Slay the Idol of Success

We were made to worship and we all worship something. John Calvin has said, "our hearts are perpetual idol factories." What are the idols we are surrounded by? What idols in our present day context do our hearts quickly grab on to?

If this is the first of these posts you are reading feel free to read all the posts in this series, Idol Factories, HEREToday we are going to look at the idol of SUCCESS.

We live in a culture that celebrates success. Wealth, grades, possessions, winning, accumulating followers, retirement accounts, house size, promotions and positions are some of the many ways we measure the elusive idol of "success." Many of these things in and of themselves can be idols but often they are just the surface of the true false god: success. 

Pastors are certainly not immune to this. What does your attendance look like? What is your annual budget? How big is your staff now? Paul David Tripp in his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry calls out this "self-glory" as one of the biggest threats in the lives of pastors. 

“Perhaps all the fear of man, the pride of knowing, the seduction of acclaim, the quest for control, the depression in the face of hardship, the envy of the ministry of others, the bitterness against detractors, and the anxiety of failure are all about the same thing. Each of these struggles is about the temptation to make your ministry about you. From that first dark moment in the garden, this has been the struggle—to make it all about us.” (Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Calling)

The idol of success captivates all of us and we glaze over the idolatry in our hearts with excuses like:

"There is nothing inherently wrong with having a lot of money."

"God wants me to be at my best, right?"

"I just enjoy having nice things." 

"I am just using my gifts to make the world a better place." 

Too often, though, if we are honest, our heart is merely paying homage to our idol of success. We long to be worshipped. We all long to be the G.O.A.T. 

We all long to be the G.O.A.T. 

This lie is not new. It is the same one Adam and Eve heard in the garden, "if you eat of this tree you will be like God..." (Genesis 3:5) You will be like God. We want to be God. The problem is, there is only one God and only He is the Greatest Of All Time. 

How do we slay the idol of success? I think this best comes through embracing our identity in Christ. I believe Philippians 2:3-13 unpacks three aspects of this identity. 

1. Be a Servant

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

God calls us here to imitate Jesus by putting on humility and preferring others in service. We slay the idol of success when we live for the sake of others. The idol of pride falls when you stoop to serve. 

The idol of pride falls when you stoop to serve. 

Notice that when we serve we are merely imitating Christ for "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). You are never more like Jesus than when you are serving others. It is difficult to be genuinely preferring others and wishing for their good and their success and at the same time be worshiping our own achievements. Be a servant. 

2. Be a Worshipper

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

If we are pursuing our own fame and glory we have missed the point of our existence. We exist for the glory of God. This is the chief end of man (See the Westminster Shorter Catechism)! So slaying the idol of success requires us to become worshippers of God and pursuers of His glory and fame above our own. 

The reality is, every gift that we have is from above (James 1:17). Even the gifts that have brought success in your life are gifts from God. They are merely an echo of His glory. In verse 3, Paul uses the word "conceit," which is often translated "vain glory" or "empty conceit." It is a compound word that means EMPTY GLORY. This is so appropriate. We are just vessels and any glory we hold is because God in His grace has given it to us! When we take credit for it, we are just an empty glass. Any glory we hold was given to us by the glory Giver. 

Only God deserves the glory and our worship. Any success we achieve in this life should be used as a platform of worship. It is a means to give God the glory and reflect His worth and goodness. Be a worshipper.

3. Be a Son or Daughter

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Here we see the glorious mystery that our journey of faith is both a work of personal endurance and sovereign intervention in our lives. God ultimately gets the credit for our faith and growth into Christ-likeness. I believe the phrase "for his good pleasure" points to a reality in our hearts. We exist for God, to please our Creator, and we all really long for His pleasure in our heart of hearts. 

There is something inside every one of us that is chasing our heavenly Father's affirmation. We long to hear "well done." This was part of God's design. Remember we were made for God. We were made for more. 

There is something inside every one of us that is chasing our Heavenly Father's affirmation

Part of the drive we have to succeed is the same thing that drives a child to impress their parent. This is a beautiful thing! In one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, the protagonist Eric Liddell says, "I know that God made me for a purpose, for China, but He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure." His point in the movie is that running in the Olympics for the glory of God was no different than living as a missionary in China. Both were worship! And God delights in us when we pursue His glory by using our gifts. 

So the question is, do you use your gifts for the delight of your heavenly Father? Are you seeking to make Him smile? Or are we living for ourselves. Whose applause do we long for? We should live for the audience of One. Live as a child of the King. Live for the affirmation of your heavenly Father.

Do You Worship Success? 

Is success an idol you struggle with? Here are some questions to test your heart and see:

  • Do I struggle to do things when they displease others?
  • Am I constantly chasing attention and affirmation?
  • Do I have to be the best? 
  • Do I struggle when someone is better than me at _______?
  • Am I unwilling to stoop and serve? 
  • Can I do something good and not get the credit? 
Slay the idol of success this week by embracing your identity as a servant, a worshipper, and a child. Don't chase your own fame, seek to bring glory to His Name. 

With Grace,


Popular Posts