Solomon is arguably the most successful person in the Bible. In his life he achieved much, and gained honour, wealth, and a standing unequalled amongst kings. Yet Solomon, despite all this, concluded, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless!” (Ecc 1:2)His final analysis, recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, was that ultimately success proved unfulfilling.
In his autobiography, The Price of Success, JB Phillips, the Bible translator and essayist, wrote, “I was well aware of the dangers of sudden wealth and took some severe measures to make sure that, although comfortable, I should never be rich. I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me . . . I can still savour the sweet and gorgeous taste of it all – the warm admiration, the sense of power, of overwhelming ability, of boundless energy and never-failing enthusiasm. It is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop.”
A life of worth
Phillips’s struggle with the effects of success is common to us all, including Jesus. After all, he was tempted in every way we are. Yet Jesus taught, “The life you save is the life you lose.” (My paraphrase of Mark 8:35) Not only did he teach it, he lived it. He had no money in the bank, and only a handful of followers at the end. He was, in terms of worldly success, a perfect fool and a failed (dead) messiah.
However, through the resurrection, Jesus was exonerated and vindicated by God. His life was and is an example for us all. He demonstrated that the life you guard, grasp and play safe with is the life that is of little worth to anyone, including you. This is the paradox he taught and demonstrated: those most fully alive are those who give their lives away.
The secret to success . . .
Solomon’s wealth and honour were gifts of God, a blessing Solomon did not expect or seek. In contrast, the assurance of a long and satisfying life was conditional on his following David’s example: walking in God’s ways and obeying him. Something he found difficult to do. In his sober moments, when Solomon centred his life on God, he concluded, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) When he wasn’t so clear, life was confusing and meaningless.
There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame
We can learn from Solomon. There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame. Successful living is relating to God, and living according to his words. This alone can produce true happiness, contentment and significance.
In our world dominated by individualism and consumerism, where advertising bombards us with promises of life, it is good to learn where true success lies from Jesus, the true source of life.
How has your success affected you?
Or in contrast, how much do you desire to be successful?
Stephen L Baxter