The Measure of Success

by Travis Bookout


Success is measured in many different ways.  It might be measured in the trophies and accolades one receives from high performance on the gridiron.  Maybe it is in the number of votes and victories while running for public office.  Perhaps it’s in a sizable paycheck, Bentley, or vacation home.

As a preacher, like other professions, there is the constant nagging pressure of being “successful.”  There is a morbid interest in degrees earned, church size, books published, and participation in quality lectureships.  This makes sense.  I mean, who doesn’t want to help a church grow?  Who doesn’t want to be the keynote speaker?  After all, aren’t all of these things different avenues by which we help people on their spiritual journey?

The World’s View of Success:

I have a feeling James and John might have thought this way.  I know that their mother did.  She badly wanted success for her boys.  The meteoric rise from impoverished fishermen to a place among the highest rulers in the greatest kingdom on earth was glaring measure of unprecedented success.  So she pleads with Jesus, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:21).

Forget about lectureships, prominent churches, and well read publications, she is asking about a seat at the King’s table.  Surely from that position they can accomplish a lot of good.  Surely it will provide them opportunities to help those in need and to teach divine truth.  But somehow, that might not be what they had in mind.

Following this request for prominence, the other 10 disciples “became indignant with the two brothers” (Matthew 20:24).  It is evident that the “success” they are all seeking is about pride, power, and prominence.  This provides Jesus with an excellent opportunity to teach an important lesson about success in His kingdom.

Jesus’ View of Success:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Jesus takes societies measures of success and flips them upside down.  In Jesus’ kingdom, the slaves are the great ones and the rulers are in the place of slaves.  That’s because success isn’t measured by accolades, wealth, or popularity.  Success is measure by humility and service.  It is not the priest or the Levite who are remembered, but the dirty Samaritan who served his fellow man (Luke 10:30-37).

Jesus is the prime example of prominence in the kingdom.  There is no one who is greater.  He is the Son of Man who came on the clouds to receive “dominion, glory and a kingdom” (Daniel 7:14).  Yet, even the Son of Man is not too good to serve.  Whether it is healing the infirmed or washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus constantly took advantage of opportunities to serve others.  In fact, Jesus served in the harshest, least prominent, and most painful way possible.  He served by taking the brunt of our sins upon Himself and enduring the cruelty of the cross.

Let’s make sure that we never feel too successful to serve.  We are not too good for any job in the kingdom.  No elder, preacher, professor, or Christian is above serving others.  It’s what we are called to do.  It is in humble service to others that our success is measured.