We all want to be “successful.” We really want our children to be “successful” and we hear stories of parents who have made great sacrifices so that their children can get the education or training they need so that “success” will be within their grasp. More often we see kids work hard to overcome circumstances so that they can become “successful.” For most of us, success looks like new cars, big houses, power, or prestige in society. Many of those who have become “successful” in that sense have major family problems. They get to the top of their field, and have no one to share their success with.
Paul had to deal with a misguided sense of success in the Corinthian Church. The Christian definition of success goes far beyond the definition of success that the world has. Paul had to point out that success for the Christian was found in becoming and staying faithful to God’s call, not in emulating the world. “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)
As Paul mentions becoming fools for Christ, the previous three chapters must have been ringing in the ears of the Corinthians. In those chapters, Paul reminds the Corinthians that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and here he talks about being a fool while they are considered wise. In this section Paul outlines the ways that people in the world might track success: strength, honor, sustenance, clothing, treatment by others, home status, work type, and responses to troubles. In each of these measures, Paul and his companions fail miserably according to the world’s standards and yet, Paul understood that in God’s eyes, he had been faithful. For the Christian, that should be considered success. Later in the passage he mentioned that he was successful in bringing the gospel to the people of Corinth. One of the activities that we should engage in when reading Corinthians is “What concern was Paul answering?” In this case. the concern was obvious. “If Paul and Apollos are such great servants of God, why aren’t they successful like us?” (or something like that.)
We sometimes have a distorted view of success in the church today. Some look at finances and give extreme honor to those proclaiming a “gospel” of health and wealth, while looking up to people who gain prestige and honor in business as well. We honor numbers and go to conferences run by people who have built large churches and/or Sunday Schools and eagerly soak in all that they say, because they have shown the power of their success. We use all kinds of worldly measures for success and fail to look for God’s measures for success. Is God as concerned about your wealth as He is your relationship with Him? Health may be important, but God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh so that he would have to depend upon God. The key to success for the Christian is not found in our achievement of wealth, health, prestige, or numbers, or anything else that the world considers a marker of success. True success for the Christian is found in our faithfulness to Him. God will take the “scum of the earth” and turn us into the jewels of heaven – and that is our ultimate success.
Lord, remind me what You look for in my life. Help me to ignore the trappings of the world and be faithful to You. Let me be successful in Your eyes.
Thought I’d add this video link from Don Francisco: