I had a eureka moment about success recently. I was reading a chapter on corruption by Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian scholar in India. He was contrasting how likely it is for an Indian to pay a bribe in order to get the electricity to their house compared to how unlikely it would be for someone in the United States to do so. Even though Americans are reputed to be the very most individualistic, the vast majority would refuse to pay a bribe, sacrificing their convenience for the good of the whole. Because so few of us would pay a bribe, none of us have to, thus we have the advantages of well run utilities, which in turn promotes business and personal success. Thus, success could be defined, not individualistically but corporately. Thus, Christianity contributes to the success of the whole, which in turn contributes to the success of individuals. So success comes from spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is not defined by advancement in doctrine (as we often do in “discipleship classes”) nor in experiences (as would a Hindu or a charismatic), but rather in ethics, in doing the right thing.
If we define success as the tendency to do the right thing, even in the face of the consequent persecution, then we will have a great deal more equanimity about how much money or position we attain. Money and position may be good things if they enable us to promote the good. They may not be worth it, if they are bought, as so often is the case, by compromising – by doing the wrong things.
So let us adopt the better definition. Let’s not slump to an inferior definition, of success as money or position, because of an unnecessary hopelessness about attaining spiritual maturity. It lasts when fame does not. It is sure and lasting when fortune is not. It will allow the peace both at each night and at the final sleep. It is this path that will take our children toward the good life. It is this that will more surely make the world a better place: seeds of choices to be ethical, righteous, true and loving, like Jesus.