Success is a good thing. A student’s success in his studies is commendable. We applaud an employee who succeeds in her job. So, success in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. However, it easily becomes the biggest driving force in someone’s life.

Success easily becomes the biggest driving force in someone’s life.

If, in our endeavour to attain success we are willing to ignore some of God’s commandments and clear biblical imperatives, then it has clearly become an idol. This is why I believe that success should also make it on the list of popular vices; what we might call acceptable or tolerable sins. Popular vices are those sins that are not obvious and most people deem them normal, even harmless. And just like with all other sins we tolerate, our treatment needs to be nuanced.

God has made us for himself and our hearts won’t find rest in anything but him. One of Africa’s greatest theologians, Augustine, spoke those words. We are made to find our satisfaction and enjoyment first and foremost in the unrelenting pursuit of God. Any achievement for a Christian should be founded on their relationship with God. Therefore, if we are willing to lay this chief purpose of our lives aside for the sake of anything else, including the relentless quest for success, we sin against our gracious God. In that case the pursuit of success becomes an idol that shatters the first commandment into pieces (Exodus 20:2).

Get Ahead or Die Trying

The world admires success with little consideration of the cost.

Consider these examples that are common in our times. A professional who has no time to dedicate to prayer and reading of God’s Word, due to her career demands. A young professional who is constantly missing church to attend classes on a Sunday to secure an advanced degree, which will hopefully secure promotion and higher pay in his profession. Now, here I am not talking of occasional instances; but when these tendencies become the norm. Generally, the world admires such success with little consideration of the cost.

But should Christians do the same? I don’t think so. It is impossible to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength while also devoting all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength to attaining success.

Choose Today Whom You Will Serve

A Christian friend recently shared with me that he had been jobless for some time. Then he secured a job at a bakery. But an unbeliever owned the bakery and required him to work every single day of the week. After a couple of weeks his conscience was really bothering him, so much that he eventually resigned. He couldn’t bear the weight of missing worshipping God with his fellow saints every Sunday, in order to work for a living (Hebrews 10:25). I was impressed. And I praised the Lord for the faithfulness of that brother.

We must believe that God is able to provide.

Except for the work of necessity and mercy—like doctors or law enforcers—Christians living in a world that values success regardless of how we achieve it need the grace to take a stand. Like Daniel’s friends, we need to stand up and be counted (Daniel 3:17-18). We must believe that God is able to provide, even if we won’t work on Sundays. We must refuse to bow down to the idol of success.

Desiring Success Can Reap Destruction

For those who are married, one of the vows they make on their wedding day is to love and cherish their loved one as long as they both shall live. I wonder if this vow is not broken when one or both of the married couple invest more time in their careers and hobbies than one other. And I don’t doubt that a husband fails to love his wife as Christ loves the church if he is absent (Ephesians 5:25).

While the world rationalises sacrificial ambition, God doesn’t.

I doubt if parents who prioritise their careers above their children will have ample time to raise them in the instruction and discipline of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Marriages suffer and fall apart when one or both of the spouses is desperate to climb the corporate ladder. For this tends to mean they’re willing to put the marital relationship on the back-burner, believing this won’t do damage. But this hardly reflects the sacrificial love of Christ for his Church. While the world rationalises this, God’s Word doesn’t.

Between Success and Sustenance

Now this is not an easy subject. I realise it probably hits on a soft spot for many of us, living in this beloved continent of Africa. For a vast majority of our population is fighting hard to get out of poverty. But, for a Christian, success should not be everything. Faithfulness to our God must be. Wisdom will be required in navigating this terrain. But one thing that should be certain for a believer is that success should never trump our love for God and neighbour. These are the two greatest commandments.

For the Christian, success should not be everything. Faithfulness to our God must be.

As one evangelist famously said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” Therefore, for some reading this post it will require the reevaluation of priorities, even repentance before God and loved ones. The Lord is gracious and forgiving. As the Puritan Richard Sibbes used to remind his congregation, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” We can always start afresh by his grace.