In addition, we often make premature judgments. We judge on the basis of present appearances, evaluating people as if we knew the outcome of their story. In reality, the end of the story will not be told in this world but in the world to come, where some who are now first (“successful”) will be last, while others who are now judged to be last (“failures”) will be first in God’s kingdom (Mark 10:31). The measures of success in God’s upside-down kingdom are not the same as those of this present age.
Of course, biblical wisdom does not simply turn conventional wisdom on its head so that now the poor and lowly are automatically counted successful while anyone with wealth or rank is dismissed out of hand. There are certainly people in the Bible who used their wealth or high position wisely, such as Joseph or Daniel. Even in a pagan environment, these men served the Lord faithfully at the highest level of government. Likewise, Joseph of Arimathea used his wealth to provide a tomb for Jesus after His crucifixion (Matt. 27:57–59). But more than wealth or position, what these men had in common was that they served the Lord and His kingdom first, with the resources He had given them.
This is surely what it means to succeed from a biblical perspective. In place of serving the goals of our own personal kingdoms, whatever they might be—comfort, approval, money, and so on—the successful person puts first God’s kingdom. He is willing to give up any of these things if they get in the way of serving God, or to use them for God as resources over which he is a steward who will one day be called to account (see Matt. 25:14–30). The successful steward is not the one who is entrusted with the most resources, of whatever kind. It is the steward who is faithful with the resources with which he has been entrusted (Matt. 25:21).
Thus, the person who has been entrusted with a large house should be asking how that house can be a resource for the kingdom, perhaps by hosting church events or housing visiting missionaries. The person with business gifts should use them wisely to build a business that benefits his customers and the community as well as himself. The person who can speak should do so in ways that build people up: this may include preaching, for those called to that work, but it can also be a kind word in season to a struggling young mother or a lost teenager. There are many ways to serve God’s kingdom that evade the notice of many around us but nonetheless constitute success.
One aspect of success that easily evades our attention is being rooted and grounded in the Word of God. This, according to Psalm 1, is a key mark of successful (“blessed”) people. These people delight in God’s Word, meditating on it day and night, pondering the wisdom of God’s laws as well as the beauty of the gospel (Ps. 1:2). They will also be wise in their relationships (v. 1). These individuals flourish like a well-watered tree, with green leaves and abundant fruit in season (v. 3). These people will stand in the ultimate test, the day of judgment (vv. 5–6). That doesn’t mean that such people are always easy to spot in this present age. The writer of Psalm 73 almost stumbled over the present prosperity of the wicked, who seemed to be flourishing while godly people struggled (see vv. 2–4). He, too, needed to develop a long-term perspective that perceived the ultimate destiny of the two groups (vv. 17–20).