Text: Deut 31:11-13 and Selected Proverbs
Title: Success Driven Life
Theme: The biblical yardstick for success is measured in terms of our relationship with God.
If you do a "Success" book search in Amazon, 168K titles will show up. You'll see books on Social success, ministry success, financial success, organization success, spiritual success, laws of success, success in sales and dress for success. Who doesn't want to be successful in life?
Parents want their children to be successful in their careers and marriage. Pastors and congregations alike want their churches to be successful so they can brag to others that they belong to the First Big Church on S. Main.
Individually we want to be successful in our studies and professions. We go for straight A's and graduating with Magna Cum Laude. We want a larger portfolio, more stocks, more money in the bank, a bigger house, the best car money can buy. And often we spend our entire life chasing after them. We live a success driven life. But have we ever paused and ask: What is success in life?
These past few months, we have spent much time in the book of proverbs. We began with looking at guidelines and principles of healthy relationships between Husband and wife, family members, and last week on Friendships. In studies like this, it is easy to develop the mentality that if we do all these, life will be successful. We can certainly visualize book titles such as: 10 steps to a successful marriage, 10 keys to a successful friendship. However, if we take a closer look at the book of Proverbs, we'll see that moral and ethical instructions are tightly knit to the real big issue: What is my relationship with God? In Proverbs we learn that the biblical yardstick for success in life is measured in terms of our relationship with God.
I. A successful life begins with a proper relationship with God.
1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. 敬畏耶和華是知識的開端，但愚妄人藐視智慧和教訓" 28:14, "Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. 常存戒懼之心的，這人就為有福；心裡剛硬的，必陷在禍患裡。" Throughout the book of proverbs is this theme of "fear the Lord". It describes the foundation of one's relationship with God.
Fear does not mean being afraid of God. It is about reverence for God's authority and power. When we see the world; looking at the massive rock formation at Yosemite and Yellowstone Parks, the Redwood trees in the west, the Glaciers in Alaska and Banff, we bow to God's creative power and majesty. This is our first bow before God. A successful life begins with a proper relationship with God, by bowing before this creator God; in all his glory and majesty.
There are three other characteristics of this relationship.
In Deut 31:11-13 11when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. 12你要召集人民、男人、女人、孩子，以及你城裡的寄居者，叫他們可以聽見，叫他們可以學習，好敬畏耶和華你們的 神，謹守遵行這律法的一切話， 13也叫他們還不認識這律法的兒女可以聽見，使他們在你們過約旦河去得為業的地上生活的時候，一生學習敬畏耶和華你們的 神。”” This passage tells us that the "fear of the Lord" is also framed by God's laws. How do we develop this fear of the Lord? By being obedient to His law. The Fear of the Lord is not mystical nor an unexplainable supernatural encounter. It is obeying God's word.
Reading Proverbs and the rest of the scriptures provides us with another aspect of our relationship with God. 14:26, "In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.敬畏耶和華的，大有倚靠；他的子孫也有避難所。”
Here is about a promise given to those who fear the Lord. Their children will be protected by the Lord. 3:6, "6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 在你一切所行的路上，都要承認他，他必使你的路徑平坦正直。" These passages illustrate a relationship that is marked by a personal-ness and warmth. It is not a God high up above that we cannot approach. Instead, there can be a very intimate relationship with him.
3. His sovereign rule in life.
Besides a personal relationship with God, it is also a relationship in which we recognize his sovereignty in our life. 19:21, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 人心裡的謀算很多，唯有耶和華的計劃能實現。" 21:30-31, "No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. 任何智慧、聰明、謀略都不能敵擋耶和華。 31馬是為打仗之日預備的，勝利卻在於耶和華。" These passages tell us that we can do all the planning, we can have all the advise and counsel (which is important), but the final outcome is in the Lord's hand. His is the sovereign Lord.
Some of us may find it difficult to accept God's sovereignty in life. We want to make our decisions and decide our own directions. Sovereignty? We feel it is too Calvinistic. However, no matter where we turn in the scriptures, we always see teachings and illustrations of God's sovereignty in our lives. And at the same time, it also teaches us of human responsibilities. God's sovereignty and human responsibility don't exclude each other, they go hand in hand.
To recognize this personal relationship with God, to recognize his sovereignty in life, is what we call the second bow before this God. The first bow is to acknowledge that he is the creator with his majesty. The second bow is that he is my Lord, the sovereign ruler in my life.
How about you? Have you made these two bows before God? Before I move on, I want to give you an opportunity to make these two bows before God. Some of you may have already acknowledged God as the creator and his majesty. How about God as your Lord, Savior and ruler in life? Shall we pray?
II. A successful life is to be lived out morally.
We have seen that a successful life begins with a proper relationship with God. then what? 14:2, "Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him. 行事正直的，敬畏耶和華；行為乖僻的，卻藐視他" This tells us that to fear the Lord is not a slogan. This fear of the Lord is to be lived out in uprightness. That is, when others see our morality, they will recognize our fear or lack of fear of the Lord.
1. Basis of morality.
The Fear of the Lord is to be lived out in our moral life. But what is its basis? This has to do with how we look at the Bible. Is the Bible a rule book to be kept? If so, then there is really no difference from some of our Chinese books of ethics. No wonder some Chinese intellectuals in their first encounter with the Bible, often conclude that, "we have similar teaching in our culture." Do we feel the Bible is too rigid? Or is it like exams and tests that we have to pass? You see, how we look at the Bible really reflects our relationship with God. So, what is the basis of our morality? 6:16, "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:… 耶和華恨惡的事有六樣，連他心裡厭惡的，共有七樣"
What does this tell us about the scriptures? In this book, we’re told of God's likes and dislikes. I often shared with couples that in a marriage, because we love our spouse, we'll do our best to do things they like. The same is true in my relationship with God. Because he is my creator, savior and Lord; because I love him, therefore I will do things that are pleasing to him. Through reading the scriptures, I know his likes and dislikes. Then I'll ask him to help me to live a life that will also reflect his likes and dislikes. I want to like the things he likes, dislike the things that he dislikes. This is the basis of our morality. Not because I have to do, or to accumulate credits for after life, but because I want to, because I love Him.
III. The goal of a successful life is a deeper relationship with God.
What does all this lead to? Or, what is in it for me? Individuals have asked, "I have lived righteously and morally, how come I still have so much difficulty in life?" Under this question is the notion that if I fear the lord and live morally, if I have lived successfully, then it will lead to health, wealth and prosperity, or ever greater inner peace. No, I don't think so. Let's us take a closer look at some of the teachings in Proverbs.
1. To be accountable to God.
24:12 12If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?如果你說：“這事我不知道。”那衡量人心的不明白嗎？那看顧你性命的不曉得嗎？他不按照各人的行為報應各人嗎？" 15:3,"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. 耶和華的眼目無所不在；壞人好人他都鑒察。" 16:2, "All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. 人看自己一切所行的，都是清潔的；耶和華卻衡量人心" 21:2, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart人看自己一切所行的，都是正直的；耶和華卻衡量人心" These passages tell us that God knows our inner thoughts and motives. All of us must give an account to God, including our inner thoughts.
In recent years, in light of moral failures among Christians and church leaders, there is much talk about accountability. There is a special emphasis on finding an accountability partner, someone who can hold me accountable. I think this is important. Yet, there is something I feel that is even more important, that is to remember the truth that we are finally accountable to God. I am accountable to God not only in what I do, in my conduct, but also in my thoughts and motives. When I have a low view of God, then, no human beings can hold me accountable. When I have a high view of God; he is my creator, my lord and savior, then my spouse and friends will be able to help me be accountable to God.
When I live a moral life because of my fear of the Lord, I will also recognize that I am accountable to Him in my behavior and thoughts.
2. To redefine our identity.
11:20, "Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those of blameless ways are his delight. 欺詐的心是耶和華厭惡的；行為完全是他所喜悅的。" 12:2, "A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns. 良善的人必得到耶和華的恩寵；圖謀奸計的人，耶和華必把他定罪" 12:22, "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. 撒謊的嘴唇是耶和華憎惡的；行事誠實是他所喜悅的" 15:9, "The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who pursues righteousness. 惡人的道路是耶和華厭惡的；追求公義的人卻是他所愛的" How are we to look at ourselves? His delight, Favor from the Lord, he loves him who….. We are to see ourselves the way God sees us. When my relationship with God is lived out in my morality, it will lead me to see myself through God's eyes. I am more concern with how the Lord sees me than how others would see me.
So often, we let others define our identity. If I don't do this, my parents and friends will not like me. I want to do things and go where my friends are, if not, I will not be accepted by them. We follow the crowd or our peers in order to gain their approval. You see, we are letting others define who we are.
But the scriptures tell us that we are to let God define my identity. It really doesn't matter how others see me, but how does God see me?
What is the purpose and goal of a successful life? When I recognize that he knows my inner thoughts and I am accountable to him for my actions and motives, when I let him define my identity, it will only draw me closer to him. The goal of a successful life is to have a deeper relationship with God.
As Asian Americans, we live in a sub culture that is purpose and success driven. This is evident in our study, profession and spirituality.
There is a pastor I know in the Houston Chinese pastors' association. When I first met him several years ago, there was something about him that I found myself drawn to him. From a human perspective, his ministry is not spectacular. He preaches at a nearby city on weekends. He certainly does not meet our standards of a successful pastor. Yet whenever we met and shared, he talked about the importance of a deeper relationship with God.
When I was younger, not that I am old now, I also had many ideals and objectives that I wanted to accomplish. I still have things that I want to achieve. But now, I am also beginning to understand more and more, a successful life is not measured by how much money you have made, how many people you have helped, or how big the church is. You know, at the end of the road, what truly matters, is that deep relationship with God.
Note: Dr. Collins' notes p.130