An Alternate View of Success

"I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." 2nd Timothy 4:1-8

     If we could have seen Paul as he wrote these words we would not have been impressed that he was an example of "The Life That Wins". He is a prisoner in maximum security of the Mamertine prison in Rome. His cell is an underground dungeon to which he has been lowered through a hole from the main prison floor. His only light is a flickering candle. It is a place of filth and vermin left as the heritage of the worst of criminals kept there in the past. As we look closely at Paul we see a man whose body is scarred and his light clothing is inadequate for the underground cold. Indeed, he pleads with Timothy to bring him his cloak before winter.

     The enemies of Paul have been the enemies of Christ, the gospel of salvation, and the New Testament. They have brought charges against Paul that he is such a great lawbreaker that he ought to be put to death. His words in verse 6 indicate that Caesar's decision would soon go against him. His last experience on earth would be death by beheading.

Our View of Success

     The majority of mankind concludes, "If there is any person I don't want to be like, it's Paul. His life is just the opposite of everything I think about when I think of success." It is likely that our vision of success lies somewhere in the realm of wealth, possessions, fame, position, influence, and pleasure. Held in proper perspective and priority, all these things can be good and worthy accomplishments. The problem is that man tends to look to these things as the total source of self-satisfaction. Relatively few attain them and most of those who do are disappointed. They are like the dog chasing a train. One farmer said to another, "I wonder if he'll catch it." The other answered, "I was wondering what he'll do if he does." Most of us don't do very well when we catch those things labeled "worldly success."

Paul's View of Success

     Paul had his vision of success. It is probable that he was more motivated to reach his goal of success than any man who ever lived. Paul's vision reached farther than most men's. His encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road united his vision and motivation to become the most like his Savior he could, and attain the most good accomplishments for eternity. "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…" Philippians 3:10. "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown; but we for an imperishable crown."   1st Corinthians 9:25.

Paul wanted to make the saving gospel of Christ known to those who had not yet heard (See Romans 15:18-21). He wanted converts to grow in spiritual maturity and become powerful representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ (See Ephesians 4:11-16). He wanted churches established in every city where the true God was worshipped and where God's people ministered to the needs of one another (See Romans 15:5,6)

Was Paul successful? We will fully know when we all appear at the reward throne of Christ, but we do know some things:

  • From Tarsus and Antioch on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Seas and westward through Asia Minor, Greece and Europe, all the way to Spain on the other end, there were thousands of converts who had come to Christ through the witness of Paul.
  • There were scores of growing churches he had founded and probably hundreds of others founded by his converts where worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship were robust.
  • In the hands of God's people and seekers were fourteen epistles (letters) written by Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was more New Testament revelation than God gave through any other man.

Paul was content to wait until the reward throne of Jesus Christ to receive the full benefit of pursuing his vision. My humble opinion is that in eternity we will see Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of God, the Father and Paul sitting at the right hand of Jesus Christ.

Paul Wanted Timothy To Follow His Example

As Paul prepared to depart and be with Christ he wanted others to carry on in his place and Timothy was the one above all others to whom Paul passed on his ministry. He reminded Timothy of three things that enabled him to accomplish the eternal goals he considered most important.

As A Spiritual Soldier Paul Had Fought A Good Fight

Paul had written about the whole armor of God: that it is essential for every believer to put on in order to be victorious in their constant battle with the Satanic forces of darkness. (See Ephesians 6:10-17).

Paul had also written about the spiritual weapons with which we cast down the strongholds of the enemy. (See 2nd Corinthians 10:3-6)

Paul had previously exhorted Timothy to wage successful spiritual warfare: " This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare," 1st  Timothy 1:18.

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." 1st Timothy 6:12

In this, his last epistle, Paul has already admonished Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2:3,4: "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. "

The life of Paul very much resembled a military campaign:

Paul was:

  • Opposed by the sorcerer, Bar-Jesus, at Cyprus
  • Expelled from Antioch in Asia by irate rejecters of Christ
  • Forced to flee from Iconium
  • Stoned; dragged out of Lystra; thrown on a garbage dump and left as dead.
  • The primary source of contention that produced the first church council meeting.
  • Beaten and chained in stocks at Philippi
  • Ran out of town in Thessalonica'
  • Mocked in Athens
  • Brought before a public hearing in Corinth
  • The cause of a city riot in Ephesus
  • The object of assassination in Jerusalem
  • Imprisoned for two years in Caesarea

Again and again Paul felt the intensive heat of front line battle attack and the brutal blows of spiritual enemies, but he never surrendered. He fought on in the darkest battles with every intent to win. This should also be our intent in the battles of life.

As a Spiritual Athlete Paul Had Run A Good Race

"I have finished my course".

Paul had written the Corinthians "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it."   1st Corinthians 9:24

The spiritual course that God had laid out for Paul was given by the Lord Himself in Acts 9:15, 16. " But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

No matter how tired Paul got in the race, his attitude was "rest awhile, if necessary, but don't quit."

John Bunyan was arrested again and again for preaching the gospel without a license in Bedford, England. They said, "If you will stop preaching in the fields and streets or get a license to preach we will let you go." He refused to promise and was kept in the Bedford jail. One day they brought his blind daughter, Maggie, into his cell. She was clothed in rags. She pled, "Daddy, please come home. We are cold and hungry and ragged." It nearly tore his heart out, but he told her, "I can't!" She said, "You can if you'll quit preaching the gospel. Please come home. We need you." He felt pain like he had never known before, but he was confident God had called him to preach the gospel and not take a license from the church of England. It was twenty years before they released him. He preached the gospel without a license and the book he wrote in prison went on to sell more copies than any other book except the Bible. It's name, The Pilgrim's Progress."

It is amazing what we can accomplish when we won't quit in the race God has given us to run.

Paul Had Kept The Faith As a Steward of Truth

"I have kept the faith"

Paul was given more revelation of New Testament truth than any man and yet, even Paul found "the faith", or the teachings of New Testament grace challenged at every juncture. In virtually every new city where he preached the gospel, he was challenged by legalistic Jews who rejected his message. He was challenged among believers. At Antioch he found it necessary to rebuke Peter publicly because he gave in to teachers of false doctrine (See Galatians 2:11-21). What an inspiration it should be to us that at the very end of his life Paul could say, "I have kept the faith."

The Reward of Success Was Waiting

"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day."

There is no doubt that Paul will be rewarded with the great rewards that only God can give and those rewards will last for all eternity. At that point, all believers will understand what success really is.

The Reward of Success Also Awaits Us

Paul went on to say regarding reward, "…and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

None of us have been called to do most of the things Paul was. Most of have been called to live a godly life; worship and serve our God with the talents and gifts He has given us; be a witness of Christ to others; minister to others in love; provide for our families and raise our children with godly teachings and example. Each of us may have something unique that God has called us to do.

We can be just as confident as Paul that if we effectively fight a good fight against the spiritual forces of evil; run our course faithfully and keep the faith to the end that we will experience a success that is not possible on this earth and will endure forever.

Copyright © 2002 Thomas E Berry
All Scripture quoted from NKJV unless otherwise noted