Gary North’s book The Five Pillars of Biblical Success is now available for a limited time for FREE as a PDF download. Get yours here now.
As a ministry, American Vision practices makes our message and product available for free as much as possible. We do ask that if you are able, you consider giving a donation to help keep us going.
Summertime is notoriously the most difficult season for nonprofits. We hit our leanest times right now. If you have been blessed by the work of American Vision, please consider giving a generous tax-deductible gift now. You can do so right now online. We continue to exist only by your support.
Don’t forget to get your FREE copy of The Five Pillars of Biblical Success today.
by Gary North
It is a well-known fact in the book publishing industry that there are two kinds of books that always have a ready market: diet books and self-help books on personal success. I have for many years wanted to write a Christian diet book. I even have the title: The Wages of Thin . . . Is Dearth. The title betrays my fondness for the King James Version, even when its grammar is incorrect. But this book is not a diet book. It is not a self-help book, either. But it is surely a book on personal success.
The Price of Success
After many years of observation of what most people actually do with their lives, I have become convinced that very few people want what most people regard as success. They say they do, but they don’t. What they want is success on their own terms. They want success without making major changes in their lives. They want success at a discount price, which they think they deserve. Most important, they want success without a proportional increase in their personal responsibility.
At some point, they recognize that success is not available on these terms, so they abandon any systematic attempt to achieve it. They re-define success to mean “just as I am, Lord, just as I am.” Or, to put it more graphically, “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). An unsuccessful man returns to his patterns of mediocrity or failure—or never abandons them.
The best example in the Bible of this failure to count the cost of success is found in Jesus’ confrontation with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16–24). “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” It was clear that he did not understand that the price of eternal life cannot be paid by sinful man’s good deeds. So, Jesus began a dialogue leading to the man’s self-recognition.
If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
These are unquestionably the Bible’s terms of success. Israel recognized this. But, like Israel, the ruler thought these are possible to attain through one’s own strength and self-discipline. “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” He wanted eternal life, the New Testament’s definition of success. He believed he was on the road to success. He believed he had almost perfectly mastered the system of success, lacking only the final piece, which he believed Jesus would reveal to him. This final piece would be the capstone of his personal success plan.
In fact, he had attained no success at all, and Jesus’ words soon made this plain to him. Jesus went along with the man’s self-deluded affirmation. He pretended that He knew the missing final piece. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” But this was not the final piece. It was instead the first piece: the man’s public affirmation that he had to start from scratch—no wealth, no position of authority, nothing to bring to God’s table.
This requirement was designed to produce the shock of recognition, which it did. It exposed the ruler’s failure to recognize the true cost of his personal success program. “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” The fact that he would not take this step pointed to the fact that his supposed successes in meeting the terms of his personal success program were a delusion—a delusion that would keep him from attaining eternal life if he persisted in it. His seeming success so far was a snare. He possessed success indicators, but no success.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Success and Failure
I have had my share of successes. I have also had my share of failures. I am reminded of an observation made by an American comedienne, Sophie Tucker. “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better.” We all have a fondness for success and a repugnance at failure. Yet most successful people will tell you that their failures were part of their success. Success comes through trial and error. Vilfredo Pareto’s nearly universal and unexplained 20/80 law informs us that 20 percent of our activities produce 80 percent of our success. If we could only eliminate that failure-generating 80 percent! But we can’t. It is part of the package, or, as we Americans say, it comes with the territory—an analogy based on the sales profession, one of America’s acknowledged successes.
I like to think of Pareto’s law in terms of the human hand. There are four fingers and a thumb. The thumb makes all the difference: the crucial 20 percent.
As this book shows, you can count on one hand the principles for achieving success in history. Also like the human hand, there is a thumb that makes all the difference: the principle of the absolute sovereignty of God. I cover this in Chapter 1.
The first public step in the application of the first principle of success in history is to rest one day in seven.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:9–11).
The second step is to tithe the required 10 percent. Tithing is the beginning of the process, not the end.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone (Matthew 23:23).
The third and subsequent steps are not to leave the other things undone.
The first principle—a day of rest—should remind us that success is not earned. It is instead received. Success is based entirely on grace, and in no way on works—at least not our autonomous works. Success is a gift undeserved by its recipients. This principle should warn us against making the following conceptual error.
And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).
This book is not a handbook for success. Rather, it is a theological introduction to success and its tempting imitations. There are lots of self-help handbooks available. There will be lots more. The problem is, one of them may make you a nearly universally acknowledged success. Then what will you do?
With increased success comes increased responsibility. If your degree of success outruns your ability to exercise responsibility efficiently, you will be in trouble.
And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:47–48).
This book is more about the efficient exercise of responsibility than it is about gaining the visible marks of success, i.e., success indicators. Gaining success indicators is the easy part. Maintaining them without passing by success is the difficult part.
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Joshua 1:7–8).
Go and do thou likewise. . . .
Download your FREE copy of The Five Pillars of Biblical Success today.