Success and Why It Doesn't Matter

Success as we know and are taught it in North America has no place in God's kingdom work. Instead, “conquering” is the appropriate biblical lingo.

What's the difference between the two?

The short answer is Jesus.

But Jesus, the risen One, gives us a more detailed profile in his messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Each of these messages are addressed to those who hope to “conquer” and the gifts such conquerors will receive. Only two of these churches receive no censure from Jesus; the others all have something going on that provokes Jesus' ire. So our profile of conquering will involve extrapolating from the sins of five of the churches to their positive correlates and compare and contrast them with success in our culture.

First, conquering is other-directed. Whether the “first love” from which the Ephesian church had fallen was love for God or love for each other, in either case the one who conquers is focused away from him or herself, de-centered, alive in living for others. In short, someone who lives as if the first commandment matters and is committed to following him wherever he goes intent on serving those we meet on the way!

Success, as we know it, requires an unrelenting focus on the self and its agenda. It's so elusive and fragile (since it requires continual growth and augmentation) that we can't take our eyes off it for even a moment. Others, and even God, easily becomes instrumental to our success and, in the long run, our legacy.

Second, a conquering church suffers for the sake of the gospel (church in Smyrna). And it suffers faithfully hanging on to Jesus through it all. As Bonhoeffer put it, “Only a suffering God can help.”

Success sometimes entails adversity and suffering. But it only inspires/forces us to work harder to alleviate or get over adversity or suffering. Some things can be learned through such experiences but we never think it can be more than a temporary roadblock to be transcended.

Third, conquering churches are alert to identify and root out teachings and practices that lead to or promote idolatry (churches of Pergamum and Thyatira). This includes not only theological or biblical teaching but also discerning the influence of social attitudes, economic practices, and institutional arrangements that hinder or oppose God's purposes for humanity (the powers).

Success is indifferent to truth. It is built on pragmatism and will use whatever means possible to increase itself. Marketing is its god.

Fourth, a conquering church knows life and fruitfulness require continuous fundamental self-criticism along the lines of “Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent” (church of Smyrna).

Success requires continuous strategic reevaluation but never doubts its basic commitments to what it sells or promotes.

Fifth, conquering churches demonstrate their fidelity to Jesus by practicing his way of life and holding fast to his name (church of Philadelphia). Even to their hurt. And suffering.

Success does not stick with practices, even if they are truthful practices, if they are not working.

Sixth, conquering churches do not allow prosperity, materialism, reputation, or achievement to blind them to their true state of total dependence on Jesus, which alone enables their works to be cold (refreshing, emboldening) or hot (healing, renewing). Apart from him, whatever this church (Laodicea) does is lukewarm, good only for producing vomit!

Success seldom confesses any fundamental dependence on people or things outside themselves. Prosperity, materialism, reputation, and achievement are proudly put forth as the fruit of their wisdom and labor. Funny how what we crow over Jesus calls an inducement for him to upchuck!

Conquering and success are different animals. To confuse them can be spiritually fatal. Jesus nurtures and grows conquerors. We, on our own, seek success. And never the twain shall meet. That's why success does not matter to the church.


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