by Jeannette Haley
All of us have our own idea of what it means to be a winner or a loser. I suppose most folks would agree that the well-dressed person who has gained financial success, a good standing in his or her community and/or succeeded in building a business is a “winner”. Likewise, people who never seem to get beyond their limitations and struggles are usually deemed, even if subconsciously, as “losers.”
Sometimes we look at elderly couples who have never suffered through a divorce and declare them to be winners. We all look up to people who have managed to raise their children to be hard working, law-abiding citizens and declare they are winners as parents.
No doubt people who have made great discoveries in the fields of science and medicine are applauded as winners along with those geniuses who advance our outer space program.
Those who risk their lives to explore and discover the secrets and mysteries of the Universe and our planet may be hailed as winners. And no doubt there are people who admire the rich, beautiful and famous Hollywood Stars as winners. Others exalt war heroes and military leaders. And probably at the top of the list of winners are scores of athletes, sport heroes and Olympic champions.
As for the modern Christian, many believe that the size of a church determines its success, while others exalt their favorite TV evangelist as their ideal winner. In fact, many are convinced that true success in the spiritual realm is represented by the glamour and hoopla they see on so-called Christian Television coupled with the personal wealth of their favorite “evangelist.” In reality, today’s glitzy “Christian” television contains the same amount of hype and fantasy as Disneyland and it could very well be considered the Christian version of it.
Being impressed with health and wealth today is as natural a human response as it was in King Solomon’s day. According to Dake’s Annotated Bible, “Solomon was one of the world’s richest men. He made one building that cost over 174 billion dollars in our money today. His daily food bill was equivalent to more than $17,420.00 (1 Ki. 4:22). His personal offerings at the time of the dedication of the temple amounted to nearly 10 million dollars in value (1 Ki. 10:14). Besides this he had much income from many sources-fields, vineyards, oliveyards, herds, flocks, etc. He had also inherited the wealth of David.” According to worldly standards, Solomon was indeed a winner among winners. However, the question remains, was King Solomon, with all of his wisdom, wealth and fame truly a success?
According to Solomon’s own admission, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” Eccl. 1:2. Someone might conclude, “King Solomon was probably just having an off day when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Maybe his overindulgent life warped his perspective of things”. The truth is we can find numerous examples throughout history of religious figures that were considered by their contemporaries as winners because of their pomp and position. However, the bottom line is, what is God’s evaluation of their accomplishments in this world? Scripture abounds with examples of people who were labeled by their fellow man and the religious hierarchy as misfits, outcasts, rebels, sinners and just plain losers who were, nevertheless, winners in God’s eyes.
Consider, for example, Noah. This man was a “social misfit” in his time. He didn’t “fit in” with the current trends, nor did he participate in his society’s activities or beliefs. Without a regular paycheck he tirelessly worked on a massive project that brought him much ridicule and derision. Yet, all human and animal life as we know it today exists because of this righteous man. He may have represented a loser in his day, but Noah stands for all time as a major winner.
Consider God’s faithful servant, Job. In his early days everyone knew that Job was a winner. He possessed a beautiful family, herds, flocks, servants, wealth and the reputation of being a wise man. Sudden tragedy struck and in an instant all of Job’s children and wealth vanished. Next his health withered, leaving Job reduced to a helpless, disfigured mass of suffering and agony. In the eyes of Job’s friends this one-time winner among men was now a pathetic loser of the worst sort. But in the eyes of God, Job was a true winner. Why? Because, even though he suffered greatly and endured the contempt and condemnation of those closest to him, he never cursed God in his heart.
As a youth, Daniel was forced from his heritage and homeland and carried away as a captive to Babylon. There he became a servant to the pagan ruler. From all appearances, this man was a loser. He refused to comply with royal decrees and found himself thrust into a den of hungry lions. Who would have ever guessed that this “loser” would be used by God to give great, incredible and explicit prophecies to the world that then was, and is and is to come?
Prophecies that will stand for all time as preserved in God’s eternal Word? God Himself said about these three men in Ezekiel 14:14. “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God.”
In the New Testament surely those who knew Christ personally must have been winners! A closer examination, however, discloses that this was not the case. The Virgin Mary was a poor, humble young woman of no great social standing. Her pregnancy had to have caused many tongues to wag. As for Mary Magdalene, everyone knew that she had been a woman filled with many demons. And after her deliverance, she chose to follow the Man from Galilee along with His disciples instead of “going out and getting a decent job” with which to support herself.
We must not forget Jesus’ disciples-most of them left good-paying jobs to walk the dusty trails with Jesus, the controversial man who claimed to be the Son of God. And in the end, they all endured persecution, suffering and death because they refused to deny Christ.
Consider the Apostle Paul. Here was a highly educated man of great standing among the elite Jews of his day. His work ethics were impeccable; his reputation highly esteemed; his career held a bright future. But a strange thing happened to this worldly winner…he met the resurrected Christ! From that time on Paul became a “fool for Christ”. Surely in the eyes of the world-wise, Paul was a major loser. How could a man who turned his back on all the world had to offer and who became a hunted outcast by his own people be a winner? Besides all this, he suffered greatly in his pursuit of preaching the Gospel of Christ and eventually lost his life. Surely the world thought that Paul was a major loser.
Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, lived alone in the wilderness. This man was known for his strange eating habits and weird clothing. John would definitely be considered a loser by worldly standards of any age, not to mention the fact that his passion for exposing the sins of the King lost him his head. Yet the Lord Jesus claimed there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist.
Jesus Himself was mocked by the religious elite of His time as being a phony because He hung out with sinners and drunkards. Not only that, but He made incredible claims about Himself, claiming to be the great I AM. His defiance of the established, traditional religious laws and practices eventually brought Him to a place of utter rejection, shame, torture and death. Of course, Christians know that He willingly laid down His life to die for the sins of the world. And this He did knowing full well that only a small percentage of mankind would believe and receive eternal life. By the world’s standards of success Jesus, too, was a loser.
Our eternal destination is not determined by the amount of success we may achieve in this world. The Lord Jesus Christ declared, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26. Therefore, it can be logically concluded that worldly success is temporary at best and, in light of eternity, less than nothing. But it goes against the grain of man’s unregenerate nature to accept and believe the fact that success, according to God, is far different than man’s interpretation of it. In America achieving the “great American dream” is what constitutes a winner according to our culture.
But just what is it that people are really trying to accomplish? I believe that deep within all of us is a longing to return to Paradise-to the Garden of Eden. We all want a place to call our own where we can build and dream and feel safe. We all want a sense of belonging, a secure place to call home where we are loved, recognized and appreciated. Every human being is born with needs such as these. But the problem is, the way to the earthly Garden of Eden was lost long ago. There is no returning there no matter how much education we get or how much money we make in order to make it happen. Yet people continue pursuing after this elusive dream of the “good life” and becoming a “winner” according to the standards of this world.
The Bible, however, declares that winners are those who overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. God, being no respecter of persons, is not impressed with our temporary achievements such as our academic standing, or our good- works track record in our communities and churches, or our business prowess or our financial accomplishments. God does not equate joy and happiness with how many toys we heap upon ourselves in our endless pursuits for pleasure.
God’s will for mankind is that we diligently seek Him and love Him with our whole hearts. Being a winner in God’s eyes means that we have come to the end of ourselves, acknowledged that we are helpless, pathetic losers because of our sin and that we cannot inherit eternal life without a Savior. And we who have repented and been reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ are winners regardless of the world’s estimation of us. In Luke 16:15 Jesus said, “…Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
How do we overcome the world? 1 John 5:5 tells us, Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” Of course we know that the word “believe” is more than a mental agreement, but rather, it is a word that implies action-a living faith. As Noah, Job, Daniel and the New Testament disciples, apostles etc. believed and that belief, or faith, translated into love for God, obedience and good works, so we also need their kind of overcoming faith.
In Revelation 2:7 we read, He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” So we see, then, that God still does have Paradise prepared for man-but only for those who are “winners” or overcomers according to God.
We overcome the flesh by denying self and through obedience to God. Jesus promised, “…he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations…” Revelation 2:26. Revelation 12:11 tells us how we overcome Satan: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
Jesus is calling us to follow Him on the straight, narrow road to Heaven, but this road does not have ample room for us to haul along our worldly baggage. Our perceptions and ideas of success and what it means to be a winner must be forever discarded if we are to follow Christ. Our minds must be renewed daily by the Word of God. Our spirits must be yielded to His Spirit in faith.
Only winners by God’s standards walk this narrow road to Paradise. These winners are those who the world, the flesh and the devil condemn as losers, but in reality, all who have denied self, picked up their cross and who follow Jesus are winners.
This narrow road is not easy but neither is it boring. It is challenging to the max. But for those who take up the challenge, they will discover the reality of Christ in ways that those on the broad path to destruction never dreamed.
People on the narrow road discover what life really is-what life consists of. They are eager to take up the challenge, to overcome through faith every obstacle to heavenly success. They no longer look to the world and the ways of the world for meaning and happiness. Their once-insatiable cravings and appetites for purpose and pleasure are silenced because for them to live is Christ.
Pilgrims on the narrow road experience peace, love and joy. They no longer grow spiritually hungry and thirsty because the Bread of Life and the Living Water brings lasting satisfaction.
Finally, those who follow Jesus on the narrow road begin to gain glimpses of glory that no earth-bound “winner” has ever experienced. They begin to realize what true success is made up of as they walk in the light of God’s love.
What about you? Which road to “success” are you on? Are you a winner in God’s eyes, or a loser? If you know you are a winner in this world, but a loser in God’s sight, why not turn to Him today and ask Him to make you a winner for eternity? Remember that time is short. Everything that we now know in this life is passing away and will soon be gone. What good will your earthly success be to you? Where will you be then?
Those who follow Jesus with heavenly vision toward the Paradise of God are truly winners in the end. They will see the gates of Heaven swing open wide for their entrance, as they are welcomed home by the Father.
Will you be there?