We recently spent an hour on my radio show talking with various authors about “success.” Always seeking God’s Word on any subject before lifting up the precepts of man, I did an online search for incidences of the word “success” in some of the more popular Bible translations, and the results were compelling. 

Search for the word “success” in the NIV, and you’ll find 23 instances in the Old Testament, with virtually no uses of the word in the New Testament! Search the Revised Standard and English Standard Versions, and it’s only 10 instances each—but again, none in the New Testament! Nearly every reference in these translations features, either someone praying to God for success, or others speaking of those who had see success because the Lord was with him. One thing seemed fairly consistent: the older the translation, the fewer Greek or Hebrew words that were translated as “success.”

Could this be, perhaps, a reflection of—or, part of the reason for—our uneasiness with the word? Could this be part of our discomfort with even the concept of “success” in the church? Surely, we realize that—apart from Jesus—we can do nothing; He reminds us of that fact in John’s gospel, the 15th chapter. But are we at peace with the idea of being successful? Or, does something in our minds—I dunno, jealousy perhaps—whisper in our ear that, if someone is successful, he must have compromised somewhere along the way?

Of course, there are legitimate reasons to be suspicious of anyone in the church who talks a little too much about “success” or “prosperity.” The Bible has more to say about stewardship than any other issue, and it’s easy to “read into” those passages just about anything you want to. The most recent example, perhaps, was our enchantment with the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles. Many joyfully received the notion of boldly praying for blessing and increase, but missed the point that Jabez’s petition was part of his broader life of devotion to God. Jabez’s prayer was for God’s power in achieving God’s will, not just his own. Truly, for a believer, success and prosperity are linked to being in line with God’s great design. 

By the world’s standards, “success” is the reward of the self-made man, achieved by whatever means necessary. Its trappings are wealth, fame, power, and influence. The Biblical standard of success, however, is contentment…achieved through a lifestyle of selflessness, delayed gratification, and steadfast faithfulness. There are Biblical rewards to be gained, for sure: crowns of life, glory, and righteousness that we will—one day—place at the feet of our King, acknowledging that they, too, were but unmerited gifts of grace.

So, as we pursue both earthly—and eternal—success, we remember that that true success resides only in an eternal relationship with our God, who is eager to give us the desire of our hearts, as they align with His good and perfect will.

2 Timothy 4:7-8