The Young Man and
Mr. Donald K. Steele of Peterborough, Ontario, favors us with still another practical and edifying study in his extended series on “The Young Man.”
Success in life has become a great and burning ambition for many today. The word is heard frequently in phrases such as “the sweet smell of success,” and the struggle to succeed draws so many into lives of incessant toil and conflict. Somehow we have also managed, in our success-oriented society, to define success almost entirely in terms of dollars, or size. Since it is an axiom of our society that “bigger is better,” people tend to believe implicitly that a man earning $50,000 per year is more “successful” than a man earning $30,000 per year. But is this common system of evaluating success necessarily true? Is it not time for the Christian young man to take a step or two backward and stop to think about these assumptions that people so, readily accept today. Are these really the true measures of success? And what does God have to say about the topic from His Word?
The Bible records the lives of many successful men, from Abraham to Job and from David to Daniel, among others. In spite of this, the word “success” is found only once in all of Scripture in Joshua 1:8. Joshua is exhorted to meditate on the Scriptures day and night, and to do what he is taught there. If he does this, he is told very clearly, “Then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Clearly, personal success and prosperity for Joshua were based upon his adherence to the Word of God. It isn’t really so very different today. The young men who succeed in life will be those who follow the principles taught in God’s Word.
Let us look at Joshua still further. He was a political and military leader, whose task was monumental. He had to move a million or more people into a strange land, defeat and destroy the native inhabitants, some of whom lived in walled cities, and he had to get a new nation established in this territory. The only way that Joshua could ever lead his bickering, quarreling, faint-hearted and motley crew through this series of hurdles was to appear as a strong leader with the moral authority to lead. This moral authority cannot be bought, borrowed or stolen. It was conferred on Joshua by God after the death of Moses. It was God who told Joshua that “I will be with you, I will never leave you or forsake you.” It was immediately after these tremendous promises that God gave Joshua the formula for personal success in verse eight, based upon close attention to the Word of God and daily meditation on it.
Today society is considerably more complex than in Joshua’s day. Scientific advances and technological wizardry have provided us with more than 25,000 different occupations in which to succeed or fail. And success today is often measured in terms of money, or fame, or power, or position, or some physical skill or talent. Actors, rock stars, sports celebrities, political leaders or corporate chieftains are all, in their own way, considered to have scaled the ladder of success, and all are generously rewarded for their achievements. But if we look a little more closely into the personal lives of these supposed models of success, we often find broken marriages and homes, drug and alcohol abuse, unethical behaviour, and a host of other physical, moral and social conditions which do not seem consistent with a truly successful life. As we look at these many problems among the supposedly successful, we are often reminded of the pointed question of Mark 8:36, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Today’s successes are often not truly successful at all, because they are measuring their success by the wrong yardstick. God’s measuring stick is the same as it was in Joshua’s day, and apart from the principles found in the Word of God there can be no success that is worthy of the name.
Many today really believe that to be rich is to be successful. As we noted at the outset, this idea is so widely believed that to question it is almost heresy. It is the foundation of the “American way of life.” With more than 550,000 millionaires in the United States, it seems that it must surely be true that wealth and success are synonymous. But are they? A wealthy young man approached the Lord Jesus for advice. He was rich, clean, young, and morally upright. To the best of his knowledge he had never broken any of the laws of Moses. And yet, as we look at this young man in Mark 10:17-22, we see him coming to the Lord Jesus with a burning question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you not see that this young man, who had everything by this world’s standards, had nothing at all without eternal life? He knew that. Deep down in his heart he sensed the lack of that most important thing — eternal life. That is why he came to the Lord Jesus and asked the most important person ever to walk on earth the most pertinent question ever to be asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Because Jesus could see right into the depths of his soul, Jesus knew in an instant that this wonderful young man would never give up his wealth to gain eternal life. This then became the only point at issue. Jesus challenged him to sell all, give to the poor, put his treasure into heaven, and follow Him. His response was predictable. He walked away sad, for he could not give up what he owned to gain what he needed, eternal life. In so doing, he became the ultimate failure, a beautiful and morally upright young man, walking into oblivion and a lost eternity, chained to the temporal and the material by his possessions. Tell me, were his riches a blessing, or a curse? Do you still believe that to be rich is to be successful? How could you? If you could ask that young man today what he thinks of that question, what do you suppose his answer would be?
To be a success we must first of all have eternal life. Without that, all else is dust and ashes. Eternal life is the greatest possession any man can have, and it is free to all those who will humble themselves to receive it. It cost Christ His life at Calvary to procure it for each of us, but to the recipients it is absolutely free. There is no cost to be paid in advance. Of course, once you have it, you will find that there is always a cost to follow Christ, but millions have done so and considered the cost but little in view of the eternal rewards.
After you have eternal life, you must also have some goals, aims or objectives in life, and you must work toward these using the abilities and talents that God has given to you. You are an individual uniquely gifted by God. There is no one else just like you. God has a special plan just for you, and in His plan He wants the absolute best for you. The only way in which you will achieve the success that He has already planned for you is to choose to do His will rather than your own. You must put your future in His hands and trust Him completely to bring all things to pass according to the working of His glorious will for your life. God’s will for you is described in Romans 12:2 as good, acceptable and perfect. How could you want anything else? To know what that good and perfect will is for you, you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2), which brings us right back to Joshua and his meditating day and night on the Word of God. Do you want total success in this life? There does not seem to be any other route but to devote yourself to the Word of God, and to let God guide you day by day. That was the formula for Joshua, and Paul reaffirmed that devotion to His will is still the road to spiritual success in life. Conformity to this world’s standards is the opposite direction entirely (again, Romans 12:2). God does not measure success by dollars, or by fame or power, but by faithfulness to Himself. Are you a success? If not, there is still time. Get on the right track today.