Paul once beseeched the brethren to permit him a little “foolishness,” so that he might reflect upon his labors with those to whom he was writing (2 Cor. 11:1). His great concern was that the Corinthians might not be drawn away by false teachers claiming to be apostles of the Lord. Paul’s great love for the church is most evident in his writings. One of his most tender epistles is that written to the Thessalonians. Therein he wrote, “But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7). Among Paul’s tribulations was his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Oh yes, Paul loved the brethren individually and the brotherhood collectively. Such love drove him to run the race with dedication and determination, and to preach the truth, only the truth, and all of the truth, without fear or favor of men. I can almost imagine the great satisfaction that must have been his as his earthly ministry drew to a close, and he peered through jail bars at the henchman’s block upon which he was soon to be offered. With great confidence he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Tradition says that he was beheaded shortly after he penned those words.
Were we permitted to visit with Paul, do you suppose he would have any regrets for having spent his life in service to his Master? I think not! Those immortal words penned to the Corinthians express his sentiments perhaps even more since his departure from his earthly tabernacle: “Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens” (2 Cor 4:16-5:1). I ask you, dear brother and sister, are you looking at the things which are seen, or unseen? Are your eyes fixed on the earthly or the heavenly? the temporal or the eternal? And if on the seen, the temporal, and the earthly, then when it comes time for you depart to realms unknown, will you be able to truly look back on your life with genuine satisfaction?
How many of the world’s financial giants would look at the life of Paul and say he was a successful man? If measured in dollars and cents, Paul (and all of the apostles for that matter) were utter failures. But we both know that true success is not measured by worldly or material standards. One of my “favorite” websites [you know; one of those you “tag” so you can go back to at the point and click of a button] offers a dose of daily humor with an animated cartoon for enjoyment. Some years ago there was a cartoon that pictured a father talking to his son and trying to give some fatherly advice regarding success and failures in life. The caption read: “Success isn’t as rewarding as it seems. Caesar was the greatest emperor who ever lived and they named a salad after him.” Think with me about what constitutes genuine success, and along with it produces the greatest degree of happiness in the life of an individual.
First, true success does not run ahead of spiritual success. The apostle John wrote unto Gaius, “I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as they soul prospereth” (3 John 2). If this year’s end finds you with more money in the bank, driving a nicer automobile, dressing better, and enjoying the finer things of life, but your soul suffering from spiritual malnutrition, then you are not successful. Our Lord told us that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Some of us still need to learn that lesson. Or, as one person put it, “If you are inclined to be impressed by those who appear to have it made, take another look at what it has made of them.”
Second, true success comes only with perseverance and determination. Edgar A. Guest wrote his famous poem, “Keep Going.” Here are a few lines from that poem:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
And the road you’re trudging seems all up hill.
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must – but don’t you quit!
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns.
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Success is failure turned inside-out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit;
Its when things seem worse that you mustn’t quit!
Third, true success is not measured by comparing ourselves with others. The success of others has nothing to do with your success or failures. The parable of the talents teaches us that the Lord expects us to use what He has given us, and measures the success of our endeavors according to what a man has, not what he does not have. The first half of the last century witnessed an astonishing period of growth for the Lord’s church. By in large congregations did not have worldly goods. Quite the contrary, members were satisfied with the basic necessities of life, and were content to take the gospel to those who would listen. We were not enamored with the success of the world, nor did we attempt to “keep up with the Joneses.” But somewhere we begin to compare our “success” with that of the world about us, and we begin to mimic their goals, practices, and priorities. We are the worse for it.