The False God SUCCESS
“We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” – 1 Corinthians 4:10-13
The apostle Paul spent years traveling around the Mediterranean world sharing the Good News of what God had done in Jesus Christ. His adventures weren’t always pretty. He was shipwrecked, beaten and imprisoned. Still he carried on.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses irony to defend his apostleship. He tells them that God chooses what is weak to shame the strong. God chooses what is foolish to shame the wise. Even Paul’s central message, that in the cross of Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, is a complete reversal of the world’s understanding of power, authority and success.
Through the eyes of the world Paul was clearly a failure, a loser. He was a poorly dressed, sometimes hungry, often homeless indigent with a crazy tale that he had been touched by the living God, and had been called to tell the world all about it.
It should give us pause as we trace the gradual evolution of being a Christ-follower from Paul’s day to ours, when in ours “Christian” has come to mean respectable and successful. We even have something called the “Prosperity Gospel”!
But Paul wasn’t prosperous or successful. He insisted that the Gospel is a scandal! Somehow we have taken the scandal out of the Gospel.
The philosopher William James once wrote a letter to H. G. Wells in which he decried “the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship” of SUCCESS. He went on to say: “That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”
Can we reclaim the measure for true success that Paul used? Can we stop admiring the obscenely wealthy, and instead admire those who love God and their neighbor, who are kind and compassionate, who care for the poor, and whose hearts burn for justice for all?
O God, save us from ourselves, and keep us from worshipping the false god of success.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.