The Faithful Stewardship of Success

A person is successful when they accomplish God’s purpose of being a good image-bearer, exercising wise stewardship of all God’s good creation.

Jesus’s piercing question still rings true today, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark. 8:36)

Much of the problem of understanding success is that our present culture defines it too individualistically. As a result, we ignore the detrimental personal, social, and community effects of such an unhealthy definition.

The earning of income, the creation and accumulation of wealth, or the achievement of power and influence are often measures of success. People seek them as ends in themselves. But such things have never proven to be satisfying over the long run.

From the biblical perspective, these things only lead to idolatry—misplaced worship. Furthermore, such individualistic definitions fail to recognise that when one achieves this kind of success, it never completely satisfies. It can do so only temporarily. The reason for this is simple. God did not design them as the means of attaining true satisfaction.

The life of King Solomon or the early chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes exposes the futility of such success. Solomon writes, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccles. 2:10-11).

Consider how the book of Ecclesiastes concludes. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13).

Defining Biblical Success

Any writing that purports to address the topic of “success” and the need to “steward it well” should first take care to define the terms adequately. Some standard dictionary definitions of success are the accomplishment of an aim or purpose or the achieving of the results wanted or hoped for.

Many definitions tend to define success from the perspective of each person, making the endeavour totally human centric. A biblically oriented definition focuses on God, the creator. This triune God, revealed in the Christian Holy Scriptures, has clearly stated his purposes for his creation.

God made men and women to be his “image-bearers.” This sums up his purposes for his created beings.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:27-28).

God made men and women to be his image-bearers. This sums up his purposes for his created beings. Also, God gives us the task to exercise wise stewardship of his good creation. Therefore, any definition of success must include this dual-emphasis of image-bearing and stewardship.

A person is successful when they accomplish God’s purpose of being a good image-bearer, exercising wise stewardship of all God’s good creation.

Recognising Biblical Success

It is good to note that after completing the creation of man and woman as the pinnacle of God’s creation, the Bible says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

The concept of image-bearing is complex. But in its simplest form, it entails a life that reflects the attributes of God—love, justice, compassion, and forgiveness, among others.

As a result, when we reflect these attributes, it draws and attracts others to a vibrant relationship with this God. His world is corrupted by our sin—“missing the mark” of God’s purposes—so that we are living in a fallen world.

A person is successful when they accomplish God’s purpose of being a good image-bearer.

Success is achieved when all human activity—either as individuals or as a community—helps in restoring God’s fallen creation from its marred and disfigured state. This definition of success is purposefully wide. It includes every human activity that achieves God’s purpose for human flourishing.

No legitimate activity, vocation, undertaking, or person is beyond the pale of such a definition. Every achievement, such as addressing the basic human needs of the least of these—hunger, clothing, thirst, shelter, and companionship—is worthy of recognition as “success” (Matt. 25:34-36).

Biblical Stewardship and Success

Wealth, income, position, power, family, community, work are all gifts of God. They are not inherently evil. They are God’s good and gracious gifts to people. He wants us to use them to serve his purposes for his creation.

Biblical stewardship means to use all of one’s faculty—position, vocation, gifts, earnings, relationships, and the like—to help restore God’s creation to its intended purpose of flourishing. This includes the exercise of love, faith, justice, equality, compassion, and grace as biblical imperatives for wise stewardship. Therefore, even incremental achievements to this end should not be discounted as “unsuccessful.”

Faithful, biblical stewardship recognises everything God has entrusted to us and wants to use it to multiply its impact to serve his purposes: the restoration of the image of God in ourselves and others, and the eradication of the harmful impacts of sin and corruption on God’s good creation.

God entrusted Jesus with a mission and he became its perfect steward. He is the true image-bearer of God, who succeeded in finishing the work God gave him to do (Col. 1:15, 1:19-20). Through his suffering, we are able to flourish. Ultimately, he will affirm and reward our faithful stewardship of what he has entrusted to us (Matt. 25:21).