In today’s materialistic and status-driven society, the temptation for many Christians is to pursue worldly measures of success – wealth, fame, power, and prestige. However, Scripture calls us to a very different understanding of success. As Christians, we are called to pursue godly success according to biblical values and standards, not worldly ones.
In this blog post, we will contrast worldly success and godly success and look at what the Bible teaches about true success in God’s eyes. We will examine questions like:
- What does it mean to succeed according to the world’s standards versus God’s standards?
- What are some examples of pursuing worldly success versus godly success?
- What are the dangers of seeking worldly success?
- What does the Bible teach about success, including passages from Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, and Epistles?
- How can Christians glorify God and store up eternal treasure through pursuing godly success?
- Worldly success is temporary, but godly success leads to eternal rewards
- Pursuing worldly success often leads us into temptation and sin, but godly success helps us walk closely with God
- True meaning and purpose in life is not found in worldly success, but in fulfilling God’s purposes
- God values different markers of success than the world – humility, faithfulness, righteousness
- We must regularly examine our hearts and motives to ensure we are not pursuing worldly idols
- Our works and accomplishments have value when they bring glory to God and serve His kingdom
Defining Worldly Success
To understand how godly success differs from worldly success, we first need to consider how the world defines success. What does it look like to “succeed” according to cultural standards and values?
For many people, success means:
- Pursuing and achieving wealth and financial gain
- Gaining power, influence, and prestige
- Being recognized and esteemed by others
- Achieving high status related to career, social circle, education, or other markers
- Being able to enjoy a comfortable, indulgent, pleasurable lifestyle
- Checking off life accomplishments and “bucket list” experiences
Essentially, worldly success emphasizes external rewards and validation. It prioritizes influence over others, temporal enjoyments, and self-glorification. Success is determined by comparison – are we achieving more, acquiring more, and being honored more than others? The goal becomes increasing one’s own fame, comfort, and power.
The Bible warns against defining success this way:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16 NKJV)
The Dangers of Seeking Worldly Success
Pursuing these kinds of worldly success often leads to negative spiritual outcomes:
1. We become prideful and self-focused. The accolades and affirmation of worldly success feeds our ego and self-importance. We begin to think more highly of ourselves and our own achievements.
2. We compromise godly values. In the quest for worldly gain, it’s easy to compromise integrity and morality. We are tempted to cut ethical corners, exploit others, and ignore the poor.
3. We become impatient and anxious. Comparing ourselves to worldly measures creates frustration. We anxiously strive for more and become unable to enjoy present blessings.
5. We conform to the world. When we chase worldly success, our thinking becomes molded by secular values. We lose sight of God’s priorities and purposes for our lives.
Ultimately, life transitions like aging, sickness, and death reveal the emptiness of a life lived mainly for worldly success. At the end of our lives, worldly accomplishments and trophies ring hollow. We can’t take them with us!
God’s Definition of Success
Thankfully, God gives us an alternative – pursuing success according to His purposes and values. So how does God define success?
The Bible shows us that godly success involves:
- Having a right relationship with God through faith in Christ
- Growing in godly character – the fruit of the Spirit, righteousness, wisdom
- Serving God and obeying His commands
- Using our gifts and abilities for God’s Kingdom
- Being a good steward of all God has given us
- Storing up eternal treasure in Heaven
While worldly success focuses on external rewards, godly success is rooted in inward transformation – becoming more like Christ. It’s not measured by comparison to others, but by personal growth in godliness.
The ultimate form of success in God’s eyes is hearing these words from Jesus:
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.'” (Matthew 25:23 NKJV)
God rewards those who are faithful to obey and serve Him, regardless of outward appearances. His approval is worth far more than the fleeting praise of men.
Biblical Teaching on Success
Many passages in both the Old and New Testaments contrast godly and worldly success. The consistent message is that true meaning in life comes from fulfilling God’s purposes, not pursuing worldly idols.
Old Testament Warnings Against Worldly Pursuits
The Old Testament wisdom literature consistently warns against seeking fulfillment in money, status, and pleasure:
- “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.” (Proverbs 23:4 NKJV)
- “He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage.” (Proverbs 11:28 NKJV)
- “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV)
King Solomon’s Pursuit of Pleasure
Solomon provides a sobering example of the emptiness of pursuing worldly success. Though Solomon was immensely wealthy and successful, the book of Ecclesiastes details his disillusionment:
- “I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 2:3 NKJV)
- “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 NKJV)
Godly Success in Psalms and Proverbs
In contrast to worldly pursuits, the Psalms and Proverbs point to the lasting rewards of godly living:
- “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night…And whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV)
- “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.” (Psalm 112:1 NLT)
- “Humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 15:33 NIV)
- “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21 ESV)
These passages show that true success and prosperity come from righteous living, not status or wealth. God blesses and honors the humble and obedient.
Jesus’ Teachings on True Riches
Jesus directly addressed the temptations of pursuing worldly success. He warned against striving after money, possessions, status, and praise from others:
- “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)
- “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 ESV)
Jesus emphasized that His followers would be rewarded for faithfulness in the kingdom to come:
- “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:23 ESV)
- “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17 ESV)
Pursuing Godly Success
Given these warnings against worldly pursuits, how do we actively pursue godly success? Here are some principles and practices for Christians seeking to live successful lives according to God’s standards:
Develop godly character
- Study Scripture to renew your mind and become more like Christ (Romans 12:2)
- Seek the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23)
- Pursue virtues like faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Use your gifts to serve God
- Dedicate your talents and abilities to God as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1)
- Use your spiritual gifts to build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:7)
- Be faithful with whatever tasks God assigns you (1 Corinthians 4:2)
Invest in the eternal kingdom
- Store up treasures in heaven by giving generously and serving others (Matthew 6:20; Matthew 25:34-40)
- Make disciples and share the Gospel with the lost (Matthew 28:19-20; Philippians 2:16)
- Equip and teach other believers to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Die to worldly idols
- Avoid loving money, which leads to all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)
- Reject the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16)
- Fix your hope fully on the grace to be given at Christ’s return (1 Peter 1:13)
Seek first God’s kingdom
- “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV)
- Make pursuing God’s will and purposes your top priority in life
As we pursue these things, we can rest assured that our lives have lasting value and meaning in God’s eyes. While the world applauds fleeting status and pleasures, God smiles on those who walk humbly with Him and invest in things of eternal significance.
Checking Our Hearts and Motives
As Christians, we must regularly examine our own hearts for areas where we have subtly begun pursuing worldly success over godly success. Ask yourself:
- Do I feel jealous or envious when others are promoted or achieve worldly success?
- Do I spend more time thinking about my career than my walk with God?
- Are material comforts and entertainments consuming too much of my focus?
- Do I feel proud of my own achievements rather than thankful to God?
- Do I seek the praise of others rather than the praise of God?
Honestly examining your motives and desires before God is the first step to realigning yourself to seek first His kingdom. Bringing these hidden sins into the light allows God to purify our hearts and renew our minds to long for His will over worldly values.
As James writes, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18 ESV)
While the world applauds status, wealth, and pleasure as the pinnacles of success, God calls us to very different values and rewards. As Christians, we must reject the temptation to pursue worldly idols and instead seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.
When we devote our lives to cultivating godly character, using our gifts for God’s purposes, investing in the eternal kingdom, and dying to carnal desires, our lives take on eternal significance. Though the world may not understand or applaud us, we store up imperishable treasures in Heaven.
At the end of our lives, worldly successes and trophies lose all meaning. But those who pursue godly success through humble obedience to Christ can rest in the eternal rewards of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” from our King.
Rather than envying the rich and famous, we should pity those who sacrifice their souls in pursuing worldly success. Their achievements will burn up like wood and hay, while the righteous will shine like stars in God’s eternal kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
May we all keep our eyes fixed on the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14), pursuing everlasting rewards rather than fleeting worldly successes.