Monday, May 07, 2007

What does the Bible say about success? Part 1

2 Timothy 1 gives an outline of Paul's success formula. There are three parts to it:
  1. Courageous enthusiasm (v. 1-7)
  2. Shameless suffering (v. 8-12)
  3. Spiritual loyalty (v. 13-18)
Paul was admonishing Timothy to be enthusiastic about the Gospel even when it meant facing persecution. If Christians are to be successful in their own lives, the Gospel must be core to the message of their lives and must go before their own pride.

Paul suffered greatly in his life and in his ministry. Suffering included being locked in chain, torture, loss of rights, and--worst of all--abandonment from people he called friends. It really seems to me that the abandonment hurt Paul the most. He longed throughout this letter for his friend Timothy to hurry to be by his side. While this suffering was difficult for Paul, it was through suffering that Paul found success in his ministry. Paul wore suffering for the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a badge of honor.

Enthusiasm and suffering were not, in themselves, guarantees of success. Paul added one more key principle that connect the first two. That is spiritual loyalty. It does no good to be a flash in the pan with enthusiasm. If is needless suffering if one only gives in to the things of this world in the end. One must through all things maintain a solid sense of loyalty to the message of the Gospel and to following the ministry that the Spirit lay before each person. It is in this that Christians find success.

Notice that Paul is hurt most by those that abandoned him for the things of this world. In chapter 4, he mentions by name Demus, who left him for nothing more that to pursue the "things of this world." How often to we as American parents encourage our children to put the things of this world ahead of spiritual matters?

About a year ago, I probed a bunch of church leaders about this. I asked two questions: "Have you ever told your children that they could not go to a church function because their school work was not done?" and "Have you ever told your children to put off doing schoolwork because your children needed to focus on a spiritual issue?" To the first question, nearly ever person in the room raised their hands. Nobody raised their hand on the second question. Now in reality, there are some things that are based on a time-table and must be done in a certain sequence. Homework is often this sort of thing, while going to youth group offers much greater flexibility.

Still the answer to the second question bothers me more. There are certain spiritual windows that open only for a short while. I wonder how many Christian parents really take advantage of those windows. It seems to me that we are so afraid of loosing the worldly advantages that come with good grades, or we fear the trouble that we will receive when confronted by a teacher who has not spiritual concern for our children. In short, we teach our children to abandon spiritual things, for the advantages of worldly things.

Enthusiasm, suffering and loyalty must go together in teaching our children. We can't teach them to be enthusiastic alone and expect that they will be loyal to the Lord in the end. If we want our children to succeed, we must teach them to be so loyal to their faith that suffering will most definitely be a part of their lives. After all, good grade in school, may gain them admittance to an excellent University for four years; however, loyalty to God has eternal implications. Moreover, if their gpa falls from a 3.8 to a 3.1, there will still be many good Universities willing to continue the academic training of your child. However, there is only one Eternity worthy of pursuit. That is the eternity with God that comes through faith and loyalty to Him.