Recently, Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle has pled guilty to offenses against minors punishable with jail time. Fogle, who was once extremely obese, came to fame by losing significant weight while only eating Subway for a period of time. Years and years as spokesperson lead to millions of dollars and international fame but in the end, it looks like the success he has experienced led to his failure. This pattern is not unique to Fogle.
The Christian Church has been rocked many times by “star” pastors experiencing significant falling. For example, former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll stepped down and the church sold due to issues like abusiveness, plagiarism, and using money to make his book a best seller. What Fogle and Driscoll represent is something universal to humankind: Success can lead to demise.
Most people desire success and most entities we are associated with have avenues to achieve it. Promotions, raises, awards, and incentives are all things used to entice success.
But success has a cost and can lead ones heart away from what is important. I have seen very godly men and women who have achieved great success and later lost their spiritual fervor. Success can stunt the soul.
Many of us are struggling to establish ourselves, others are already established and unambitious for promotion, but most of us desire to grow in our influence, which means that we must achieve success in our personal endeavors.
God knows the human heart and also knows that success and prosperity can fuel pride, which can cause the individual to walk the path of forgetfulness. Sometimes the desire to succeed can also exhaust our soul, causing us to forget what is vital.
Whether you are a student, just starting out in your career, well established, preparing to retire, or a retiree, there are never times in this life where one is not vulnerable to the seduction of success.
Success has many dangers but the three that arise from the Bible are pride, forgetfulness, and comfort, all three war against a heart for God.
What does success look like? Deuteronomy 8 defines it as prosperity from the Lord.
Right away, Moses encourages the nation of Israel to be obedient: “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.”
The essence of loving God is obedience. This is clear throughout the Bible. No writer is clearer than Moses. John picks up this theme in a strong way:
1 John 5:3
"If you love me, keep my commands.
But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:
1 John 2:5
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."
Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Number two, Moses reminded Israel not to forget God’s faithfulness to them in the past: 8:2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
We have all experienced the wilderness; these are times that must be bookmarked in our hearts. God will not let us wander the wilderness forever and when He leads into a personal promised land, we must be ready to remember his faithfulness, not trying to take credit for it.
God uses the wilderness to purge us and test our hearts to see if we love him. In the wilderness, there are only two options: die or grow. Most of Israel did not see the Promised Land, even Moses saw from Mount Nebo. Those of us in our own wildernesses could be experiencing a circumstance that is unfavorable: we are working at a job we do not like; we are at a low or entry-level position; we are unemployed; we are qualified but unable to find a suitable position. The wilderness takes different forms but eventually leads to purification.
But God does not allow us to be in the wilderness forever, and when we exit and experience success, it is easy to forget God and try to take recognition for ourselves.
Success can destroy us as much as the wilderness only success’s destruction is more stealth because it is often couched in comfort while the wilderness is couched in suffering. When God prospers us out of the wilderness, it is important more than ever to remember his goodness and worship him with our lives. Not to forget who the author of our success is and whose name we should be glorifying.
The comfort of success is what fuels pride and forgetfulness, Deuteronomy 8:10-18 reads:
God does say that to obey means blessing. Whether it is material or spiritual, the danger of experiencing prosperity can lead the heart down a path of unfaithfulness. One must always remember God the author and giver of our blessing. Success creates comfort which fuels pride and forgetfulness while crushing courageous faith. Instead of being on the offensive, striving to do bold and daring things for God, the heart can become defensive, not wanting to give up the comfortable position. Deuteronomy 8 is a blueprint on how we can survive success. Israel will enter a land of plenty and God warns them not to forget him. If we are entering a prosperous time, we must also remember and obey God, giving him the glory.
Michael Chung currently teaches Bible and Theology at Houston Baptist University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org