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Western Christianity has made Success a virtue! And often we measure success by position, power, and wealth.  Aren’t we Christians tempted to baptize PP&W (position, power, & wealth) as an early installment on our heavenly reward.

The prophet Isaiah takes on this gospel of success in chapter 10.

In Israel, judges had a longer history of exercising the will of God over His people than even the kings. Moses had established a system of judges while the Israelites were still in the wilderness after their flight from Egyptian slavery. Once into the Promised Land, judges like Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel led the people, commanded the army of Israel, sometimes served as its priest, and eventually anointed its king.

By the day of Isaiah, the judges were corrupted. They “issue unfair laws. They deprive the poor of justice and deny the rights of the needy among my people. They prey on widows and take advantage of orphans.” (10:2).

But these men of influence had been “blessed” by God. They had power, position, and wealth. They were leaders. And perhaps they did have PP&W from God, but, if so, they had received it as reward rather than as responsibility.

No blessing they had received, not their influential circle of friends, nor their position, and especially not their wealth was going to protect them from the punishment of God for their corruption, injustice, and their abuse of the helpless.  “What will you do when I punish you, when I send disaster upon you . . .? To whom will you turn for help? Where will your treasures be safe?” (v.3)

”But I am doing great good for God! I’m using my PP&W to accomplish His will on earth. I’m sure my SUCCESS is from God because He is blessing everything that I do!”  If this is what the judges were thinking, how wrong they were!

That’s probably what the Assyrians were saying! Here’s what Isaiah had to say to Assyria, the most successful country on earth at the time.

What sorrow awaits Assyria, the rod of my anger.
I use it as a club to express my anger.
I am sending Assyria against a godless nation,
against a people with whom I am angry.
Assyria will plunder them,
trampling them like dirt beneath its feet.
But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool;
his mind does not work that way.

His plan is simply to destroy,
to cut down nation after nation.

This message is a shock to the PP&W group! What? A powerful person can be used by God to accomplish the will of God and not be “blessed” for it??  A successful person can achieve every goal, be the tool in the hand of God—and then be the object of God’s wrath??

The apostle Paul addressed a group of similarly minded people some seven hundred years later and wrote this explanation to themOr do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

The people of Paul’s day should have learned their lesson from reading what Isaiah had said about Assyria:  After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant.

Proud and arrogant? I thought being self-made, self-assured, self-confident, decisive, etc. was what we wanted in leaders—especially church leaders!  That’s why we pick “successful “ men as elders and deacons!

Look at the words that came out of the mouth of Assyria!  You’ll easily recognize the insidious problem with PP&W!  The Assyrian king boasts:

 By my own powerful arm I have done this.
With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
and carried off their treasures.
I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
14 I have robbed their nests of riches
and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
or utter a peep of protest.

His PP&W was proof of his special relationship to God! He didn’t know that his success was the patience of God, trying to lead him to repentance! He thought he deserved it!

So, Christians, success may be a warning as well as a reward. A few of God’s best servants were “successful,” but only a few—a remnant!  And if you think your success is proof that you are among the few, the chosen—just be careful.  Your success may be God calling you to repent!

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