Just a few days ago I posted what I believe to be God’s definition of success. Today I thought I’d take a break from our journey through the Gospel of John and offer my reasons for believing in that definition. This is how I think God defines success for anyone who identifies as a Christian:
“Loving Jesus well and loving people well (including the stranger).”
Jesus’ Identifies The Greatest
During Jesus’ time on earth the religious leaders of his day were intensely envious of Jesus’ popularity and influence with the people. They feared he would disrupt their position of power, so they were constantly attempting to undermine him by asking him questions in public, questions designed to trap him and trip him up.
On one such occasion a lawyer asked Jesus: What’s the greatest commandment in the Law?
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This the the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So Jesus distills all the law and all the prophets down to these three sentences. (Matthew 22:34-40)
In another Gospel, while discussing the same question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ response was so powerful that the lawyer became embarrassed and felt he had to save face somehow. So he asked Jesus this follow-up question:
Who is my neighbor?
And Jesus answered by telling the parable of the good Samaritan. And the thing about this parable is that the injured man lying on the road is a complete stranger to the Samaritan traveler. Yet the Samaritan spends a large sum of money and invests a great deal of his time in communicating Jesus’ love to him, even though he didn’t know him. (Luke 10:25-37)
So the stranger is obviously included in God’s definition of success.
I confess that for years even though I identified as a Christian, even though I attended church and Bible studies regularly, I didn’t give Jesus’ words the consideration they merited. It wasn’t until I thought I might die that I really began to take Jesus’ words seriously. Why I didn’t take what he said seriously before then I don’t know. Jesus is after all “the exact representation of” God’s nature, “the only Son of God” (with a capital S), “the Alpha and the Omega.” No one’s words are more important. I suppose I was distracted by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches to the point where it was necessary for God to use a potentially fatal disease to get my attention. But I’m grateful He did. (Hebrews 1:3 (NASB), John 3:18, Revelation 22:13)
What I concluded after a deep dive into Jesus’ words is that I was prioritizing all kinds of things above Jesus, and, above what he says to me in the Bible. I prioritized professional success, and athletic success, and financial success, and even family relationships over my love for Jesus, and my love for people.
Not surprisingly, I was doing well at work, doing well financially, doing well athletically, and doing OK at least with my family, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t loving Jesus well, and I wasn’t loving people well. And I definitely didn’t have time for the strangers God put in front of me.
When I came to this realization I was mortified.
What I now finally recognize is that you’re truly successful when you love Jesus well, and love people well, regardless of your level in other areas.
So the carpenter who loves Jesus well and loves people well is just as successful as the lawyer who loves Jesus well and loves people well.
The janitor who loves Jesus well and loves people well is just as successful as the CEO of a billion dollar corporation who loves Jesus well and loves people well.
And the janitor who loves Jesus well and loves people well, is wildly more successful than the CEO who’s love for Jesus and love for people is middling or mediocre.
The Only Thing That Matters
In the end, your station in life doesn’t matter one whit.
I figured this out so late in life. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to. You can understand this truth right now.
If you’re a Christ follower, the only thing that matters is loving Jesus well and loving people well (including the stranger).