the next day, but to trust God to supply all they needed. (Thinking about all the above together as I was preparing for this post, I wondered if He did the fish miracle purposely to bring to life his teaching of “Don’t worry about money,” proving “God will supply.”)
  • He gave them a practical assignment to see this truth in action by sending them out without any provisions, and let them witness God’s supplying all they needed as they went.
  • He even pointed out that serving money and serving God were diametrically opposed, the one in utter conflict with the other, so that it was impossible actually to serve both. He even personified money as a figurative sort of false god, named Mammon.

Hm. So much for the ambition to become a multi-billionaire—or even to make “enough money” your focus.

What about recognition and fame, and people’s good opinion?

  • He taught His followers to pray their prayers and give their charitable gifts secretly, out of public view.
  • He criticized the showy givers and good-deed doers, and asked such people this biting question: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44 NET).

What about success in other areas we think are critically important?

Like success in family life? (This one gets really ouchy…)

  • He declared He didn’t come to bring familial peace, but “a sword,” dividing family members from one another, two against three and three against two, with a person’s enemies being members of his own household (Lk 12:51-53).
  • He told someone shouting from the crowd about a family dispute (over Mammon, oh, my!) that He didn’t come to be a family arbiter either.
  • He even said that to be His follower would require choosing Him over beloved family members and household possessions like land holdings.

Wow. None of this looks like what we would call success, does it?

But I’m guessing most everybody reading this knew these teachings, or most of them. We just don’t put them together and take them life-seriously, do we?

But Jesus did. As He walked the earth, He lived out these peculiar principles Himself:

  • He left all the riches of Heaven and hauled around no mass of provisions with Him, even for the hungry crowds who would follow Him.
  • He sought neither the good opinion of human rulers, nor the applause of the crowds, but rather did what would please the Father.
  • He refused to abuse His abilities or position by turning stones into bread for Himself or taking showy risks like diving off the pinnacle of the temple or bowing down to anyone other than God to gain power over peoples in the world

We might expect this of our Savior, but the idea of us really living this way? Of even being able to do it? It’s so “upside down” in relation to our natural human desires, goals, and ambitions that someone even wrote a book about it called The Upside Down Kingdom.

Yet, here’s the thing. This upside-down-ness is what Jesus declared would bring His followers wondrous, joyous, and long-lasting success.

He also set forth clear goals to work toward. We’ll look toward some in Part Two


For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.