What You Need to Know about the Dangers of Success
- Timothy Keller TimothyKeller.com
- 2017 3 Aug
In Judges 7, under Gideon’s leadership, God gives his people a victory over the occupying Midianites with an army of 300 men, none of whom end up actually fighting. God does it this way to show his people that he is the rescuer; God’s people don’t rescue themselves. But Gideon soon forgets “the lesson of the 300.” When in the next chapter two towns—Succoth and Peniel—refuse to support him as he pursues the fleeing Midianites (8 v 6, 8), Gideon responds with furious threats (v 7, 9).\
Gideon’s anger shows that he expects to be given glory for his achievements (which he is forgetting were, in fact, God’s). When Succoth and Peniel fail to trust that Gideon will triumph over Midian, he does not say to them: Yes, I know it is hard to believe we can beat them. But God in his grace is using us to win the battle, so don’t trust my strength, but do trust in his. Instead, he says: You dare to doubt me? I’ll show you my power when I get back. You’ll learn to have respect for me.
And so, when he has returned from again routing a far stronger force with his three hundred men, and capturing Zebah and Zalmanna (v 10-12), Gideon is as good as his word. He “taught the men of Succoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers” (v 16). In Peniel, things are even worse—he “pulled down the tower … and killed the men of the town” (v 17).
Gideon’s need for respect and honor—and his violent, bitter rage when he fails to be given what he thinks he deserves—shows that his success in battle has been the worst thing for him. He has become addicted to and dependent on his success.
The Danger of Blessings
There is a terrible spiritual danger involved in the receiving of any blessing. Success can easily cause us to forget God’s grace, because our hearts are desperate to believe that we can save ourselves. God-given victory can easily be used to confirm the belief that, in fact, we have earned blessing for ourselves, and should receive the praise and glory for that success.
For example, imagine a man who works extremely hard at his job because he needs to prove himself through financial success. What is the worst thing that can happen to him? The obvious answer is career failure. Of course, someone who is basing their happiness and identity on their work will be devastated by career failure. But at least, through the failure, he may stop idolizing career advancement. He may realize that status and money could never fulfill him. No, the worst thing that can happen to him is career success. Success will only confirm his belief that he can fulfill himself and control his own life. He will be more a slave to success and money than if he failed. He will feel proud and superior to others. He will expect deference and “bowing and scraping” from others.
Back in 7:15, when Gideon knew his own weakness and understood that victory could only be by grace, he worshiped and honored God. But that is the last time we see him doing that. Now, he worships success and the honor it will bring him. He has entirely forgotten who it is that called him, equipped him, reassured him, and won the battle for him. We, too, find it all too easy to forget that everything about our salvation, and all of our good works, are gifts of grace, not of our own success—that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10). We need to remember that we are saved by grace when we fail. But we need to remember it much more when we succeed.
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
This is an excerpt from Dr Keller’s new resource, Judges For You.
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was pastor of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Virginia, for nine years before founding Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons.
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Publication date: August 3, 2017