Are You Living A Successful Life?
“But after this week things will slow down a bit.” Being an adult is just saying that over and over again until you die. Isn’t that what it feels like? Life can get so busy and stressful, and all-consuming, and usually it’s because we’re all trying to be successful in this life, right? We all have an ideal of what we’d need to achieve or get in order for our lives to feel successful, and then we plan our lives out to achieve that goal. There’s the successful life, and then there’s a life that’s a failure or didn’t reach it’s potential. What would need to happen in your life for you to conclude that you’ve been successful? Would it be a promotion, or having enough money for a comfortable retirement, or getting your kids to play professional sports, or maybe having washboard abs?
However you answer that question, you’re probably jamming your life full with the things that’ll make you reach that goal and feel successful. But in Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon’s gonna show us how our fear of missing out on a successful life can leave us totally empty.
Check out verse 4: “I saw that all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” Solomon’s looking around and seeing all these people around him going hard at their work, in fierce competition with each other to advance and be successful, and their motive is that they’re jealous of what other people around them have. Jealousy is driving their work. And Solomon says that won’t lead to success; it’ll lead to emptiness.
Do you have any of that “keeping up with the Jones’” struggle? Your neighbor gets a new motorcycle, so now all of a sudden you have the desire to save up your money to get a motorcycle? Your friends go on that epic vacation, so you start planning and saving for an even MORE epic one! They got their kids a trampoline?! Let’s get our’s a pool! Look how great they look with their trendy clothes and muted colors. I need to go shopping!
Does what other people have influence your view of a successful life? Solomon says that’s gonna lead to emptiness. Because First, you won’t be able to celebrate when your friends and neighbors have something good happen in their life. I mean, we might be able to outwardly, but if we’re viewing them as our competition, we won’t be able to REALLY celebrate God’s blessings in their lives. Second, even if we DO keep up with the Jones’s and get way better stuff than they have, there’s always someone else above them. There’s the Smiths! There’s no end to people we can be jealous of! So if that’s what motivates us, then there’s no end to our striving. You’ll NEVER feel the satisfaction you’re craving.
Now Some people are gonna hear that and maybe overreact, and say, “Ok then, I’ll just give up. Why even try! I’m just gonna cruise in life, sit in my parents basement and school some noobs on Fortnight” (I can’t believe that’s a real sentence with real meaning…). Some people just won’t work. Look at verse 5: “The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh.” Some people look at success in this world and say, “if it’s just gonna leave me feeling empty, I’m out!” They tap out, fold their arms, and just don’t work or don’t really work hard to strive for success. And Solomon says that’s like consuming your own flesh; it’s like slowly killing yourself.
Maybe this looks like just skimming by and doing the bare minimum. You show up to work, go through the motions and do the things you’re required to do, but basically your arms are folded and you’re going no where because, what’s the point really? You’re realized that you’re not gonna achieve the kind of success you’ve been hoping for, so you’ve thrown in the towel.
Maybe you’ve stopped working around the house, because your goal of having that instagram famous house isn’t happening, so you’re house is a wreck because what’s the point?
Maybe you’ve stopped working hard with your kids on their school work or their discipline, because they’re never gonna be as advanced as your friend’s kid is, so you’ve decided to sit back, fold your arms, and relax in your parenting.
Maybe after seeing celebrities perfectly sculpted bodies you’ve totally given up trying to look like that, so you’ve folded your arms, stopped working at all, and let unhealthiness wreck your body.
Maybe you’ve stopped sharing Jesus with your family or friends. You’ve talked about Jesus in the past, and nothing’s really come of it, so now you’ve decided that it’s just easier when you’re around them to fold your arms and chill than try to share your faith.
Solomon says that the fool folds his arms and stops striving for success. Where have you given up? Where are you folding your arms?
So if our motive is jealousy, we’re gonna end up empty. If we give up, we’ll end up empty. What else Solomon? Look at verse 6: “Better one handful with rest than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.” He says that it’s better to have one handful of success with the ability to rest, than to have two handfuls of success, double the success, but to have wrecked your life to get it. We’re bent to think that more success equals more happiness right? If your bank account doubled, you should be twice as happy, right?
But, look at the story Solomon tells in verse 13: “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings.” He tells the story of an old king who has already achieved earthly success, but he says that success has totally isolated the old king. The king won’t listen to anybody else, he has no community, no advisors, no friends. Success (money, power, status) has destroyed him. And then Solomon turns his attention to this poor, young kid in verse 14: “For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds [the old king]. There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” You’d think that this young kid who comes after the old king would be the greatest of success story ever! He came from nothing, was totally poor, and by his effort, might, and wisdom became the king! This is a total rags to riches, underdog, success story! But, when his time was over, no one who came after him rejoiced in him. No one remembered him. All his success was forgotten. That’s how this world works. It moves on, it forgets. Trophies get worn out and lost. Records get broken. Achievements get overlooked. The success that we’re all going after is fleeting like the wind.
The way we view success in this life won’t last. Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, needs to show us a new way; a better way. We need a whole new definition of success in this life than what we’re currently striving for.
And he begins to push us toward a new definition in verse 7: “Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things? ” This too is futile and a miserable task.” Solomon tells us about a rich person, right? He says his eyes are not content with riches. So he’s achieved the kid of success that’s valued in this world. But when Solomon looks at him, he says futility, and empty life. He has no companion, no children, no family. This doesn’t mean that he NEVER had these things, Solomon’s just saying that he doesn’t have them right now. I think this is a man who has given himself to earthly success, achieved it with all his riches, but lost his wife, kids, and family in the process. He gave himself entirely to his work and he achieved his goals! He got rich! But then he sits back, with his fists full of money, and he says, “Wait, who am I doing this for?” I’m sure he’s thinking, “has this all been for me? But I’m about to die. And none of this has satisfied me. So why have I been pursuing this kind of success if it’s left me empty and lonely?”
When we idolize earthly success, we tend to push our spouses, friends, family, children, to the side while we chase promotions, status, money, a robust diversified resume, all the things people look at and get impressed with. And in pushing those people aside, we’ll achieve earthly success at the expense of broken relationships.
That’s why Solomon says this in verse 9: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” He goes hard in comparing rugged individualism to communal dependence. A community of two people working together for success. A community of 2 people supporting each other for basic needs in this world. A community of 2 people fighting against the attacks of this world. A community of 3 people strengthening each other to produce something incredibly powerful. Two is better than one in all these things and 3 is unbelievable powerful.
In community there’s support, there’s care, there’s resources, there’s power!
Solomon sees people trying to be successful through rugged individualism, making themselves great, and he just sees emptiness. So he tells us that a truly successful life is one lived in community, in partnerships, working toward a good reward together.
Solomon is pushing us toward what success looks like in the Kingdom of God.
And that makes total sense from what we see all over the Bible
Because That’s how God created us to life successfully. He created Adam, the first man, looked at that man, and said this in Genesis 2: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” God said Nope, this ain’t good. This is lacking. This is deficient. This is not a successful representation of humanity and what they should be. This man will be miserable, unsuccessful, and broken. So God created another human for Adam to be in community with. God did not intend for people to be alone, isolated, in this life by themselves.
Because we were made to reflect God, right? Back in Genesis 1 when God created man we read: “So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” God created us to image him, to reflect who he is. The God of the Bible has always and will always exist in community with himself; Father, Son, and Spirit. Our Trinue God exists as one God in three persons who relate in love and submission. And That’s what we were created to do. Isolation and individual pursuits kills that.
Life in community is how God created us to live successfully, and it’s also what Jesus modeled for us. In Mark 6: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” He sent his followers out in pairs, in community. Cover more ground solo right? Have more success for the Kingdom! Nope. And the fact that Jesus has these 12 shows that he came to build a community of people. That’s one of the lesser talked about miracles of Jesus, right? That he had 12 close friends in his 30s. And among those 12 there were 3 that he invested in, confided in, and spent a bit more time with. Jesus modeled a life lived in community.
And now, Jesus has told us that he’s present in community. In Matthew 18 he told his followers: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” His focus wasn’t on getting alone in their prayer closets, or reading and interpreting their Bibles in isolation from each other, he focus was on them being together, invested in each other’s lives, face to face. He is present in Christian community.
When Journey Groups at our church meet, Jesus is there working.
When Community Groups at our church meet, Jesus is there working.
When the men and women in our church gather to study the Bible together, Jesus is there working.
When our church gathers on Sunday to worship, Jesus is there working.
What does success look like in this life? Being a part of that work.
There’s strength in a community of people who love and follow Jesus together.
That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 6: “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” He warns against the pursuit of success the way the world sees it. But later in Matthew 22: He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” He says that true joy and fulfillment and success in this life is found in loving God and loving others. That’s true success in this life. Success in the kingdom of God looks like loving other people.
But in our rugged individualism, striving for success in this world, we start to prioritize our jobs, our leisure, whatever else, and we start to withdraw from the gathering of God’s people and loving others as ourselves. We fear that by being involved in community, it’ll mess with our earthly success. Instead of believing God that there’s more success in a life lived for him; we start to believe that we’re missing out on success if we love God and love our neighbors.
Because guys to be in community, there’s gonna be sacrifice.
There was a man in the Bible who heard from Jesus that the most important thing in life is to love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, and he wanted to justify the fact that he was just living for himself and his own success, so here’s what he asked Jesus in Luke 10: “Who is my neighbor? ” Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? ” “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
Jesus told him: Go, and do the same. This is the successful life in God’s Kingdom. Which means we…
…need to know our neighbor’s needs.
…need to have the resources (time, money, wisdom) to meet their needs.
…need to love our neighbors.
This is what Jesus saw as a successful way to live. God has told us that a successful life looks like loving him and living in community in such a way that we are loving our neighbors.
The problem is, we’ll never be able to live a successful life if that is the bar. We’ll never achieve success fully. We’re too self-involved to love God perfectly and love our neighbors as ourselves. Thankfully, Jesus lived a successful life. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He loved God and loved others perfectly. And when he want to the cross: that didn’t look like success to the world. But it was the ultimate display of love for God and others. It was the perfect picture of success. It was the ultimate display of success.
And now, if you’re a follower of Jesus, that’s how God sees you. You are “in Christ,” and everything that Jesus accomplished is credited to you. You have HIS successful life. Which means you can be a total failure in this world.
This is what a successful life looks like in the Kingdom of God.